A New Perspective on Social Impact: Q&A with Benetech Board Member Theresa Fay-Bustillos

By Carrie Motamedi, posted on

I was honored to speak with newly appointed board member, Theresa Fay-Bustillos, about the expertise she brings to Benetech’s Board of Directors and why she believes software is the best way to deliver social good at scale.

Fay-Bustillos is a civil rights lawyer with over 20 years of experience as a philanthropic, business, and nonprofit executive. Previously, she served as Chief Program Director for the Blue Shield of California Foundation; Vice President, Worldwide Community Affairs at Levi Strauss; and Corporate Sustainability, Executive Director at Levi Strauss Foundation. She also founded a global consultancy firm that served clients regarding human and civil rights and social and environmental sustainability issues.  (Read full press release here.)

Benetech is thrilled to have another female with such a diverse perspective join the board as 2020 approaches — the year that the 2020 Women on Boards advocacy campaign urges corporations to meet or exceed 20% women directors. Women now hold 20.4% of the board seats of Russell 3000 companies. While Benetech is a nonprofit organization, having 40% of the ten board members identifying as women reflects our core values.

Read on to learn more about Fay-Bustillos’ viewpoint on software for social good and get insight on her track record for leadership and excellence in inclusion, equity, and justice.

Why does using software to deliver social good resonate with you?

In my diverse career, I have used various approaches to create social good for the most disenfranchised from public policy change and movement-building to innovation. What this has taught me is that singularity never works—social problems by their nature are complex. Every community has its own unique qualities, challenges, and opportunities, so it’s always about partnering, listening, and being flexible. The appeal of technology is that the more one listens and collaborates, the quicker one understands the root causes of problems. This approach depends on solving problems and bridging divides—key components of creating social good. So, it resonates because of what it can do, for whom it can serve and its innate ability to work at scale and get to impact. Of course, while it resonates with me for these reasons, it also makes me cautious as I see how few nonprofits or grassroots communities have the resources and expertise to access software—yet these are the very organizations and communities that create social good for those most in need. 

What experience do you bring in achieving social good at scale? 

As a civil rights lawyer I brought class action cases against institutions discriminating against people of color. I challenged discriminatory hiring and promotion practices at large corporations and discriminatory admission policies at universities. My work in philanthropy focused on creating transformational social change whether for migrant women in apparel factories, eliminating HIV/AIDS, or addressing the drivers of poor health for the most vulnerable in California. In this work, I challenged root causes of discrimination and how systems reinforce inequality.

What benefits can software bring to the social sector?

The social sector is both under-resourced and overly ambitious. Software has the potential to scale the solutions the social sector is working on but doesn’t have the resources to deploy. It’s also the sector that will ensure software functions within solutions by addressing inclusion and equity and tackling root causes of problems to create meaningful change for the most vulnerable.  Software offers the ability to work across issues, drive collaboration between sectors, and force conversations about sharing. It does this by processing data to reveal patterns of success and problems—both important in identifying potential solutions to complex or big issues. The private sector uses this approach to uncover problems and opportunities in the marketplace, but this same approach can be applied in the social sector. 

Most organizations don’t share data, don’t know what other similar organizations are doing, and don’t see how they can collaborate together. Software has the potential to drive collaboration, data sharing, and create common goals because its effectiveness depends on these qualities. And, in turn, these qualities have the potential to scale solutions and ideas. 

Every day, Benetech is working on software that can encourage collaboration, data sharing, and a shared agenda of common good goals. I am most familiar with Service Net, an open standards data exchange platform that enables faster and more accurate referrals and social service delivery for the most vulnerable, in a way that replaces the scattered structure that exists today. I look forward to learning more and supporting the development of these types of software solutions. 

How do social determinants of health influence opportunities across education, employment, poverty and human rights?

Twenty percent of poor health is addressed through medical care, sixty percent is addressed through reducing income and education inequalities and improving physical environments and twenty percent is addressed through health behaviors, such as substance use and sedentary lifestyle. Looking at health through this broader lens, it’s easy to understand how important the health sector is to achieving social good. The health sector has many resources and should partner with other sectors to both prevent poor health and deliver social good. The industry is also comfortable with technology and is an ideal partner for delivering social good more broadly.

Thank you to Theresa for sharing her insights. The Benetech leadership team is grateful to have an executive of her caliber help drive impact and scale solutions that will empower communities and address some of world’s most challenging social problems.