Technology broadens the horizons of possibility. Individuals can leverage technology to see loved ones around the world instantaneously, where only 25 years ago, communication was bounded by limits in time, cost, and space. Today, we can learn about esoteric topics that traditionally have been limited to those with great economic privilege. However, while technology increases the potential for good, it also does the same for harm. Over the past few years, we have seen the use of technology to compromise election integrity and sow societal division. Technological progress does not necessarily lead to societal progress.
We at hackNY have always believed in the power of technology and the importance of empowering technologists. Each year since 2010, we’ve organize the hackNY Fellows Program, pairing talented technologists with startups in New York City. We believe that (1) providing startups with resources will help them as they grow and change the world, and similarly, (2) providing Fellows with such an experience will inspire and enable them to pursue a path of entrepreneurship or technological impact.
Concerned about rapid changes and recent developments in the technological community, we have become increasingly passionate about the use of technology explicitly for social good. Looking to integrate a more formal social good component into the hackNY Fellows Program, in 2017 we ran our pilot Summer of Good, pairing our hackNY Fellows with nonprofits outside their internships. Drawing on last year’s learnings, we found that technologists are likewise passionate about using their skills for good — and we hope hackNY can help light the spark within the broader technology community. Indeed, some of the 2017 Fellows have gone on to organize their own outreach programs for education, activism, or tech lobbying. Seeking to provide more opportunities for good, we spent the last year planning, improving, and executing the 2018 expanded Summer of Good initiative.
We started planning the 2018 Summer of Good in the fall of 2017. Over the course of these last ten months, we’ve reached out to dozens of organizations, drafted project proposals, and defined our objectives and key results. We developed a structure for the initiative: Each organization’s project would include a team of Fellows and alumNY, consisting of one project manager to interface with the organization and multiple engineers to drive technological changes. By the time the Fellows Program started in May, we ended up partnering with ten organizations, tackling problems ranging from mental health to early childhood development. In the first week of the Fellows Program, we gathered the organizations and the Fellows together for “Kickoff Night,” where the organizations explained their challenges and presented potential projects for the summer. Afterwards, Fellows chose the projects they were most passionate about and were voluntarily matched with organizations. We ended up with 100% participation among the Fellows, with some Fellows even volunteering their time with two or three organizations! Over the ten-week hackNY Fellows Program, the Fellows used their technological expertise to collaborate with their organizations in making tremendous and lasting impact.
Having discussed the lessons we’ve learned with our own communities —with fellow students and fellow employees —we know that many technologists are interested in projects with purpose like those we worked on together the past two summers. To help share some of the lessons we’ve learned, and to make it easier for individual technologists and their communities to create similar structured and effective collaborations, over the next several weeks we will be posting a series of reports on individual projects and lessons learned.
Looking forward, we will continue to seek opportunities to use technology for good, whether that means incorporating social good into the hackNY student hackathons, or finding other avenues outside of the Fellows program. By mobilizing individuals to use their talents for good and exposing these individuals to such new opportunities, we believe they can take these experiences to further impact others downstream. If your organization is a mission-driven org that could benefit from partnering with talented technologists, or if you know a good cause or organization that might be a great hackNY partner, please let us know at info@hackNY.org!