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Craigslist founder spoke at Penn Law global forum on inclusion and innovation

September 24, 2018

By Jenna Wang


On September 21, Penn Law hosted an all-day conference on global development, centered around the subjects of diversity and inclusivity for women and people of color around the world.

The Institute for Law and Global Development, held in the Fitts Auditorium at the Law School, featured a morning keynote discussion between Craigslist founder Craig Newmark and Penn Law’s Rangita de Silva de Alwis, Associate Dean for International Programs and Global Advisor for the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Fund.

During their conversation, Newmark and de Silva de Alwis touched on philanthropy, male privilege, global women’s rights movements, and diversity in the tech industry. Newmark also revealed that earlier that morning, while sleepless in his hotel room in Philadelphia, he made some major decisions regarding his philanthropy organization that would soon be publicly revealed.

Newmark, who founded Craig Newmark Philanthropies in 2015, is a noted donor to many non-profit organizations, including Girls Who Code, Donors Choose, VetsinTech, and the Global Fund for Women. He has donated more than $90 million to charities since 2015, and during the keynote discussion he emphasized repeatedly his philosophy of “putting your money where your mouth is.”

During the conversation, de Silva de Alwis noted how Newmark stands out from many other tech entrepreneurs currently in the public eye. “Melinda Gates recently said that Silicon Valley is full of  white male nerds who drop out of Harvard and Stanford and have a very homogenous view of the world. Craig, you are a white male nerd, and we forgive you for that, but you embody inclusion with every fiber of your being,” she said.  

Newmark spoke about the history of Craigslist and how his experience with the old boys’ network in San Francisco and being pursued by bankers and venture capitalists made him realize that “nobody needs a billion dollars.” This influenced him to run Craigslist as a company that approached profitability differently.

“I decided that Craiglist would be run as a company that minimally monetized,” Newmark said. “It’s not altruistic or pious, it’s just me remembering what I learned. It’s doing well by doing good.”

When asked by de Silva de Alwis how he planned to personally combat various social and global challenges that face women today, Newmark said that he found a combination of two things to work best: quiet diplomacy among people who have power, and standing up for things you believe in.

“If everyone expects things to change and acts like things are going to change, in principle, you do get a new normal,” he said. “At other times, you just add cash and whatever influence you have.”

In addition to talking about other causes he believes in, such as voters’ rights, veterans, and the free press, Newmark also shared some personal anecdotes on the pervasiveness of sexism in the workplace and beyond, including one he experienced recently while furniture shopping with his wife.

“When she goes alone to a store, whether it’s a man or woman [salesperson], they will not treat her as well as when I show up,” he recalled. “This was something I really didn’t understand until the last ten years, and I’m 65 and three quarters now.”

As a result, Newmark said he would be amping up his efforts to support women, in hopes of creating a “force multiplier” with his monetary contributions to affect real change. Focusing particularly on helping women advance in STEM fields, he alluded to his philanthropic organization’s new involvement with several women-led efforts to be announced in the near future.

“Our country needs all the people we can get in STEM and cybersecurity,” Newmark said. “Not getting women into tech is a national security problem, not just for the US, but everywhere.”