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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 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 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 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.