Entrepreneurial Institute

Bettering the World Through Entrepreneurship: Breaking Down Barriers to Improve Human Rights

This month, the President has been progressing towards major victory with the GOP Tax Bill, both personally and for his party. Designed to alleviate the corporate tax burden on America’s largest companies, the bill assumes the efficacy of trickle down economics, and that to some extent, lessened corporate tax will lessen social inequity through job creation.


Social scientists, economists, and politicians, however, all warn that the bill will do the opposite. Corporate tax alleviation, they argue, will simply result in dollars in the hands of the top executives, not employees, further widening the income gap and, in turn, perpetuating systems of social inequity.


In response to such social inequity, and lack of human rights in general, Sukti Dhital, the Deputy Director of NYU Law’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, launched the Initiative for Human Rights Innovation, in order to begin conversations among faculty from various disciplines on how to solve social inequality on the constituency level, vis-à-vis their respective professions in technology, business, media, or policy.  


The Entrepreneurial Institute is working with the Bernstein Institute towards this initiative. In doing so, however, it’s important to note the distinction between entrepreneurship and academia: entrepreneurship exists not as a theory to large, complex solutions, rather as a process targeted to a specific identified need and possible solution, one which perhaps is situated in the context of a larger problem.


Dhital is an entrepreneur. She joined NYU in 2016 after stepping down from a full-time position at Nazdeek, the non-profit organization she co-founded. Since 2010, Nazdeek has worked to educate tea laborers in Assam, India, about notions of human rights and how to identify instances of violation through local community engagement. For example, the group works to inform soon-to-be mothers of their right to give birth in sanitized facilities. Communities were trained to use a mobile app that populates instances of violations on a map, which in turn develops a visual, real-time database of violations and corruption. Dhital explains that underlying the mission of Nazdeek is to use legal empowerment strategies to advance the human rights of affected communities through a community-driven approach, where the law is “taken out of the books, demystified, deconstructed, and made accessible to the people who are most affected,” because “there’s just not enough lawyers in the world.”


Barry Friedman, a Professor at the Law School, understands this notion of legal transparency extremely well, particularly as it applies here in New York. In 2016, he founded the Policing Project, an initiative that engages the NYPD and other American police forces, local constituencies, legislators, and scholars in conversation about “Democratic Policing.” This theory champions the notion that all police force policy and technology use should be determined through democratic representation. Professor Friedman is currently exploring how to scale the methodology for broad adoption and education.


Friedman argues that in order to improve the fraying relationship between police forces and the communities they protect, there is a need for more transparency. He believes that democratic engagement is the answer. “We need to have a mechanism for having public approval [of police practice]. It could be that we just tell people, it could be that there’s special committees of legislative bodies, there’s ways you could design these processes, but you have to do something,” he says.


He continues, “one of the big things we work on is trying to draw the line between transparency and secrecy.”  If communities vote on decisions made in district education systems, environmental agencies, or taxing policies, argues Friedman, so too should they be considered in determining police technology use or in drafting response protocols, while still protecting the necessary confidentiality of important police work.  


As Americans well know, lack of transparency as an impetus for social tension is not restricted to the police force. Many issues surrounding general law enforcement, government/constituent relations, business/consumer relations, and social inequity result simply from withholding vital knowledge from those whose right it is to have it.


Riley Jones, a first-year student at NYU Law, improves transparency for his community, too. His company, Our Bloc, offers a digital platform to help African American college students network and navigate through the maze of scholarships and professional programs available to them, no matter their industry or interest. “We’re looking to make it extremely individualized,” explains Jones, “by leveraging artificial intelligence in the platform to best source programs for members.”


The group also offers a larger community of African American professionals, and organizes meetups and networking events. So far, they’ve collaborated with brands such as Google, AOL, and Jopwell, among others, who want access to their registered pool of students.


In solving issues around social inequity, Jones self-identifies as an “entrepreneurial activist.” He goes on, “I would say that in this political moment, regardless of race,” minorities “are feeling especially insecure about their status as Americans. That inspires us.”
For those wondering how to start bettering access to human rights tomorrow, take note of the pattern between these three projects: improving transparency and organizing the information people need. Indeed, Dhital offers some advice for the eager entrepreneur with an intent to improve access to human rights: Develop “ways to build out tools that can help disseminate information about what the law says, in skillsets and in skill building. To better understand the law and how to document it is an opportunity.” This she says, is what “entrepreneurial activism” is all about.