Do you use technology for social change?

The last few months have seen a significant change in the direction of my business projects. The vast majority nowadays are working with community projects, social enterprises and socially-focused academic institutions.

In many of these projects I am discussing and developing social return on investment models. Typically, SROI is a combination of financial return and social impact. I will not jump the gun at this stage on SROI models until I have at least had the opportunity to discuss current practices with Tony Bradley of Liverpool Hope University, an acknowledged leading academic on the subject and whose wonderful article introducing “integral economics” appears in this issue. I strongly suggest that you read the forthcoming serial of articles for the 3rdimagazine from Tony. No, what I thought I would do is to try and understand whether technology can specifically serve and benefit the “social sector”.

In order to get quick understanding I headed to Mashable; one of the leading lights in the world of digital technology reporting. They rather pleasingly provided me not only with various articles ( and unfortunately sponsored reports and adverts), but also with a list. A list entitled The Top 5 Social Enterprise Technologies for Business. Excellent, I thought. Initially.

The list comprises the following:

Jive – which provides collaboration software for businesses with the mission of improving team and work productivity – a platform for employees to communicate, brainstorm, and collaborate on projects in much the same way that social media sites allow us to connect.

Yammer which provides social networking services to organizations, allowing a secure way for companies and their employees to internally share information and otherwise collaborate.

Kaltura – described as the leading video-related social enterprise software that enables companies to launch a “Corporate Tube” to engage employees and customers, helping enterprises offer more knowledge sharing, collaboration, training, and marketing efforts.

Salesforce who provide enterprise cloud computing software for businesses, including Customer Relationship Management (CRM) services and other products for communication and data collection among employees.

Oracle, the IT and software giant that specializes in database management systems.

I hope that you can see why my initial excitement was now somewhat defused. Maybe I had asked the wrong question because these technologies were clearly business solutions that could be used by social enterprise in the same way that could be used, and are, by any commercial enterprise. I concede that all of the above are of some value, but they were not social enterprise specific; simply “social media” products and services. I returned to my research and asked a better question. The result was far more inspiring and I urge you to follow this link to the Harvard Business Review

Tech-savvy entrepreneurs was just what I was looking for. The use of various technologies to provide genuine social change. Again, I have extracted directly from the article (for which I thank HBS) to save pointless interpretation.

Samasource creates opportunities for marginalized people in developing countries to support themselves through small computer-based tasks executed remotely.

A new generation of social entrepreneurs is using mobile devices and the web to address pressing problems, harnessing their reach and flexibility to make a difference: finding earthquake victims in Haiti, detecting landmines in South Africa, creating jobs for marginalized women in Pakistan, and more.

GroundReport aims to break the barriers of censorship and media bias by empowering ordinary citizens to provide “hyperlocal” perspectives on global events. Anyone can publish news reports, opinion pieces, or videos on its website, and its more than 5,000 contributors have provided coverage of events such as the Iranian election protests—offering perspectives that, without this outlet, would have been stifled by government bans.

There are more examples for those of you interested including a project using speed dial phone numbers and GPS to improve medical support in India and some innovative funding projects. My faith is restored. It would appear that technology was not only being used in the standard marketing and communication fields, nor was it reduced, as it is in so many commercial enterprises, to measure and count, but it was being increasingly used in innovative socially beneficial ways to save and improves lives and communities. This did raise another question, however. Are we dong these things ‘at home’. Could, for example, the use of remote working and social media technologies be better used in the UK by encouraging home working, training and the spreading of knowledge to those who need it most?

I have to admit that I am only in the early stages of my research and work in this field but am now even more inspired. I will hopefully be able to report back to you on my progressing the coming issues. In the mean time I would end this piece with an appeal. Well, a couple actually.

Please have a look at the HBS report on the above link if you are interested in using technology to deliver social projects and enterprise.
If you are involved in socially-beneficial business or projects that utilise technology solutions to deliver and/or measure social change, please get in touch. I would be very interested in discussing your work.

For the moment I will continue to develop the work I am doing and will report back on any developments but please do contact me with your experiences.

This article was published in the 3rdimagazine on 2 December 2012

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