It’s been fashionable in the 21st Century for large companies to pursue beneficent initiatives, i.e. create foundations, name Chief Sustainability Officers, develop Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs, and, particularly in the technology business, support the notion of #TechForGood.
The latter encompasses projects large and small across a wide range of experiences. My first experience in learning about a #TechForGood initiative came at the PopTech Conference in Camden, Maine in Fall of 2000 (co-founded by my long-time colleague Bruce Armstrong Taylor).
At that unusual thought-leader confab, the late (dearly missed and remarkable) Michael Hawley, PhD, of the famed MIT Media Lab, presented an initiative he’d started in Cambodia to develop village schools supplied with Internet connectivity and laptop computers. Michael continued to do good works until he died far too early in 2020.
Small is good... but often difficult
That presentation informed my own point of view and activities when I spent three years living in the Philippines a decade later. I was fortunate during that time to have the backing of a few local technology companies and Computerworld Philippines to apply #TechForGood on a small scale here and there in this developing nation.
This experience drove home (a) the need for technology to be more widely adopted by the 3.5 billion people who live below the world’s average income, and (b) the level of difficulty in doing so.
One of our core values of the SmartNations Foundation and its Climate 4.0 Project is that the frontier and emerging societies and economies of the world do not get left behind in the era of Digital Transformation and the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0), and, further, that this must be accomplished in as sustainable, circular-economy and carbon-zero way as possible.
And particularly so in small, hands-on projects at the neighborhood, village and community level where sustainable change may oft prove difficult.
The obstacles to both developing and maintaining small projects and seeing them through to the long-run result of real, tangible, positive change should not be underestimated, and, in-so-far as possible, designed and planned for. The response to the COVID-19 pandemic is a great demonstration at a community level (both very small and very large) of the invisible power of social entropy.
Initial enthusiasm fades, inertia is always present, a level of chaos comes into being, and tying achievements to real progress is hard. The ability for small #TechForGood initiatives to create jobs and help people lift themselves and communities out of poverty, to improved health, and many other desirable social outcomes can also be a frustrating challenge.
Yet people continue to develop small #TechForGood projects in the face of obstacles and discouragement. In my opinion, even every one of the millions of small, kind acts, such as setting up a printer for a local group or registering someone online for something can qualify as #TechForGood. And venturing into the realm of #DigitalTransformationForGood can be downright fraught with peril.
Great staying power is nearly always required.
Get the Big Hammers
What are also needed are the big hammers in the form of initiatives from large organizations. A survey of some of them would include:
- Call for Code. This program was started by IBM in 2018, with support from United Nations Human Rights.It has attracted more than 400,000 developers who compete for cash prizes as high as US$200,000. A recent, prominent project called Agrolly provides information to farmers worldwide to assist them in making better decisions, and fighting Climate Change along the way.
- Tech for Social Good. JP Morgan Chase sponsors this program under the rubric of “skilled volunteerism.” Its four aspects include hackathons and other coding activities, connecting employees with nonprofits to build sustainable initiatives, a variety of youth programs, and a search for emerging talent in traditionally underrepresented population groups.
- The Tech for Good Summit. This massive initiative, undertaken in 2018 by President Emmanuel Macron and the Government of France, brings together large multinational companies in initiatives that include Education, Economic Inclusiveness, The Future of Work, Diversity, and the Environment. The latter program aligns itself with the Paris Agreement, and is chaired by noted French economist Claire Waysand of Engie, and HPE CEO Antonio Neri. Other project leaders include Jack Dorsey of Twitter and Square, Safra Catz of Oracle, and Satya Nadella of Microsoft.
- Net Impact. This San Francisco-based organization has been in existence for 28 years. It supports about 400 chapters worldwide, devoted to finding, training, and supporting new leaders in projects focused on sustainability and environmental issues. Financial supporters run the gamut of large companies, from tech leaders 3M, AT&T, Intel, land Microsoft; consumer companies including Best Buy and McDonalds, to industrial companies such as International Paper, Shell, Bayer; and others.
We support all
Our view at the SmartNations Foundation and our Climate 4.0 Project is that optimism is a virtue. No #TechForGood project is too small. And no massive initiatives are too unwieldy. We stand ready to lend our support to one and all. And to help tell the #DigitalTransformationForGood and #4IRForGood stories. Small and mid-size companies ought to get engaged in such projects. Not just those that are pets of the CEO, either. Encouraging people throughout the organization to share themselves and their knowledge/skills and to assist with funding, particularly matching funding, for the taking on of such projects.
The benefits that can be reaped are just simply too important.
What are your #TechforGood projects? Let us know what you think, please!