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This week, we sat down with Vikrum Aiyer, Vice President of Global Public Policy at Postmates, and Matthew Swift, Co-Founder, Chairman & CEO of Concordia, to take a deeper look at this relationship and what the two organizations hope to achieve together.


Vikrum, which facet of Concordia’s platform led Postmates to make the decision to join Concordia as a programming sponsor?

This is the first time that Postmates has had the opportunity to work with Concordia. And one of the most incredible aspects of Concordia is its incredible convening power. By bringing together companies across sectors and hearing about the latest state of the art of innovations that they’re tinkering with, and by exposing those advances with civically minded NGOs, non profits, and lawmakers—you get this rich concentration across a range of issue areas and sectors and you have the opportunity to think through new ways in which public-private collaboration can be helpful in tackling shared public policy goals  and challenges. This is particularly important in the tech sector. Technology companies create products that interact with and touch almost every facet of our lives, and a summit like Concordia’s recognizes the fact that a lot of stakeholders have concerns about the impact of those products, and they’re able to voice and discuss these concerns.

It is increasingly important that tech firms are responsibly investing in the communities that they’re touching.

And cross-sector collaboration is extremely important to execute on that responsibility. For example, working with government stakeholders to figure out smart and balanced regulations; working with labor unions and workers’ rights organizations to talk about the shifting nature of work; and working with individual policy makers, journalists, and academics can help inform different policy solutions to deal with reconciling some of the challenges and opportunities that these technologies propose. Collaboration across all of these seemingly disparate, but ultimately intertwined, actors is going to be crucial for advancing any shared goals between technologists and governments in the 21st century. The opportunity to join these two high-impact days of consolidated thought can not only advance the ability to establish those partnerships with key stakeholders, but also unfurl creative thinking about how to build on those partnerships.


What are you hoping comes out of a year-long programming sponsorship with Postmates, Matt?

Concordia’s hope is to build meaningful dialogue around the issues that need to be addressed in this space. As technology evolves and revolutionizes employment models, the way in which societies function, and the overall economy, there are certain unprecedented challenges and factors that come into play. The shift to the gig economy has been rapid, so the world has not had a chance to keep up and address every facet. For example, as employment models shift, questions and concerns arise around factors such as investing in the future of employees, retirement, healthcare benefits, educational development of employees, and the like. There are many different issues that come into play in these dialogues.

Our goal, through building this relationship with Postmates, is centered around addressing these challenges and opportunities for growth and building constructive and actionable discussions by bringing key players to the table. These key players don’t just include the tech firms that are innovating and changing this landscape. Rather, they include government entities, labor unions, nonprofits, and the workers themselves. Having a year-round partnership with Postmates versus just a single conversation during UN General Assembly week ensures that we are giving ourselves time to think through these conversations, build upon them, broker relationships between those key players, and provide them with tangible, actionable next steps.


In your opinion, Vikrum, how is cross-sector collaboration helpful in effectively examining the future of work?

The approach to work is evolving. For the last few decades in America, in terms of global trade flattening borders, there’s been a lot of debate and concern that economic dislocation may be a result of supply chains spreading across overseas. I think the days of outsourcing jobs overseas to reduce costs have rapidly come to a close. Now, the main area of focus is creating economic certainty and upward mobility for an increasing number of independent workers. Work has become decoupled from full-time employment, and questions around access to healthcare, retirement, paid time off, and sick leave are arising.

There’s also the prospect of automation and the rapid pace in which new forms of manufactured intelligence and robotics are changing the way we work and the scope of certain jobs. When you layer these things on top of one another, there are questions around adequately measuring productivity in society, around maintaining the wellbeing and dignity of an individual worker, and around the evolution of the social safety net. The very promise of dignity, of being able to work hard and having the opportunity to grow—that goal has not changed. We should be investing in worker training, adult learning, and continuous education, as a lot of these technologies present shifts and challenges for workers that may be well out of the K-through-12 system. There’s no doubt that we should continue to examine how benefit models like healthcare or retirement or even long-term savings vehicles can be decoupled from the notion of traditional employment.

