“If society is to benefit from innovations which focus tech on addressing social challenges, then we need to do more to increase collaboration and investment in social tech”
The pace of technological change seems to be accelerating. This brings huge opportunities and, at the same time, new challenges, writes Ed Evans, CEO, Social Tech Trust. If we are to create a future where technology works for us all, we need to really consider the kind of society we want to live in and how technology can help build that future.
This is why I’m committed to Social Tech Trust exploring what we can do to shape technology to have a positive impact on the lives of people across the UK.
Making change on this scale isn’t something that can be achieved in isolation. We collaborate with others who share a vision of social transformation driving tech. This means that we can explore the role of tech from a diverse perspective and take new approaches to transforming lives.
The World Needs Social Tech
There is a host of brilliant technology out there designed to make our lives easier and happier – from apps for streaming entertainment, e-readers to hold our favourite books or smart lighting to match our mood.
According to research from Doteveryone, 50 percent of people feel tech has benefitted individuals, but only 12 percent feel it has benefitted society. This suggests there is a disconnect, and that more that can be done to ensure that society is benefiting from the opportunities technology affords.
I believe social tech is one of the most powerful ways that we can effect positive change in people’s lives and across society. And we’ve only started to scratch the surface of what could be achieved.
So how can social tech tackle society’s biggest challenges?
Diversity and Endless Possibilities
Tackling social changes using tech is just as relevant to corporates and government as it is to charities and social enterprises. The organisations we work with to develop and support social tech don’t fit into a pre-defined sector; they are entrepreneurs, investors, technology companies, charities, social business and much more.
Why is there such diversity? Perhaps it’s because the challenges people are trying to overcome are so incredibly diverse.
This unique and constantly shifting blend of people, perspectives and expertise leads to truly remarkable innovation and problem-solving. It makes social tech a hugely exciting and rewarding area to work in.
We regularly unearth inspiring ventures who are challenging the way that we think about and use technology.
Open Up Music is an inclusive orchestra for young disabled people. We helped the organisation develop its vision about the impact a fully inclusive orchestra might have. Thanks to its tenacity and hard work, Open Up Music has gone from strength to strength and now supports 15 orchestras and 550 musicians across the UK. It has drawn on its tech expertise to develop a new instrument, the Clarion, which can be played with any part of the body, and has performed a live BBC Radio 3 broadcast on BBC Music Day and won a Royal Philharmonic Society Music Award.
Open Bionics develops affordable assistive devices that enhance the human body. With incredible design and engineering – and winning multiple awards along the way – the company’s mission is to turn disabilities into superpowers. Its Hero Arm, a beautiful multi-grip bionic hand, has been at the heart of the company’s success. It is currently working in partnership with Disney and Eidos-Montreal to develop a series of covers for the arm; and NHS England will soon make them available to children in the UK.
At Social Tech Trust, we have invested over £30 million in more than 750 initiatives over the past ten years. If society is to benefit from innovations which focus tech on addressing social challenges, then we need to do more to increase collaboration and investment in social tech.
The Unique Role of Large Companies
For large companies, to build their future sustainability they need to recognise and strengthen the valuable role that they play in society.
Our vision is a world where social transformation is the driving force behind tech. Through this approach, social challenges are considered at the outset and inform the development and delivery of tech approaches, rather than social applications being an afterthought that needs to be retrofitted.
One of the partnerships we’re really excited about right now is with Vodafone UK. It has an increasing focus on preparing the UK for a digital future, championing equality and developing technology for society; and with more than 30 years’ experience, is ideally placed to share its technology expertise and champion the development of technology with a social purpose.
Together, we are running the Techstarter programme that aims to uncover and develop innovative ideas that are harnessing the power of technology, connectivity and innovation to improve health, education, environmental protection or social mobility. The winners – to be announced in February 2019 – will receive investment, guidance from expert teams and partners, and digital technologies.
It reflects a joined-up approach to supporting socially driven approaches that can make effective use of technological innovation.
Corporates can play a critical role in increasing investment, developing strategic partnerships and encouraging the wider shift towards embracing social partnerships. This doesn’t just mean throwing money at projects, but offering services, time and expertise; and being genuinely committed to making positive change.
The connections and credibility that a large company can bring can play a major role in helping ventures to secure further investment and unlocking partner networks that can help the organisations to grow and develop. The power of their people networks cannot be underestimated.
We Can Change the World
The ingredients are in place for social tech to go from strength to strength. There is huge demand; the desire to drive change is real and the ecosystem continues to grow.
People are the creators of technology and it’s within our hands to shape what it can do for us. I would urge organisations of every shape and size to consider how they might contribute; together we can help to make the world a better place for all.