Blog August 21, 2020

How can we use technology for good?

By Elizabeth Spencer

Tech for good, tech for social good or responsible tech are some of the terms given to organisations adopting a business model that tackles social issues.

Technology has permeated almost every service we touch; this has meant that the services at the heart of our day-to-day are now having a greater social impact. Tech for good, tech for social good or responsible tech are some of the terms given to organisations adopting a business model that tackles social issues. In 2018, choosing to address social sector challenges in housing, healthcare, finance, education and sustainability was a practice worth £2.3 billion to the UK economy. Firms in the UK are in fact, global leaders for developing socially responsible technology.

When tech companies choose to engage their expertise and create technology solutions to address society’s most pressing problems, they can adopt a variety of business models. These can include acting as a social enterprise, a non-profit organisation or a profit making business that works closely with frontline practitioners to deliver the services they need – or in the case of some, a mixture of all of the above. Software partnerships with non-profits and charities are imperative for social action and have the ability to digitally transform these organisations. 49% of non-profits believe they don’t have the skills and technology necessary to be efficient and 72% think that improved tech would help them deliver their basic services more effectively.

Big business is recognising its ability to assist in the delivery of tech in the social good landscape as part of their business strategy, putting people and outcomes at the heart of the organisation alongside commercial interests. JPMorgan Chase use this process to get to know how prospective employees work, testing their digital skills while ensuring they share the values of the company. They hold an event called ‘Tech for Good’, where students and existing JPMorgan technologists take 24 hours to solve real problems for non-profits.

The make-up of self-identifying ‘tech for social good’ firms is interesting; according to tech nation, the largest majority of these tech firms (17%) work within Adtech, focused on marketing and reach. Following behind are Edtech (10%), Fintech (9%) and AI (8.0%).

“With the right approach, technology represents not only an opportunity to grow our business and enhance the services we provide to clients, helping them to deliver commercial success, but also to solve the important problems of our time.”

PwC UK

What is ‘Tech for Good’?

Tech for Good is a UK-born phenomenon within the sphere of socially responsible technology. It came out of hack weekends in the hey-day of Shoreditch’s Silicon Roundabout, supported by Paul Miller, CEO of Bethnal Green Ventures, where socially-focused web developers can lock heads with third-sector and public sector professionals, using tech creativity to find solutions for social problems. Running since 2014, Tech for Good matches expertise across the technology and the public sector and accelerates digital solutions with the end-user central to considerations.

One Tech for Good contributor, Harry Harrold of NeonTribe outlines why software development in consultation with frontline experts should be central to building technology in the social good sector:

“I think that Tech for Good should also imply an egalitarian approach to its development; collaboration between those who develop and those who use. Rather than only those who develop.”

Here at MRI Software we embrace this strategy of consulting diverse and inclusive voices in order to build technology for the social housing sector. Our tenancy and income management suite was built – and continues to be developed – with our customers’ input.  Our Product and User Experience teams undertake a strategic process to iterate and innovate constantly in partnership with our customers.

 “we can make sure technology is shaped for the common good, because technology shouldn’t just drive a healthier economy but a healthier society too.”

Rt Hon. Jeremy Wright MP

Can a business be to scale and have social impact?

It can sometimes feel like the world of business is split in two; there are those that are feckless and profiteering and those who address a higher purpose and are social entrepreneurs. Profit making and social entrepreneurship shouldn’t have to exist in binary; more businesses owners and software builders should be both encouraged and driven to create services that have positive, real-world implications, as well as making money. More pragmatic are innovators recognising that a thriving business model should be founded on a responsible approach. Talking to Doteveryone, one Start-up founder put it as such: “This is not about being a good person — this is about building a big sustainable company.”

“For a technology to be responsible, it needs to understand and respect the ecosystems it operates within.”

Doteveryone.org

Case Study: ALERT

At MRI Software, many of our products are built alongside social housing practitioners and as such, are constantly evolving to adapt to an ever-changing sector. In this environment, we released ALERT as a free software module under the Housing Jigsaw umbrella, understanding that the impact of this product on the sector outweighed any profits.

ALERT is now the No.1 online tool designed specifically to meet the s213b Duty to Refer requirement of the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 (HRA). Under the HRA, specified public bodies have a duty to refer at-risk households to a local authority housing team. ALERT securely and efficiently sends referrals and notifications between local authorities and their wider partner agencies.

Working within the sphere of public services does not necessarily make a company driven by ethics and social consciousness. However, the consequences of acting irresponsibly within the public sphere are far too great not to be considered. Social good organisations are on the rise and in 2018 the turnover of these firms was £732m; community interest companies harnessing the power of technology are the ones to watch in UK tech. Increasingly, how the success of a company is judged will depend on how much social impact it has, and its sector’s ecosystem will be looked upon beyond balance books and efficiency.

 “It’s not anti-social to solve real problems at scale using capitalism if that is the best approach to do so. Likewise, it’s not particularly social to decide to stay small by principle when you could insert more capital into your production process, generate those increasing returns to scale, and thus solve the problem for more”

Nicolas Colin, Cofounder & Director at The Family, Sifted 2020

 

 

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