To address the heart of your question, we are talking about modernizing the ways in which we educate workers, and the way we invest in their economic protection and worker benefits, and that requires a very rigorous multi-stakeholder conversation across industries, both local and federal government, as well as a multi-stakeholder engagement with labor unions and worker advocates. Those three stakeholders will be critical cornerstones for any type of dialogue when it comes to the future of work. Being at Concordia and being granted the chance to chat with Air Force veterans that are working on retraining military veterans as they re-acclimatize into modern life was an eye-opening facet to this conversation that you don’t necessarily consider within the day-to-day policy debate.


Matt, how did Postmates’ participation in the Annual Summit enrich the conversation around the evolution of employment models?

As Vikrum has addressed, it’s crucial to consider all of the different players and the potential they provide in terms of presenting solutions to challenges within the theme of the future of work. Innovation in the workforce brings about its own set of challenges, so I think it’s crucial to bring a firm like Postmates—which is positioned at the very eye of the storm, so to speak—to weigh in on these matters. The work that Postmates is doing to acclimatize its workforce comfortably within a changing work environment and economy is exemplary. By giving them a seat at the table, I hope that other organizations within this industry that are disrupting the paradigm of traditional employment models can follow suit. The broader theme that should be discussed is the role of new technology in our lives, and how it is changing the way in which we live and function within broader society. By having Postmates lead this conversation, we were given amazing insights into the responsibilities tech firms owe to the societies they’re affecting, while also learning about the role of government regulation in this space.


Internet platforms and online technology have entered uncharted territory over recent years, making the impossible possible and giving consumers more choice and access than ever before. How does Postmates address this shift and how does it plan to stay ahead of future technological shifts, particularly in employment models, Vikrum?

The way that commerce is moving in cities has been revolutionized through on-demand technologies. Using Amazon’s model as an example, its approach is to build distribution centers on the outskirts of cities and then funnel goods into town. Postmates takes the inverse approach. We treat the city as the warehouse, index the product offerings of what is sold in those cities, and give local neighborhood brick-and-mortar retailers the tools they need to distribute their goods. Giving a mom and pop hardware store, a local taqueria, or a local pharmacy access to a mapping algorithm through the Postmates platform lets them access new customers and allows them to extend the reach of their sale beyond where they exist in the local community. That has enabled local retailers to grow their sales at about four times the rate of other companies in the retail space that do not use on-demand technologies. That is a very material economic impact, and it marks a significant shift in the way that commerce is moving.

I think one constraint that we continue to face is balancing workplace benefits and worker protections with flexible work opportunities. Oftentimes, the employment classification law in this country can become an obstacle in this space and we become limited in what we can actually offer to independent contractors. It’s been incredibly important for Postmates to not just experiment with different benefit models, but also to work with members of Congress and state capitals from California to New York to start to lay out what this future of work could look like.


Matt, how can cross-sector collaboration advocate for workers in the face of changing employment models?

As I touched on earlier, it takes effort and participation spanning from a multitude of sectors to address the novel issues we’re being faced with in the uncharted territory of the evolution of employment. With the economy changing and shifting as it is, cross-sector collaboration provides us with an arsenal of diverse perspectives, experiences, communities, and resources that we can use to form relevant conversations and make tangible progress. For example, how can we make sure that the employees of companies that have adopted technological changes, whether within the sharing economy, gig economy, or automation, have the necessary opportunities and protections available to them? Answering this question properly requires these very companies, the workers, policy suggesters, and people within the government to offer their unique insight to the conversation.


In turn, how can cross-sector collaboration help companies stay competitive in the face of shifting employment models, Matt?

Companies that try to stay ahead of this shift without giving governments and NGOs a seat at the table and without considering the wellbeing of workers are not going to be able to stay afloat in the face of future technological shifts. Many companies are seeing the value of switching to a gig economy and sharing-economy model, which turns this into a competitive space. Postmates recognizes the value of cross-sector collaboration, as seen through its participation at the Concordia Annual Summit and its commitment to hearing different perspectives, and this strategy grants the company a competitive edge.


Doing the unprecedented means facing new challenges. Vikrum, what are some challenges Postmates has had to overcome?

Creating this kind of wide selection of options will be a continued area of focus for us. We know that our peers and competitors in this space will continue to eye ways to also engage along those lines. What is most important for us is not focusing on growth just for growth’s sake, but rather doing so in a smart, sustainable way that is profitable for the company and our customers, as well.

Click here to view the session “Benefits in the Gig Economy: The Evolution of Employment” from the 2018 Concordia Annual Summit.