If you're still unclear on what the British royal family actually does, you'll be happy to hear that Prince Harry, who cut ties with the British royal family last year, has moved on to, uhh, other things. He will now have a job whose description seems about as murky as that of “prince”: an executive at some Silicon Valley startup.
This next sentence is fun: The Duke of Sussex will become the Chief Impact Officer at BetterUp, a "people experience platform." The role at the coaching and mental fitness company is not managerial, but advisory. It is concerned primarily with "initiatives including product strategy decisions and charitable contributions."
In a statement to the Wall Street Journal, the British prince said "I intend to help create impact in people's lives. Proactive coaching provides endless possibilities for personal development, increased awareness, and an all-around better life." The startup's chief executive, Alexi Robichaux, told the Journal that "it's a meaningful and meaty role."
BetterUp styles itself as a place where workers can be connected to coaches that help better workers, In a 2019 interview with VentureBeat, Robichaux described the startup's work as "combining human expertise, the latest advances in scientific research, and digital technologies including AI and machine learning." BetterUp’s mission was "transforming people and workplaces."
As far as I can tell, people describe the role of a chief impact officer much like they describe the role of a prince in the 21st century.
Salesforce's Chief Impact Officer, Suzanne DiBianca, describes her role to a podcast for tech leaders as follows: “I inherently believe people want to make change. And given how much we all work, in this sort of 24/7 environment, having it be part of their day job is an important avenue for people to feel committed to the company, to feel committed to their team.”
None of this really means anything, nor is it particularly helpful in actually explaining what the job entails beyond speaking to people and being concerned with “impact.” Most organizations looking for a CIO seem to want someone to improve its "impact" on stakeholders through social or environmental incomes, either by giving advice or helping modify its business model.
There's not much in the way of details about what the actual job entails as far as responsibilities, payment, or work arrangements, but it is the latest in a long series of lucrative deals they and other royals have pursued in a bid to "seek more financial independence from the monarchy" as the Journal puts it. This comes after a five-year Netflix content deal valued around $100 million and a podcast content deal with Spotify.
Weeks ago, Harry and Meghan Markle had an interview with Oprah detailing the startling revelation that the British Empire’s royal family was racist. The interview detailed not only how the toxic and isolating environment eventually pushed Markle and her husband out, but how she considered suicide at one point, and how Harry himself was effectively cut off for marrying a Black woman.
The prince told the Wall Street Journal that he took the job because it was connected to his desire to focus on mental health awareness. He said his decision was "about acknowledging that it isn't so much what is wrong with us, but more about what has happened to us over the course of life." That's why "mental fitness" matters, because "societal barriers, financial difficulty, or stigma" prevent people from prioritizing mental health until they're forced to. "I want us to move away from the idea that you have to feel broken before reaching out for help."
Those are admirable goals, but it is on some level itself depressing that people look to startups as real solutions to serious political and social problems. From urban transportation to healthcare, turning to startups to solve our problems ignores the fact that their digital offerings are just another form of privatization. It’s a bit strange then to see someone come from Britain―which has a nationalized health care system superior to our privatized hellscape―turn around and embrace a way of thinking that logically ends with trying to privatize as many public services as possible, reliably making them worse. After all, this is already happening in Britain.