Building communities: tech for good

Our Dot Project purpose is bringing together all that encompasses tech for good, tech as an enabler of social impact initiatives and organisations, and building communities of people whose collective passion and commitment have the potential for real social change. This isn’t always about being ‘techie’, or piloting ‘emerging tech’, but enabling people, be they in commercial organisations, non profits or public sector organisations to thrive by using technology to its full potential.

On a practical level, we identify opportunities where the relationship between people and technology can enable greater scale and impact, maximising efficiencies and effectiveness throughout the full range of activities to deliver products and services, their value chain. But it goes deeper that this. We focus on the people that underpin the organisations and initiatives, inclusive cultures and networks of people who have the capacity to effect change, and scale change through collaboration.

It is this very connection of people to purpose that I really believe can deliver amazing success — collaboration is about pulling diverse resources, skills and expertise to a common goal, and what better than the context of social impact. The power of collaboration fuels my personal passion to grow and drive momentum across tech for good networks — from national and regional initiatives, through to global movements such as Netsquared.

Netsquared

The Netsquared initiative of TechSoup is one such example of the power of connecting people and communities at a very micro, local level and also national and global scale — bringing together tech sector and civil society through informal convening events and connecting people to collaborate and learn from each other through networking events within their respective geographies.

In whatever way individual groups evolve, they all seek to understand opportunities for tech to enable social innovation and respond to the needs within their communities. What problems are we trying to solve, and how can tech help us get there? For some this will be on a very micro scale, and often for those groups in major cities it may be more pioneering. And it doesn’t matter, it is the coming together of people with diverse knowledge, skills and experience to, connect, participate and collaborate.

Tech for Good Bath

Netsquared is deeply aligned to our purpose, to bring together communities and drive a tech for good movement founded in collaboration. In early 2017 we launched the UK Bath chapter, Tech for Good Bath. This was very much a grassroots group, launched with the firm intention to gradually evolve, follow and listen to the interests and needs where we are, and engage the non profit and tech sectors local to Bath and the surrounding area.

It has been the obvious journey, with many learnings, mistakes and successes, but I believe we have a platform that works for now. We host informal events every couple of months to bring together people interested in how tech can enable impact across a social sector theme and bringing together public sector, academic, nonprofits and private sector to each contribute perspectives. We have many examples of people and initiatives connecting through Tech for Good Bath, and a wider ecosystem evolving as we connect to other Netsquared chapters, tech and creative networks. With over 400 members there is still a way to go and so much more we could be doing, but this takes days of commitment and just the two of us is not sustainable longer term if we really envisage greater impact.

Tech for Good New Zealand

We have worked beyond Bath to continue to drive the essence of NetSquared on our travels. Social purpose doesn’t take a break, when it finds you, it follows you.. everywhere.

We hosted a spontaneous gathering of women in tech for good as a side event during WebSummit Lisbon — bringing together 30 or so women and inspiring the launch of NetSquared Lisbon. And a journey back to visit family and friends for a month in New Zealand was never going to be just a holiday. In fact far from it.

Having previously worked in New Zealand it seemed an obvious opportunity to explore and discover a tech for good community. NetSquared were indeed previously active in New Zealand, but were in need of revival. Who and where were the change makers, organisations and initiatives? Could there be momentum for a revived group? My innate curiosity and fascination of the potentiality of human networks led me rapidly into a deep rooted, but somewhat disconnected pool of incredible people all with a shared interest in tech as an enabler for social good.

Sensing the opportunities and possibilities of making connections and bringing people together became and a compulsion, at times even overwhelming, but it is impossible to ignore the potential for connecting the dots and breathing life to potential ecosystems.

I have been so inspired by the openness of people across New Zealand — senior corporate and public sector stakeholders taking notice of my outreach and prepared to give the opportunity to explain my cause and mission. But in turn it was fundamental to actively listen and evolve my own vision to that which would engage this network, an exploration tech as an enabler of social enterprise and what could this do economically for New Zealand.

This level of connection is so much harder to do in the UK, and it became the perfect MVP of how to launch a sustainable network at the outset, with both corporate sponsors, foundations, public sector and most importantly the social and tech sector engagement.

Launch

Within 3 months Tech for Good New Zealand launched on 27th August 2018, with now 270 members and over 60+ people attending the event sponsored by ClearPoint and with inspiring talks from the most incredible social enterprise initiatives -

  • Damian Sligo-Green from Enspiral shared the Kaia the Kākā initiative which inspires young people, whānau and communities to connect with the Wellingtons natural environment through a digitally-enhanced real world journey.
  • Lisa King and the digital journey for Eat my Lunch shared how they have used tech to scale their growth through logistics systems.
  • Pat Snedden and Manaiakalani digital citizenship programme shared the incredible journey through implementing a digital first approach throughout the pedagogy in low-decile community schools and the impact on growth and learning through providing access to technology.
  • Joel Umali (Auckland City Council) and the Southern Initiative — Auckland Maker City Strategy sharing how digital fabrication can support skills development of young people, and setting up the makerspace in South Auckland.

The second half of the evening brought together a cross-sector panel to share their experience and vision for a sustainable tech for good network. The discussion was active with questions from the answer and diverse discussion across the group with thanks to our panel members Nikki Gravning (Callaghan Innovation), Tricia Fitzgerald (Social Enterprise Auckland), Hamish Rumbold (CEO ClearPoint) and Jackie Young (CEO eCentre Massey University).

Finally, the event also supported The WISE Collective Project which supports refugee background women to develop the necessary knowledge, skills, confidence and resources to start-up or contribute to activities for generating income for their families. One of their social enterprise initiatives is a catering service for events and meetings, and the event supported catering from the Pakistani and Ethiopian communities.

Thriving communities

Launching Tech for Good Bath has been a journey of taking a multi-sector approach to connecting with people across the city, from foundations and academic institutions, to non-profits, public sector and of course the tech sector itself. We have had some wonderful supporters, speakers and support that has enabled the network to have slow and steady growth.

However there is so much more we can be doing. We have struggled in gaining commercial sponsorship and through this we could really take the network to the next level. In New Zealand sponsors are more accepting of supporting ‘loose’ networks, yet in Bath sponsors want to be assured of governance and legality.

We have struggled to gain support from the commercial sector and civil society stakeholders in Bath, It has taken a year and a half to build a network of over 400 members, and within 2 months we have grown to nearly 250 in Auckland, with engaged corporate sponsors and a (hopefully) sustainable governance structure. There is the obvious difference with Auckland being a major city, and the hub of head offices, but surely this is possible in Bath too?

Taking the Bath network to the next level could really have significant impact on the communities across the city, a network to;

  • Provide a voice for social impact initiatives to identify their needs and share both the opportunities but also the strategic tech challenges they face
  • Provide the opportunity to showcase examples of tech enabled initiatives and impact to inspire others and shared learning
  • Provide support through connecting people with opportunities for training and project support
  • Provide a platform to strengthen communication and develop tech enabled partnership opportunities

There is such potential, and so we start this next phase of growth by transitioning the Bath network to a Community Interest Company. We have a steering group on stand-by, and a plan in place to grow the organising team to ensure we can become increasingly active and collaborate with other networks across the city.

Returning to the UK has been a little bit of a wrench, with the desire to be present in the growth of this network. We have learnt so much from building the network in New Zealand, the possibilities of scale, the opportunities that bringing diverse groups of people together to one place, to one shared vision can really inspire. For now I will continue with just a virtual connection to the Tech for Good New Zealand network, but one I am so proud to have inspired and to in turn now focus back to the city of Bath, and continuing to reach for our greater vision.