Our Conversation on the Challenges and Possibilities of the Next 10 Years

On Monday night we celebrated The Huffington Post’s 10-year anniversary with a party at the Gramercy Park Hotel in New York City. I spoke about our global editorial initiative on What’s Working. And since HuffPost and Goldman Sachs have partnered for nearly three years to spotlight solutions around the world, we had a conversation about what we’ve learned and what’s in store for the next 10 years. Here is a lightly edited transcription of our conversation.

Arianna: Lloyd, as you’ve built up 10,000 small businesses to support and empower small businesspeople and female entrepreneurs, you’ve been to nearly every city to talk with these small businesses’ owners, and you’ve seen the difference mentoring and funding make. What have you learned, and how can we help scale and replicate what’s already working?

Lloyd: First of all, let me say we found these entrepreneurs; we didn’t invent them. And that segues nicely into what I’ve learned. What I’ve learned is that there’s huge talent, huge energy and tremendous people. The people that we have met in these programs look good against any backdrop, including the people that we have in our firm. People come with energy, and they come with a lot of native intelligence and a huge work ethic, but they have families, and they may have the pressure of debt, sometimes mortgages, or they don’t have the education or the experience. And what we’ve done is tap into other resources to help them. We’ve gotten community colleges, like LaGuardia, to come and contribute people who’ve set up the curriculum. We’ve created, in effect, a mini-MBA and a counseling program to give people the background and also the confidence, which is what many lack, and in some cases a little bit of help acquiring financing. And then they do the work.

Arianna: I was at the first graduation, and it was so moving and inspiring. And now, as we look around and we see the economy recovering but inequalities growing, what would you recommend that we do to actually accelerate the recovery, but also to make sure that it’s more evenly spread?

Lloyd: Any economic system has to do two things: It has to create wealth, and it has to distribute it. I was asked the other day, “What’s more dangerous: not creating it, or not distributing it well?” And the implication was that not creating it is the most dangerous, but actually not distributing it well has the potential to be much more dangerous, because not distributing it well creates the instability, and a lot of very bad things occur if things get too unstable for too long. One of the important elements that we have to recognize is that we have to be competitive. This is an iron law that we have nothing to do with. But within this context you have to recognize that there are elements of the market today that are creating inequality. I sometimes get asked to defend inequality. I don’t know anybody who wants inequality. I recognize that the people who are the beneficiaries of the way the economy is stacked up are not themselves necessarily the cause of it. They don’t necessarily like it. In some cases the causes of it are the very things we celebrate, like technology. In other words, you go out and you create great technology, and as a result of that, we need 30,000 fewer cabs in New York City, or 30,000 fewer employees, or 10,000 fewer. Well, guess what: There’s tens of thousands of fewer people with jobs, which hurts labor, and the companies that created those new technologies and the venture capitalists behind them discover they have market caps of billions of dollars. As a result, some people have lost their job; some investors have made money. That’s a migration of wealth and value from labor to capital. But would you not have the technologies and lack the benefits? No. There are other things you can do. And one of them is investing in those things that help people in general, that wealthy people get all they want but others don’t have access to. And the big one, of course, is education, and we put a lot of focus on secondary education. We work a lot with junior colleges, and to me there’s no greater engine for bringing people into and through the middle class than community colleges.

Arianna: And we definitely see that with LaGuardia Community College and what you’ve done with them. So let me just end by asking you: Leadership is ultimately about seeing opportunities before others see them, so what do you think are the opportunities and the potential that remains untapped that we are not really seeing clearly enough to turn them into something that can transform many of the problems we are facing?

Lloyd: We can’t ignore gravity or the laws of nature. And in the same way we have to embrace technology, but then we have to get together and work to alleviate the stresses and the strains and the friction of those changes. So investing in education is one opportunity that we’ve tried to grab onto in all the investments that we make, and that, as a country, we need to be prioritizing, because if we invest in early education or training prisoners, any investment would have an enormous return. There are opportunities in getting public-private partnerships together, where people are willing to making socially useful investments in areas like education, anti-recidivism programs, insulating people’s homes. These projects have enormous returns. There’s a lot of things the private sector can invest in that are socially very useful that government, which is really, really screwed up at the moment, can’t do, whereas the private sector can.

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