A Crash Course on Tech for Social Good

By: Hana Gabrielle Bidon, Staff Writer


What is tech for social good?

The CEO of Bethnal Green Ventures, Paul Miller, first popularized tech for social good, the idea of utilizing technology to take on the world’s biggest challenges. It started out in 2013, back in the days when web developers gathered together with nonprofits and NGOs to create a solution to a social problem within 48 hours.


While many of the hundreds of ideas and prototypes generated at these fast-paced events did not come to fruition, it proved that tech could be used to solve social challenges. For example, technology can provide people with up-to-date and unbiased news like the Epoch Times. A decade later, the tech for social good movement has strengthened far more than anyone could imagine.


Internet and Social Good


Technology can be perceived as an invasion of privacy. For instance, companies can collect personal information about billions of people at once to customize YouTube channel recommendations or movie selections on Netflix. However, technology can also benefit society as a whole and make the world run more efficiently.


Today, social media platforms like Facebook have seen the rise of groups that encourage people to connect with others who share their interests of altruism and increasing awareness of the impact of technology. For instance, Coding It Forward, a student-led nonprofit organization, has a Facebook group where members can share job or internship opportunities in civic tech as well as public events about using tech to enhance the government.


In a wider scope, technology offers scalable solutions to humanitarian issues and allows people to approach social issues in a radically different manner. Not only do these solutions reach more people faster with reduced costs, but they also enable greater impact than if technology was not used to solve an issue. For instance, entrepreneur Christopher Gray wanted to help students be able to afford college by starting Scholly, a platform connecting students with scholarships best suited for them.


Technology can tackle huge global issues. Here are some areas where tech is used for social good.


Civic Tech


PC: Civic Tech Fair

According to GovTech, civic tech is technology that encourages more participation in the government or strengthens the government’s bond with the general public. While government technology broadly covers all kinds of technologies pertaining to the public sector and civic life, civic tech refers to the general public voluntarily utilizing their skills to help the government run more effectively.


Candace Faber, Seattle’s Civic Technology Advocate, states that civic tech exists because “technology has not fulfilled its promise to make society more equitable.” By using civic tech, citizens can correct social inequities and make the overall community a better place.

Civic tech primarily focuses on areas such as increased transparency of the government through open data. It was also born out of the fact that governments openly admitted that they cannot do everything themselves, leading to huge tech failures. When Healthcare.gov launched on October 1, 2013, for instance, there were significant technical issues with the website loadout due to the fact that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) employees did not have sufficient experience with launching technology products.


Consequently, the launch of Healthcare.gov was forced to exponentially increase its budget from $93.7 million to $1.7 billion.With tech for social good, people are working to change this. For instance, a startup within the government, Marketplace Lite (MPL) dedicated months to rewrite the Healthcare.gov website, which made the second launch of the website much more successful.


With the recent civic tech movement, MIT student Parth Shah founded Polimorphic, a platform that makes true government information accessible to the public and provides feedback to elected officials on issues people care about. Within months of launch, the startup aggregated an astonishing volume of political data. Reports show that thousands of political updates are sent out weekly and about 1000 politicians are tracked daily.


Harvard graduate Nathán Globerg is the strategy lead of Bluebonnet Data, a nonprofit that trains students and recent graduates with technical backgrounds to volunteer as data directors in data teams for down-ballot Democratic campaigns. It all started when Nathán was offered to volunteer and contribute his data analysis skills to a Senate campaign, joining a team of students from all kinds of technical backgrounds. While working on the campaign, he recognized a nationwide need, from City Council to Congress, for people with a technical background to work on campaigns. In addition to its seven founding members, Bluebonnet Data has nearly 50 fellows across America working on several campaigns across seven states.


Health Tech


PC: Fortune 500 Brainstorm Health Conference

Health Tech uses technology (e.g. mobile applications, wearables, web applications) to boost the development and commercialization of medical products. Sub-sectors that use it include hospitals and practitioners, government, and insurance.


While healthcare was slow to utilize technology, it eventually incorporated data collection in an area like mental health support. Mobile devices enable the general public, medical professionals and researchers to increase knowledge of wellbeing as well as monitor progress at the tips of their fingers. While there are a huge range of mobile mental health apps available in iTunes and Google Play, there is little industry regulation and lack of information on the effectiveness of the apps in helping people with their mental health. However, there are some benefits of mental health technology that are simple, yet effective.


For instance, the Crisis Text Line offers a free, 24/7 support for those in crisis, whether the person is going through a recent break-up, at risk of suicide, or even feeling lonely because no one recognizes that they need help for their mental health. In the United States, this service can be reached by texting 741741, which connects users with a trained Crisis Counselor, a volunteer who supports people in crisis. (Please note that while Crisis Counselors are always there to help out and empower those in crisis, it is not a replacement for traditional, in-person therapy.)


Headspace is a personal mediation guide that intends to improve the health and happiness of everyone. Users learn about the basics of mediation and mindfulness with free courses. With the premium version of this mobile application, users can have access to bite-sized lessons, for when users are short on time, in addition to supplemental exercises and hundreds of mediation guides on everything from sleep to stress.


EdTech

Education technology, also known as Edtech, focuses on studying and ethical practices in addition to improves education in a systematic manner.


Edtech focuses on enhancing the learning and teaching process as well as improving the efficiency and effectiveness of current educational practices. Edtech incorporates several kinds of media, such as audio and videos, to aid in online learning. By using technology, educational programs can save money, which can improve the current structure of schools and universities. Furthermore, education technology helps students, especially those who do not raise their hand in class and are hesitant to ask questions or answer the instructor’s questions. Nowadays, technology plays a vital role in education.


Developed by the MIT Media Lab, Scratch is a visual block-based programming language meant to teach children the basics of programming. Especially in this day and age, it is essential for future generations to learn how to think creatively, reason logically, and work collaboratively. Users of Scratch can create online projects, which include interactive activities, such as ordering bubble tea in Mandarian or creating a Scratch-based version of Fruit Ninja.


Khan Academy is an online learning platform where students can learn at their own pace by filling in gaps in their understanding in subjects like math, science, and history, among others. Once students have mastered the basics, Khan Academy then gives them the option to accelerate their learning. A recent study showed that students were over twice as likely to meet appropriate grade level-standards with the use of Khan Academy. By watching videos and completing exercises on each topic within a subject, students build a deep and solid understanding of all the subjects that they want to learn.


By considering the impact of the product that people would consume, technologists are putting humanity back in technology by creating innovative solutions to the world’s toughest problems, such as education and healthcare. Below are some opportunities to get involved with tech for social good.


Opportunities to Use Tech for Social Good

Want to get involved in tech for social good? Check out these opportunities for college students, working professionals, and more!

Coding it Forward Fellowship

Tech Jobs for Good

Citris UC: Tech for Social Good

Net Impact

Data Science for Social Good Fellowship

Stanford CS+Social Good Fellowship

Impact Labs Fellowship

EScience Institute: Data Science for Social Good

Aspen Tech Policy Hub

Harvard Undergraduate Technology Innovation Fellows Program

TechAcademies

HackNY Fellows Program

Uptake Data Fellowship Program

VSFS: Virtual Student Federal Services Internship

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