Why Paris Is the New #TechForGood Capital

Civic tech, smarter cities, virtuous use of data: shifting away from ‘feel good’ to ‘do good’ startups

Audrey Jarre
May 12, 2016 · 5 min read
Looking at Paris 2ème in a new light

I hate to admit that the craftsmen behind the buzzword hashtag ‘social valley’ were onto something when they dubbed Paris that way. Yet, twenty-first century problems and age-old issues alike call for innovative solutions to disrupt the status quo. It is an important time for Paris, and hoards of young French people, chouquettes in hand (a small portion of choux pastry sprinkled with pearl sugar) are leveraging new tools. Social initiatives are flourishing but they cannot scale if tech isn’t there to support them: it helps us see through years of experiments in health, access to employment or social justice by enabling new agile ways of tackling those issues. There is a faster, more efficient pace to our world, inducing changes in our behaviors and environment. Tech also fosters higher empathy and awareness of social issues beyond those we are directly connected to.

After two years away from France, it has been almost revelatory for me to spend a month at the heart of its vibrant tech district. In a semi-consanguineous marriage, the bustling rue d’Alexandrie and rue du Caire merge into a salutary passage for startupers to meander in and protect their take-out from the pouring Parisian rain at lunchtime. I have been working from the dusty tables of Liberté Living-Lab for the past few weeks, and spending time on the construction site was the best way to nourish my newfound understanding of why France is the place to be a social entrepreneur. Digital tools accelerate the circulation of information to empower citizens and enable a creative renewal of politics, cities and education alike.

15 initiatives that are shaping the French #TechForGood scene

Making smarter use of our knowledge

  • Bayes Impact is a group of data scientists, engineers, and academics who believe data science can be used to solve the world’s most ambitious problems: they build operational solutions to social problems through software for governments and nonprofit organizations.
  • Data for Good is a community of volunteer data scientists leveraging data for the greater good. The community has notably been working with the Red Cross to help them plan for food demand through relevant algorithms.
  • Etalab is the French task-force for open data and advocates for data sharing in the public sector. The platform data.gouv.fr, launched in December 2013 was the first site in the world open to citizens’ contribution, allowing users to enrich and improve public data and to share general interest data provided by the civil society.

#Civictech is paving the way to rethink governance and citizenship

  • Voxe is a nonprofit based in France that develops digital tools to ease civic engagement, working to mobilize voters around the world with their comparative election tools.
  • Fluicity provides a two-way communication tool for town halls, with the aim of ‟re-establishing permanent contact, a dynamic flow between elected officials and citizens, so that the data collected from these exchanges can be used to help the authorities take ‘data-driven’ decisions”.
  • Laprimaire.org is an open primary organised by Democratech, that aims at enhancing our pratice of democracy through technology

Creating a smarter, fairer city

  • CityTaps aims at boosting the health, dignity and economic opportunity of the urban poor by enabling them to access running water at home.
  • Jaccede.com is a smartphone application allowing users to contribute and consult places with a minimum of accessibility for people with limited mobility.
  • Singa is a citizens movement that connects refugees with members of the society they’re joining by means of their particular passions, projects, or interests. It has launched a project called CALM (‘Comme à la Maison’ — ‘Feels like Home’), which puts potential hosts in contact with refugees.

Helping a new generation to enhance their skills and employability

  • Simplon is a free coding training towards to lead fragile communities towards economic emancipation. The CAPPRIO programme, of which Simplon is a participant together like other organisations like OpenClassrooms (a MOOC platform with the first degrees recognized by the French government) aims at truly making digital a lever of insertion for the ‘NEETS’ (Not in Education, Employment or Training).
  • Ecole 42 is daring response to the challenge of information-technology skill development in France: the free computer training school is extremely selective but open to all.

Educating, differently

  • Leka is a smart toy for children with autism developmental disorders, and a therapy tool for parents caregivers, to teach through play.
  • MakeSense is a Paris-based rapidly growing group of social business enthusiasts that mobilize the talents, skills and connections of individuals around the world to help solve the challenges of social business entrepreneurs.
  • Hello Tomorrow is a global startup competition for early-stage science startups to bring projects from lab to world-changing solutions, from air quality to transportation and mobility.
  • Hello Asso, beyond their activity of innovative crowdfunding platform for charities, organises the yearly Social Good Week to enhance the visibility of like-minded initiatives and inspire more to flourish. A better flow of information creates a stronger economy to initiate experiments in various areas.

This is also why we are building the Liberté Living-Lab. We host a range of ambitious projects and individuals who are blending a sense of social responsibility with business purposes and tech to enhance cross-pollination of their practices.

We are on a noisy journey to find a time and place for those people to go beyond serendipitous connecting.

We want them to go truly hybrid, at a time where the intersection of public and private can be problematic. The issue is less the money than the governance and integrity of those new actors — there must be trust and intentionality.

At the heart of Le Sentier, between textile magnates and the bustling Rue Saint Denis, we (people) change others (people) — by design. We give them a structure that allows this hybridization in work and human interactions.

Next time you’re in Paris, skip the Eiffel Tower. We are located at 9 rue d’Alexandrie and we designed the space itself to be a manifesto — come say hi.