Exploring Ethical Innovation, Intersectional Identities and the Pursuit of Social Good
Edward Wilson-Smythe is driven by a singular goal – to reconcile innovation with social good. They achieve this by helping companies, governments, and communities pursue innovation in ways that create opportunities for those most negatively impacted by socioeconomic change. They realize that unchecked innovation and economic growth can have significant negative impacts on marginalized communities, and that creating a just and equitable society is crucial for building a sustainable future for humanity.
Edward’s work focuses on digital business innovation and ethical innovation, two areas that are intertwined but are often viewed as contradictory. By combining these two disciplines, they aim to guide innovation to prioritize inclusion and equitable opportunities in addition to meeting corporate and shareholder financial interests, thus contributing to economies and societies that benefit everyone, not just the privileged few. They have successfully influenced positive social impact through influencing business decisions such as – seeking out, hiring and nurturing talent from non-traditional backgrounds; investing in job creation in less developed regions; designing automation that augments rather than replaces human effort; creating economic opportunities for underserved communities; and reskilling people for new digital jobs. They feel fortunate that they can combine their experiences as – a business leader as a Director of Digital Innovation in AlixPartners, a leading management consulting firm; a leader in non-profits as the Head of Research at TechPACT, an organization founded by technology leaders to drive greater diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging in the technology industry; and work with other advocacy and civic society organizations.
Edward was raised by well-off liberal parents and grew up with a stereotypical overachiever mindset, believing that individual effort was the determinant to success. However, they had an epiphany in their mid-20s that changed the course of their life. They reflected on key moments in their life and found 917 instances where random chance or factors outside their control could have caused them severe harm, and accepted that there must be a greater force that led to all these instances turning out positively in their favour. This acceptance led them to connect with spirituality and religion, giving them renewed purpose to make a difference in the lives of those who don’t often have luck on their side through birth or circumstance.
Edward recognizes the irony that their privileged upbringing enabled them to proudly embrace their identity as a gay teenager and later as a gender nonbinary person, but at the same time discouraged them from exploring their identity as a multi-ethnic person with Indian ancestry. Edward’s journey of self-discovery has led them to realize that each aspect of their identity connects them to others. Embracing and exploring the entirety of their identity has made Edward a more fully realized human being who tries to be of greater service to others across the various intersections that define privilege and inequality.
Edward rejects corporate constructs of the rat race where people pursue narrowly defined goals in competition with others, or stereotypes of alpha men who succeed through predatory exploitation of other people. Instead, they see themselves more as the wind, gently guiding things along and letting people take their own course to their own truths. They value flexibility, adaptability, and the freedom to explore different paths, and believe that symbiosis and collaboration are more effectives way of building human relationships.
Edward’s draws motivation and courage from their husband Barry, who overcame incredible hardship to become a successful competitive equestrian athlete and an animal activist who founded and ran a rescue organization saving dogs from the Korean dog meat trade. Their marriage over the last 10 years has not only provided them with the stability and mental equilibrium to take risks and challenge people in positions of power, but also with greater empathy for vulnerable and victimized people based on learning from their husband’s personal journey through adversity.
Edward believes that their value as a human being is defined by the support and courage they have given to others, as well as their actions against discrimination and injustice. They take pride in advising people to look beyond the selfish pursuit of power, position, and rewards, and make business decisions that benefit rather than harm people. Ultimately, they hope that their actions have made a positive impact on individuals they know personally as well as those they have never met. “The Bhagavad Gita talks of the duties and actions of the individual and of the imperative to serve others without consideration of personal benefits, and Lord Ram is considered the maryada purushottam because he placed duty and loyalty above his rights and comforts. Rediscovering the wisdom of these texts is a good place to start our journey as leaders,” they conclude.