Brooke Robbins, Investment Associate at Republic, sat down with us to talk about her time at Republic, her experience working in the anti-trafficking space, and what brought her to the startup world.
Interview has been condensed and edited.
What initially drew you to Republic?
Democratic ideals. I’ve always been most excited by Republic’s mission to expand access to capital to founders from traditionally underrepresented groups — namely women, black and Latinx founders. Entrepreneurs are creating the future — we should all be a part of that.
Prior to Republic, you received a Fulbright grant and taught overseas. How does your work as a teacher inform your work at Republic?
Living in Taiwan taught me many things, chief among them the power of representation. As an American in Taiwan, I came in on the back of a range of stereotypes — about guns, about hamburgers, and yes, about Donald Trump. All of these things, I’ve learned, contribute to a mental picture of what it means to be American, to someone without access to “the real thing.”
I quickly discovered that for many Taiwanese (and I’m sure, for foreigners everywhere), to be American is to be a gun-owning, Christmas-celebrating, most-likely-white carnivore. Expanding that mental model to include Chinese Americans, Latinx Americans, Jewish Americans, and even something as silly as vegetarians, took a lot of work and quite a bit of time.
What this taught me, more than anything, is the power of representation. Mental models like these don’t appear out of nowhere; they come from media, from textbooks, from looking out at the world or a slice of it, and seeing what we see.
It is crucial, then, that we actively work to ensure that positions of power in industries across the board represent a diversity of backgrounds. A woman president will seem like an impossibility until it is visible. A black founder running a Fortune 500 company will be an anomaly until it is the norm.
You’ve worked with blockchain applications that focus on practical uses of the technology. What advancements in this space have you most excited?
I believe (and yes, hope) that we’re headed toward a future of radical supply chain transparency. The rise of sustainable fashion and fair trade-certified consumer goods suggest that consumers, now more than ever, care about the ethical and environmental impacts of the products they buy, wear, and consume. Blockchain technologies have the potential to revolutionize how we think about, monitor, and improve our supply chains, and can open the door for a range of ethical and environmental protections.
Hopefully, a transparent, ethical, and sustainable supply chain will become the new normal, sooner than later.
You’ve served as the COO of CLIFF Network, a non-profit focused on fighting against modern slavery and sex trafficking. How did you first become involved in this cause?
My involvement in the anti-trafficking space can be traced back to my study abroad semester in Paris, where I took a course called L’Economie du Sexe (The Sex-Trade Economy). That class opened my eyes to the horrors of modern slavery and human trafficking. Upon returning to the U.S., I was surprised to discover that even at my super politically-active campus, home to 300+ student organizations, there was not a single one working on the issue.
Through starting a student group devoted to combating human trafficking and forced labor, I was fortunate to cross paths with Diana Sheedy, a student leader at Harvard working on similar initiatives. We joined forces to host an intercollegiate convention against modern slavery––a project that would later grow into Collegiate Leadership in the Fight for Freedom (CLIFF Network, for short), a non-profit organization devoted to empowering the next generation of abolitionists with the tools and the networks they’ll need to end modern slavery in our lifetime.
Though I resigned from CLIFF’s leadership board earlier this year, the issue will always be an important one to me. It continues to influence my interest in reshaping our relationship to the products we buy and consume, and the stories behind how they got to us.
You’re an avid scuba diver. What’s the coolest dive you’ve done to-date?
I recently dove between the North American and Eurasian continental plates in a fissure called Silfra, which was formed by an earthquake in Iceland back in 1789. The water is filtered through porous lava for up to 100 years before reaching the spring that feeds into Silfra. So, while chilly at roughly 2 degrees Celsius, the 100 meter visibility makes it totally worth it.