A Future of Work for All of Us
My Next Chapter
Next Chapter: Focusing on a Future of Work For All
In speaking to his last class of White House interns in 2016, President Obama gave some final advice along these lines: Focus not on what you want to be but on a problem you want to solve.
From extinction level events like pandemics and climate change, to ultra-nationalism abroad, to white supremacy here at home, there is no shortage of problems to be solved today. For the last 15 years I have been focused on a singular problem that might be the most important one in front of us right now: How do we ensure our economy creates the work of the future? How do we ensure that every American has the skills and capacities to do that work? How do we remove all the barriers of bias and inefficiency that keep those who need work from the work that needs to be done? How do we create a system of supports or an “economic trampoline” that can catch people when they fall out of work and can bounce them back into the job market so that they are at least as well off as they were before? In short, how do we create a future of work that includes all of us?
As I embark on this next chapter of my career, the one thing that has been clear to me is that I wanted everything I do and every second of my days to be dedicated to solving this problem. In the next 20 years, two-thirds of all jobs could either be automated out of existence or changed so drastically and so fast that workers cannot keep up. We know which workers will suffer the most: women, people of color, the poor, namely all the folks that our economy has failed for decades. Due to demographics, these workers will make up most of our workforce by 2040 and, it is ironic and tragic, that the workers that our economy depends on tomorrow and the same ones that we are failing today. And we will all pay the price for that failure. And I do not just mean in terms of lost GDP or unrealized jobs. That economic stagnation will rub even more raw the centuries-old sores of discontent and division that have paralyzed us as a polity, coarsened us as a society and distanced us from the American Dream for which my parents crossed an ocean. I am troubled by this state of affairs and the future that awaits us if we do not act. However, those feelings are only surpassed by the optimism and certainty I have that we will act and in this next chapter I aim to do my part towards that end.
Whether from my time working in city government on education policy in New York City, leading my own social enterprise closing the digital divide, or even serving as a future of work lead at a private sector firm, I have learned one thing. No problem worth solving can be solved by one organization, one sector, or one person. It requires creating a team of teams that spans organizations and sectors. It is that learning that has guided me to the roles that I take on now.
Head for Economic Mobility Pathways and Lead for Community College Growth Engine Fund, Education Design Lab
I am honored and excited to join the Education Design Lab as their inaugural Head of Economic Mobility Pathways and to lead their new effort, the Community College Growth Engine Fund (CCGEF). The Lab uses the principles of design thinking popularized in places like Silicon Valley to help higher education institutions design offerings that prepare all learners for the future of work. We have worked with institutions like the University of Maryland System, Georgetown, Arizona State University, and the United Negro College Fund. The Community College Growth Engine is the latest iteration of that work. CCGEF is an innovative, tri-sector, $2.5M dollar effort turning community colleges into bridges to careers, starting with almost 4,000 in 6 communities. Beyond those learners, we are also going to be creating a roadmap for scaling these practices across the entire country to every learner and worker. My parents were immigrants to this country from a rural part of Nigeria, they got golden tickets to attend America’s public universities and because of it were able to give my siblings and I the lives we enjoy today. The mission of the Lab, the charge of the Community College Growth Engine Fund, and the goal for all of us must be using American higher education to do for all families what it did for mine. There is no more important work to do right now and I am honored to be at the Lab to do it.
Technology and Human Rights Fellow, Harvard Car Center for Human Rights Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School
This fall, I will be a Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy where I will writing a book on the future of work and racial equity. This was a project that I had been ruminating on for more than a year but in the wake of a COVID-fueled depression and historic racial inequities that can no longer be overlooked, I cannot imagine a more urgent time for this work. There are many of you that I will reach out to as this project proceeds and I welcome your thoughts, insights, and help.
Venture Partner, New Markets Venture Partners
When I first left graduate school, I was set on becoming an investor who would use capital to grow businesses that achieved financial success and societal impact. One of the first firms I came across in that space was Maryland’s own New Markets Venture Partners. If you are unfamiliar with this team, you can and should learn more about Mark Grovic, Jason Palmer, and the amazing talent under their roof. Even more impressive is their consistent record of investing in sound companies that are making a difference in the space of human skills. As New Markets seeks to lean even more deeply into the future of work, I am excited join them as a Venture Partner and to work with them to put capital to work in companies that are helping Americans get back to work or into work for the first time.
Senior Advisor, Digital US
As we proceed deeper into the 21st Century, every job is a technology job and almost every task requires some type of technology. However at this time when digital skills are critical to staying viable in the job market, over 32 million cannot use a computer effectively and only 10% of that number have the opportunity to get the training they need to change that. These Americans are disproportionately poor, black, brown, female, and likely to be on wrong side of so many of the inequalities that we have seen laid bare over the last six months. That is why I am really excited to continue serving as a Senior Advisor for Digital US, a multi-sector coalition of employers, practitioners, civil rights organizations, and others focused on a single moonshot: Getting every American worker the digital skills and resilience they need by 2030.
When I was a young poli-sci major in college, one of my professors liked to say: “Even if you don’t think about politics, it thinks about you.” Looking at the last six months, it is hard to argue that politics, governments, and elections don’t matter. They matter powerfully and as a citizen I need to do my part. Beyond donating to candidates I support and voting, I will be advising a number of Democratic candidates this year on future of work policy and my hope is that this does not just help lead, in a small way, to a change in party but also a broader change in how we confront this challenge.
McChrystal Group — Leaving in Gratitude and With Great Lessons
I would be very remiss if I did not give deep gratitude to my professional home for the last two years, the McChrystal Group. I cannot overstate how thankful I am and much I learned from this amazing organization and everyone in it, from Gen. McChrystal to COO Barry Sanders to President Chris Fussell to our youngest analysts who led in ways large and small every day. There are three big lessons that I take from my time there: 1) The critical human skill that will make any person in this future of work indispensable is the ability to communicate to and lead people. 2) Leadership is not the act of imposing one’s will on others but unlocking the greatness in others, overcoming our own egos in the process. 3) The tie that binds a leader to a team and that team to each other is trust and mutual respect. There can be no truly high performing team that does not respect everyone’s dignity and worth. I take these lessons with me into the future and God knows that we could use more leaders who remembered them now.
I end where I began. I think that the challenge of creating a future of work that includes all of us is potentially the greatest crisis or opportunity that we have in front of us. I will do everything I can to help us make it the latter, but I know that this is not something that anyone can do alone, let alone someone as flawed as me. If you are interested in partnering on any of the initiatives that I have named, please reach out to me. No problem worth its salt can be solved alone. 2020 has taught us nothing, if not that.
Chike Aguh Jr. (Chee-Kay Ah-Goo Junior) is the Head of Economic Mobility Pathways at the Education Design Lab, Technology and Human Rights Fellow at the Harvard Carr Center for Human Rights Policy and Venture Partner at New Markets Venture Partners. He holds degrees from Tufts University (B.A.), Harvard University (Ed.M; MPA), and University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School (MBA). He is a Fulbright Scholar, former Council of Foreign Relations term member and Presidential Leadership Scholar.