Experiences :: Getting started with #techforgood - what I've found so far
Getting started with #techforgood - what I've found so far
I first started exploring ways to do more good with technology last summer having left my role as CTO at FundApps. At the time, I found it hard to know where to start, especially when it came to finding concrete actions I could take. I’ve learnt a lot since then, so wanted to share some of the amazing organisations out there that can enable you to take action - big or small - if you’re so inclined.
The links I include in the post are just as a result of my personal exploration and far from exhaustive. I’d love to hear from you if there are others I should know about!
Communities and events
I started by just trying to find where all the people interested in doing good with tech were hanging out! Aside from stalking the #techforgood hashtag, I was introduced to some great communities.
- ClimateAction.tech and Impact Makers bringing together tech people who want to prevent climate change
- Techfugees who aim to empower displaced people with technology, with chapters all over the world and an online Slack community.
- There’s a regular Tech for Good meetup in London co-ordinated by the folks at CAST and Bethnal Green Ventures.
- Newspeak house in London have a thriving community and regular events focused on Civictech
- Elsewhere there are meet-ups in Brighton, Manchester, and Cambridge.
- Plus, there’s an annual ‘Good Tech’ conference in Brighton.
- MakeSense operate in the entrepreneurial space, connecting individuals, social entrepreneurs and organisations through events.
- ImpactHub aim to drive collaboration and entrepreneurial innovation around the Global Sustainable Development Goals with 16,000+ members and 100+ locations around the world.
- In the US, Public Good App House also organise many events in San Francisco.
As software engineers, we use many amazing open source projects day in day out - so contributing to those you care about is a fairly obvious first port of call. OpenSourceFriday is a great way to get started. That said, I wanted to focus my efforts on broader ‘social good’, and so the rest of what I share here are with that goal in mind.
A member of the team at FundApps was a long-term volunteer with DataKind who work on giving specific insights for charities from their data.
Outside the data science space, SocialCoder connects volunteer programmers with UK charities for specific, goal-oriented projects. RadicalEngineers connect organisations with a growing community of software developers and designers, and also meet up regularly in London.
There are also several other non-UK organisations such as CatchaFire, doing skills-based volunteer matching, and organisations like DonateCode and Benetech that are worth a look if you’d like to find coding projects.
I would love to hear your experiences if you volunteer with any of these organisations, or if you know of others I haven’t mentioned.
A note of caution
If you do end up contributing to software doing good, amazing! I’d just share two few points - perhaps obvious - that I personally found helpful to keep in mind:
- ensure you talk directly to and understand the needs of your end users - as you would in any product development effort.
- think carefully about the long term sustainability of the project once the volunteer engineers have departed - both operationally, and with respect to future product development (if any)
I have seen several well intentioned projects fall flat when the points above had not been given enough thought. Long-term sustainability is one reason many organisations such as DataKind work with specific project goals in mind - finding answers to specific questions from data, as opposed to building technology that the organisation then has to support and maintain. Good luck!
If you’re interested in teaching, there are many options to volunteer:
- Code Club is a worldwide network of free volunteer-led coding clubs for children aged 9-13. There are 13,000 in 150 countries, including 7,000 in the UK.
- At FundApps, the engineering team hosted a CodeFirst: Girls course over 8 weeks. They work to help increase the number of women in tech. You can read more about the experience here.
- CodeYourFuture run free training course supporting refugees and disadvantaged individuals with the dream of becoming developers.
- Devoxx4kids also run events in the UK and elsewhere for introducing kids to writing code - I took part in one as a volunteer back in 2017.
If you have a little more experience, organisations such as Bethnal Green Ventures, Zinc.vc and Charity Entrepreneurship have regular intakes of social enterprise start-ups, and are often looking for experienced mentors to support them.
If you’re a founder or exec…
If you’re a founder or senior exec at a technology business, I’d strongly recommend you investigate becoming a B Corporation. Certifying as a B Corporation enshrines the need to consider the interests not only of shareholders, but all stakeholders - notably employees, customers and the wider community. So far more than 3,000 companies globally have become B Corps, and there is growing momentum, with 30 American business leaders championing a more ethical way of doing business.
In a personal capacity, I’d also encourage you to check out Founders Pledge, making a legal commitment to donate a % of any future proceeds from your shareholdings in a start-up business.
Other resources to explore
There are so many amazing people already in the space, I can’t begin the name them here. However, below are a few other resources that I’ve found particularly helpful:
- Cassie Robison writing about the evolution of tech for good in the UK vs the US.
- Phil Hewinson wrote a detailed post of tech products that are helping people today.
- CAST have a directory on GitHub of accelerators, meet-ups, VCs and other tech for good projects.
- Jason Jacobs, founder of RunKeeper has started a podcast on his journey discovering the climate change space.
- Richard Freeman from JustGiving shares some more links on how to get involved in tech for good.
- Tech for Good Live have a podcast and a monthly event in Manchester.
This is just the start of my journey in this space, but if you’ve got this far hopefully there’s been something useful. I’d love to hear your own experiences, thoughts or resources - and I’ll be following up with more so please do subscribe to further updates or follow me @jamescrowley.