Using your skills to get involved in tech for good

Tech for good is a term used to describe any technology with an environmental or social purpose. For example, when I was studying my MEng back at the University of Manchester, we had a whole group building life changing gadgets for those with special needs. In fact my 3rd year project was a C++ self-built speech recognition and neural network trained application for helping people with speech impairments to self-lean to speak more clearly, enhancing their social life. My 4th year team project was a car game and remote controlled car operated using your eyes and speech commands, so that quadriplegics and paraplegics could operate it and have a sense of control over their environment. Back in the years 1998–2000 these were complex and challenging projects, but certainly more approachable nowadays with internet of thing (IoT), data science libraries, APIs, Python etc. widely available for all to use.

I’m happy to work in the charity sector for JustGiving as my main job, where I have the freedom to innovate with technology directly for charities and social good crowdfunding projects. I initially wrote part of this post as an email, following a presentation I did at AWS Re:Invent 2016 where I concluded on telling the audience to look at tech for good opportunities, and a viewer later asked by email for more ideas on how they can get involved too.

Ideas on how to get involved in tech for good

If you want to work in the tech for good sector too, you can look for ethical or green companies or startups (e.g. foodtech, cleantech or healthtech), charities, non-profits, non-government organisations or a company that does good as a by-product. You don’t always need to change jobs to start to make a difference, you can also do things part-time or on the side as a volunteer, or your employer might have corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives or make a difference days for example.

The trend is accelerating with the pace of innovation in technology, for example in mobile, cloud, AI, and IoT technologies where you can see it being used to directly improve peoples’ lives and the planet. This makes it ideal to also gain skills and expertise at the same time. Speaking from a UK and data science point of view, Data Kind is well established, is in the USA and other countries too, and tackling huge social issues like poverty, global warming and public health.

You don’t even need to have advanced skill to make a difference, here are some 1st hand experiences from volunteering colleagues:

“Drive Forward basically asks ‘professionals’ (that’s you) to give up a small amount of time every week to give advice and help to young adults who are in work, but from a care background and often haven’t had the guidance/help that many of us will have had to get us where we are. Normally it’s just a quick coffee or even a phone call each week to check in and have a bit of a chat about how things are going professionally to whoever you’re partnered up with.”
Frontend Developer at JustGiving
“Local organisation South London Cares run a programme to prevent isolation amongst our older neighbours. One of the ways in which they do this is via tech workshops. They consist of volunteers (like you) sitting for a couple of hours and old people come to you with their devices to chat and ask how to do things (like get a banking app or whatsapp their grand kids etc.) It’s really rewarding chatting to some hilarious and interesting people whilst helping them with tech.”
Charlie Vass, Tech Partnerships at JustGiving

Otherwise, if you want to do something in your local community, you can search Twitter, Google, Facebook, Meetup for terms like “Social good”, “Tech for good”, “Data for good”,”Make a difference days”, “volunteering”, “code for good”, #techforgood “app for good” etc.

I’ve broken it down into a few areas:

Remember almost all charities are looking for Volunteers or Fundraisers too! So I would track down a local charity/non-profit and see if they need IT volunteers … they are often understaffed, so would appreciate any help. Another way might be to look at their job vacancies, as there might be an opening for a volunteer with some of those skills too. A long time ago, at my university there were even openings to teach senior citizens and cleaners how to use computers, so school and universities might have options too!

The lists and content is non-exhaustive, so please let me know if you have any recommendations or want to be added.