Yale Women's, Gender and Sexuality Studies
Volume 4, Issue 1
fall 2013
Editor, Geetanjali Singh Chanda
Managing Editors, Linda Hase & Craig Canfield
Layout Design, Nick Appleby

Alum Spotlight: Arthur C. Chang

Photo by Randi Himmelfarb

Almost everyone looks at me, a graying tech entrepreneur with distinctive glasses, and wants to ask, “So what’s with the Women’s Studies?!”

1982 was the end of my Freshman year at Yale. My parents divorced each other for the third time, marking yet another beginning/end of a cycle of violence and abuse that only ended with my father’s death 15 years later. They also stopped paying for my tuition after I announced my major in Women’s Studies. “I want to create a unified view of the world,” I announced.  “Become a doctor,” they said.  I declined.  And they set me free.

The lack of parental constraints freed me to study the family and race dynamics I’d experienced and relate those to similar dynamics in the larger world. I found it in the elegant architecture of Women’s Studies thinking: the towering structures of race, gender, class and culture and the nuanced mosaic of personal details seen through another’s eyes. No field other than Women’s Studies offered that holistic perspective.

As to work, freed of financial strings, I explored making things to make money: museum exhibits as a designer, salads and steaks as a restaurant cook, physical spaces as an architectural apprentice.

After graduating in 1985, I wanted to make things that mattered: energy-efficient panelized housing, a design-build firm, designs for the architect I.M. Pei.  In 1990, I grew impatient that building physical things took so long. I realized that, as a venture capitalist, I could get speed and scale by investing in software and companies. In 2000, I became a VC, investing in grid computing, financial technology and interactive TV.

Soon after, I discovered open source software, which I believed would re-integrate people with the means of production. These free tools, easier to use, would drive down the cost for innovation, enabling new models for innovation. And this in turn would kick off cycles of disruption to the establishment and enable new models for business creation. These models would be flat, loosely coupled, open and transparent, allowing for the creation of systems to empower front line workers and support fundamental change.

I wanted to be part of that process. So, in 2005, I started Tipping Point Partners as an innovation machine. Our firm creates tech startups that aim to change business processes in the public and private sectors, to empower both owners and front line workers to work more effectively, and to improve the delivery of information and vital services to the people they serve. We use technology to change entrenched systems through our active hands-on entrepreneurship, rather than through the passive instruments of venture capital.

Since 2005, the successes of companies like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn have reminded us that a person-to-person relationship is the atomic unit of society; everything else is a derivative of that relationship. And the Arab Spring gave evidence of the potential pain in changing top-down social and economic models to models based on individual relationships.

It’s time for technologies that underpin our society to change. With healthcare.gov as an example, we are seeing the social costs created by technological systems that start with transaction processing and compliance, rather than real human needs. It doesn’t have to be that way.

Tipping Point has worked on many novel engagements to re-envision and re-build our technology infrastructure. We have had the privilege of being the technology partners to the Annie E. Casey Foundation that led to the launch of Casebook, a revolutionary new case management system for child welfare that is now the system of record for the State of Indiana. In 2013, our public private partnership with the NYC Campaign Finance Board led to the launch of NYCVotes.org, the first end-to-end voter information and campaign contribution tool in the country. And today, our interdisciplinary approach has led to groundbreaking projects in geo-spatial technologies, asset management for content owners, financial technologies, and many, many others.

I was taught that the “personal is political”. If change is a measure of success, then the political is by necessity technological. Women’s Studies has equipped me to synthesize social dynamics at scale, using technology to create tools that break down the silos that divide people and hinder social and economic progress.

Arthur C. Chang received his B.A. in Women’s Studies from Yale University in 1985.
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