Vicki Hearn shares five insights into how social tech ventures are achieving impact across the world.

April 2018

5 insights into how we can transform lives with tech

18 Apr 2018

Vicki Hearn

Vicki is CEO of Social Tech Trust. She's passionate about the power of tech to achieve social transformation, and the value of cross-sector collaborations for making this happen.

Over the last 10 years we’ve seen a growth surge in socially motivated tech businesses. We’ve met people harnessing the power of tech to address social issues they’re facing, or that are affecting their communities, as well as tech entrepreneurs looking to use their skills to fulfil a social mission.

Regardless of the starting point, there has certainly been an explosion of businesses striving to transform lives with tech. In fact, recent estimates suggest that the ‘social innovation’ sector has doubled in size since 2015, with more than $22 billion invested globally in 2016. And, with a steady flow of new tech being mainstreamed, there is inspirational fuel fostering sector growth as we realise the socially transformative potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence and augmented reality.

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However, while there’s no doubting tech’s potential to bring positive transformation to our lives, it’s the negative implications of tech used for commercial or political gain, or to reinforce inequality, that grab the headlines – personal data harvesting, ‘robots taking our jobs’, fake news and cyberbullying. Investment and broader support for socially motivated ventures remains elusive, social entrepreneurs continuing to grapple with minimal resources and funding amid regulatory concerns.

Rather than speculating about what tech is going to do to us, we should be asking: how can we ensure that tech transforms our lives for the better? How can we ensure that human needs are baked into its design and development, driving innovation that enhances our lives and experiences? That is within our control.

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Nominet Trust has curated the annual NT100 for the past five years to amass evidence that helps answer these questions. Regardless of geography, social challenge and available resources, we’ve seen social tech ventures flourish, achieving social impact across the world. Here we share five insights into how tech ventures are transforming lives:

  1. Collaboration breeds success – Many of today’s technological advances owe their success to collective effort. When it comes to socially motivated tech, collaboration between individuals and communities in need and tech developers is a powerful force, enabling some of the most transformative ventures to achieve significant impact.

  1. Social missions and commercial models are not mutually exclusive – Many successful ventures – although socially motivated – are structured around a commercial revenue model. This doesn’t mean they’re driven only by profit-making, but see financial sustainability as vital to achieving long-term social goals.

  1. Innovation needs infrastructure to thrive – While tech innovation is often what grabs headlines and attention, many social entrepreneurs stress the need for systems, infrastructure and logistics to support developments in tech.

  1. The need for ecosystems – Socially motivated tech projects developed in countries with an advanced ecosystem benefit from the expertise, capital and infrastructure available. However, addressing this global imbalance would enrich the diversity of socially transformative tech even further.

  1. Many founders of socially transformative tech projects do not have a technical background – Rather than tech experts applying their skills to solve problems, it’s often the people who want to solve social problems who are turning to tech experts for help.

Our vision is a world where social transformation drives tech development. That’s why we’re sparking a global conversation about tech and its impact on society. But we can’t do this alone; collaborative effort across all sectors is needed.

Join the conversation by listening to our podcast series Our Lives + Tech where we discuss the future of tech and its impact on society.