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Good with Tech

Getting started with #techforgood – what I’ve found so far

jamescrowley profile image James Crowley ・6 min read

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

A recent 'climate coffee' call with the ClimateAction.tech group

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.

Online:

  • 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.

In-person:

Contributing code

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!

Teaching

Devoxx4Kids at the Womad Festival

If you're interested in teaching, there are many options to volunteer:

Mentoring

The Spring 2019 cohort at Bethnal Green Ventures

If you have a little more experience, organisations such as Bethnal Green VenturesZinc.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.

At FundApps it gave us a framework within which to focus our future efforts and aligned with efforts we were already making introducing policies like fair paternity leave

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:

Where next?

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.

Discussion (3)

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murrayvarey profile image
MurrayVarey

This is very timely for me -- I've recently been thinking more about how to give back. Part of the problem -- as you've described -- is knowing where to start. Personally, I'd be looking for something away from the desk -- I already spend enough time behind a computer at work.

The other issue, of course, is time management. Is that something you've been able to deal with?

Thank you for the article, James. I'll certainly be looking through the links you've provided.

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jamescrowley profile image
James Crowley Author

Time away from a desk is obviously harder if you wish to specifically apply your technology skills. I haven't found a good answer to that one.

I have however ended up spending time in the humanitarian space which has certainly changed the environment in which I work and widened horizons that way.

If you're looking in general to do good and get outdoors then things like GoodGym or volunteering for the National Trust if you're in the UK could be something to look at.

Feel free to drop me a note if I can help further.

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murrayvarey profile image
MurrayVarey

Yeah, that's the dilemma -- exploit my existing skills (and arguably be more useful), or get away from the desk. The answer is probably simple: just do something! Doesn't matter what. Once you're rolling, you can adjust.

I wonder how many other people hit this problem, being put off by the entry point. It makes me think of the Open Source community. Perhaps volunteering needs a 'First Contributors' or 'Awesome For Beginners' equivalent. (Perhaps there already is one.)

Thanks again, James. I might well take you up on the offer and drop you a note.

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