There’s never been a better time to be a digital creative. The ability to invent products previously only dreamed of, add new layers to the lives of billions of people and be handsomely rewarded in the process means the world really is their oyster.
But there’s something else. Something missing. With the potential to do so much good often overlooked, I can’t help but think that the most celebrated tech innovations are a waste of this collective talent. Hollow victories that do little to push the world forward.
Now we’ve all got our own definitions of success, our different motivations and agendas. But let’s be honest – does the world really need another analytics company or online bookmakers? Amongst all this talk of innovation you have to ask yourself: if your solution isn’t accessible to people from all walks of life and helping them in some way, is it really that innovative?
The social potential of tech is an issue close to my heart. Having set up two social enterprises and with my current consultancy dedicated to the cause I can testify it’s the most exciting work you can do. It’s every bit as exhilarating, liberating and rewarding as it seems to be. The opportunity to make a real difference is an easy thing to get up for every morning.
There have been some fantastic success stories in this space. JustGiving has revolutionised fundraising; the likes of TheyWorkForYou and WhatDoTheyKnow are transforming democracy and opening up our access to politicians; FutureGov is reworking public services hand in hand with the people who use them; and CharityWater is showing how charities can operate with greater transparency.
Meanwhile, the growing Tech for Good movement is inspiring a new breed of incubators and accelerator programmes, with funders primarily focused on social impact. Nesta’s ShareLab and Comic Relief are both active examples. The former is currently exploring a collaborative economy beyond AirBnB and Über for social good, whilst the latter has recently backed a Bluetooth navigation device empowering blind people to navigate the tube independently and a phone app allowing sex workers to quickly alert each other to imminent dangers. Their work really matters.
Closer to home, and across the north, there’s no shortage of ways tech can help. New ways to heal, teach, train, clean, house, rehabilitate and reassure are all waiting to be invented. The possibilities are endless.
The best solutions can also be discovered simply as a consequence of great minds coming together. The coders, professionals and enthusiasts at the Leeds Open Data Institute (ODI) regularly unlock the hidden power in data to find solutions to pressing issues such as long waiting times for social homes and to cast light on inequality. Last year, the ODI FloodHack saw 100 people donate their time and talent to prototype solutions to flooding.
However, these good initiatives simply don’t get enough airtime. It’s the acquisitions and funding rounds that get the headlines and plaudits. Perhaps the good side of technology needs a better PR agent.
So, consider this a rallying call for coders, developers, designers, entrepreneurs and creatives. Seek out your next Tech for Good meetup, reach out to a local charity, join the Open Data community. We need you.
Stuart Goulden is founder and lead consultant at Like No Other (likenoother.co) in Manchester