This article is part of our Conference Coverage: Dreamforce 2015 conference coverage

Dreamforce: Benioff follows Stevie Wonder onstage to vaunt giving back

Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff beats the drum for tech’s broader social mission at Dreamforce 2015, praising Uber and Western Union for giving back

“Dreamforce is the sunshine of my life,” sang Stevie Wonder on stage, prior to the main Marc Benioff keynote at Salesforce’s annual customer and partner event in San Francisco.

“We all have a responsibility to make the world better,” said the singer between songs.

Dreamforce 2015 has been moving to a Motown beat, with the music of 1960s and 1970s Detroit being blasted out around the conference, and with Benioff putting his typical emphasis on “giving back”.

There are 8,000 delegates from not-for-profit organisations at the event, making it the largest non-profit tech event in the world, said the supplier. Also in attendance is a phalanx of US armed forces veterans from the Salesforce programme VetForce.

One drive for 2015 was for attendees to donate to a project to amass one million books, which will be distributed to under-privileged children in the US.

Benioff used an extended segment of the keynote to encapsulate the show’s main product announcements, with co-founder Parker Harris dressed in a “lightning man” costume.

The customer relationship management (CRM) supplier announced a service called Internet of Things Cloud, underpinned by a real-time event-processing engine dubbed Thunder. The supplier has positioned Thunder as the “under the hood” software system that is the counterpart to the app development platform Lightning, which was announced in August 2015.

However, the technology initiatives took a back seat to Benioff’s narrative of his company as the world’s fourth largest software firm – after Microsoft, Oracle and SAP – being part of a “community”.

“The real magic lies in the community – the developers, the systems integrators, the [Salesforce] administrators – all of us together. That is the exciting thing. We have built the company the right way,” said Benioff.

He reiterated the company’s governing model of 1/1/1, where 1% of equity, one of product and one of employees’ time goes back into the community. Other companies should do the same, he argues.

The philosophy of Uber

The theme of technology companies having a social mission was a thread in a so-called “fireside chat” between Benioff and Travis Kalanick, the founder and CEO of Uber, the San Franciscan company that has famously “disrupted” the taxi industry worldwide.

Uber’s app connects travellers with drivers who use their own vehicles, using leverage mapping software to take passengers from A to B. At the heart of it is a philosophy that “celebrates the city” – in the first place the city of San Francisco, said Kalanick.

“The taxi system was broken – there were just not enough taxis in San Francisco,” he said.

Dreamforce Benioff and Harris
Salesforce CIO Marc Benioff, with co-founder Parker Harris as “lightning man”.

According to Kalanick, the more people who use a service like Uber, the less traffic there will be, less pollution and fewer accidents. Around 30,000 people die in road traffic accidents in the US alone, he added. “What if it were zero?”

He said half of Uber’s drivers work fewer than 10 hours a week. Being a driver acts as an additional income stream for most of them, enabling them to “fill in the gaps” in what they want in their lives by giving them extra buying power.

“For riders, our aim is to make using Uber cheaper than owning a car and to save people time,” he said.

Benioff praised UberPool, with its unintended benefit of sharing rides with people who can turn out to be new business contacts. Uber is, in his view, a company with “heart”.

Western Union alleviates refugee crisis in Europe

Benioff finished his keynote by bringing onstage Salesforce customer Hikmet Ersek, CEO of Western Union, the first company to wire money under the Atlantic, and which has a worldwide presence.

Ersek, himself a migrant, recalled how he and Benioff had met at the annual global economic summit in Davos, when the migrant crisis caused by the wars and economic crises in the Middle East and Africa was incipient.

Western Union is waiving the transfer fees for people wiring money to their relatives and friends affected by the crisis, with part of every transaction in the European Union going to refugees, as well as to charities such as the Red Cross and Caritas, said Ersek.

“It’s good that you are here to inspire us on the right path,” said Benioff.

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