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Executive Summary from Interfaith Roundtable on Faith and Justice in Silicon Valley

Pacific School of Religion hosted the Interfaith Roundtable on Faith and Justice in Silicon Valley in partnership with the Silicon Valley Community Foundation over the summer and this fall.  The Roundtable—made up of faith leaders, social activists, business leaders and elected officials—sought to create a network among these various leaders to catalyze the development of an approach to community organizing and social change that draws on the particular culture of innovation in Silicon Valley. 

The ultimate goal is to identify concrete next steps in leveraging the innovation that characterizes Silicon Valley to tackle the social issues the region has often mirrored rather than challenged.  From our perspective at PSR, this is a conversation where we “teach and learn in community,” as one of our core values states.  It informs our understanding of leadership formation in a way that is more contextual while also building new partnerships that can create opportunities for us to contribute meaningfully in the region.

-Rev. Dr. David Vásquez-Levy
President, Pacific School of Religion

Executive Summary of Report from June 27, 2016 Interfaith Roundtable

Silicon Valley has become one of the greatest engines of technological and economic progress in history.
Its extraordinary creativity is transforming technologies and whole industries at an unprecedented rate.
Imagine the impact we could have by training that creativity on meeting the human, social challenges of
our Silicon Valley communities.

The Problem. Silicon Valley reflects rather than challenges the profound social disparities of our society.
While a large number of people in technical, professional, managerial and financial employment have
developed great affluence, people in service employment often live with financial insecurity if not poverty,
and they also experience disparities in education, housing, criminal justice, and other fields. The position
of undocumented immigrants is especially precarious, and people from ethnic and religious minorities too
often experience hostile behavior, discrimination, and even violence.

The life-consequences of these profound disparities are unjust and unsustainable. Why do we live with
them, when we are capable of much better? Factors mentioned in the Roundtable:

  • We are all busy, and our lives are increasingly framed by the high demands of work and the pace
    of technology.
  • We are increasingly isolated.
  • The consequences of social disparities are often hidden.
  • We have lost sight of our moral compass.

We must find ways to cultivate our “moral sense” and concern with “the common good,” even while
honoring the conditions that generate and sustain the economic dynamism of Silicon Valley, and its
contributions to improving quality of life and reducing poverty in our community. As has been the case
with our region’s impact on business and technology, we have the capacity to significantly influence
human well-being around the world.

The Solution. By bringing Silicon Valley’s resources and creativity to bear on the quality of its society as
well as the dynamism of its business and technology, we can create a community of increasing fairness,
opportunity, liveliness, compassion, and fulfillment. We need to enlist the various players in Silicon
Valley in a big, bold vision of what our region and its people can become. This vision would be based on
community, the idea that we are all in this together. This communal vision is particularly necessary in an
area composed of over 30 different municipalities.

We need to develop and pursue this vision with the focus and energy, creativity and action orientation,
risk-taking and resilience that Silicon Valley brings to big business and technical challenges. We also need
to pursue it as one community, with all sectors in active collaboration. We cannot be naive. People and
organizations will pursue their narrow self-interest unless drawn to channel and balance it with lively
consideration of the common good. Sometimes that will take persuasion, sometimes pressure. But we
must always work towards coming together productively in our shared community.

As aspirational as this effort is, it is also plausible. Many people in Silicon Valley share a dis-ease about
the state of our society. They want to consider themselves fair and caring. People want to feel part of a
bigger story. Working to create a better world is the heart of a bigger story.

This kind of vision fits with Silicon Valley’s aspirations to change the world for the better. And it is
precisely Silicon Valley’s creativity and practical initiative that can make the effort successful. Silicon
Valley has the potential to become the kind of lab for addressing complex social issues that has
characterized it in the world of technology.

What Do Faith Communities Bring? Faith communities are just one sector of society, one with rather
modest prominence and resources, and probably more fragmented than most. Even so, they do have
assets that might equip them to stimulate early thinking and action. In particular:

  • Nearly all faith communities have a vision of how people are to care for others and to live in
    community. For most, working toward this vision is one important part of living a good life. The
    theological vision of the good society embedded deeply in faith traditions make faith
    communities logical starting points for cultivating “holy discomfort” with the status quo and
    “sacred conviction” that we are expected to work towards greater compassion, justice, and oneness
    in our communities.
  • Faith communities have historically, and continue today, to be leaders in efforts to tend to social needs.
  • In general, faith communities are seen as occupying the moral high ground.
  • Leaders of faith communities generally are regarded with respect and listened to seriously.
  • Many members are respected employees in the business, governmental, and civic sectors. They could lend their capabilities to tangible efforts to bring about change.
  • Faith communities are among the first institutions established by recent immigrants and often play a significant role in the social fabric of groups that have traditionally been marginalized.They can voice the needs and aspirations of the marginalized in a way that few others can. For many recent immigrants, these faith communities are the places where they develop and exercise leadership roles not available to them in other areas of society.

Possible Next Steps. Further conversations are needed, but we should find ways to move towards action in
parallel. Following are five ideas for early action that emerged from the Roundtable:

  1. Prototype the application of a design-thinking approach to the development of a strategy for creation
    of a “good society” in Silicon Valley.
  2. Explore the potential for developing a cross-sector and diverse cadre of leaders who would collaborate
    in building an ambitious collaborative movement to create a “good society” in Silicon Valley.
  3. Hold an initial round of exploratory dialogues with business and technology leaders to explore the
    potential for engaging their capabilities and resources in this effort.
  4. Prepare a discussion-draft white paper on social justice, interfaith perspectives, and the good society
    in Silicon Valley and pursue a media mini-campaign in order to deepen awareness of current
    conditions, enliven people’s moral sense, and stimulate thinking about what is possible.
  5. Hold a round of conversations between committed and potentially committed faith leaders in order to
    test readiness to commit to collaborative action toward greater social justice.

We hope that these ideas lead to further thought and conversation, and that they may spark concerted
action toward constructive change.

This Roundtable, convened by Pacific School of Religion and hosted by the Silicon Valley Community
Foundation, was an initial exploratory conversation. Its 33 participants were adherents of a broad range of spiritual traditions including Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and a number of different Christian communities. Participants were male and female, straight and LGBTQ, varied in age, and very diverse ethnically. A majority were leaders of faith communities, both clergy and lay, but they also included leaders of organizations focused on issues of social justice, civic leaders, and people from business and philanthropy.