The Future of Social Good—4 Trends in Using Technology for Good

In September, Fenton joined the brightest minds in innovation at this year’s Social Good Summit, sponsored by Mashable, the United Nations Foundation, and the United Nations Development Programme, and hosted at the 92Y in New York. Each year, global development leaders, innovators and changemakers, along with more than a few celebrity UN Goodwill Ambassadors, gather to discuss how to unlock the potential for technology and new media to achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

It was a full day of learning about the future of what social good looks like. You can watch the more than 30 intriguing and thought-provoking panels here. These are a few of the trends that stood out to us.

Leveraging existing technologies for good

New technologies are being developed on a minute-by-minute basis, but what if we repurposed already existing tech to tackle global human rights challenges?

One of the most interactive panels of the day was a demonstration by Randy Paynter, founder, president, and CEO of CARE2. CARE2, also known as the  “largest social network for good,” worked with CDR Fundraising Group to develop what they are calling the world’s “first social good skill for the Amazon Echo/Alexa device.”

After placing the Amazon Echo next to the podium microphone, Paynter walked the audience through how to make a donation using Alexa, the Echo assistant. We watched as Alexa led him through the entire donation process. The demonstration took about three minutes, and by the end of it, he had committed to a monthly donation of $25.89 to the United Nations Foundation. Alexa can also help users sign a petition or call their elected officials, and with 35.6 million Americans using voice-controlled assistants in 2017, we can expect to see this technology repurposed for social good far into the future.

Using technology to overcome stigma

We’re familiar with the idea that technology allows us to bring personal stories to the forefront, to champion a person’s struggles and celebrate their achievements. But the Social Good Summit showed us how technology can go one step further to help users overcome stigma, a common barrier that prevents people from sharing their stories in the first place.

For example, ElsaMarie D’Silva has developed SafeCity, an app that crowdsources anonymous data from women to map sexual assault in public spaces, and to document where the violence is most prevalent. Sexual violence is notoriously underreported, but SafeCity’s anonymity allows women to report assault without fear of stigma or personal backlash while painting a more honest and accurate picture of what these crimes look like and how often they happen.

You can watch D’Silva speak about how technology can be used to reduce the stigma of sexual assault here.

Localizing design to meet hyper-local needs

As our world grows smaller and more closely connected, innovators have an expanded opportunity to develop solutions to specific, localized challenges. In her talk, “Innovation in Global Health: Don’t Just Make It. Make It Work!,” Gradian Health Systems’ Erica Frenkel discussed the importance of creating technology that works in the local environment where it is used.

social good summit2Gradian has developed the Universal Anesthesia Machine (UAM), which operates without electricity or medical oxygen. Gradian works to train local technicians in how to operate, troubleshoot, and replace parts of the UAM, all while maintaining local stockpiles of replacement parts in an attempt to build permanent capacity and quick access to resources.

“It is not enough to design a shiny new gadget that we can throw at a problem,” Frenkel says. “We need to spend equal or more time adapting our operations, building our businesses around the environments in which that gadget needs to work.”

With this in mind, it’s clear that the future of social good technology will not just depend on new, innovative technologies, but on developing technologies that truly match the needs of those who use it.

Art in the age of smartphones

If you attended the Women’s March on January 21, chances are you held the future of social good in your hands. No, not your phone. We’re talking about a poster of a young women with the words, “We the People.”

Photographer Aaron Huey spoke about his work with Amplifier, the design lab that worked with artists to develop and distribute the now iconic portraits. The powerful images, combined with the fact that all the pieces were open source and free, meant that this art travelled the globe almost instantly, even making it to Antarctica, and demonstrated the potential to use art to transcend borders and bring about social good.

poster1 poster2 poster3

These images travelled across the globe via social media, passing from smartphone to smartphone, and protesters were able to immediately go online to download the images themselves, for free. One can imagine that as our world grows more and more interconnected, art-based activism and its ability to translate across languages and cultures through social media will only continue to grow.

We’re only just starting to explore the capacity for innovative technology to tackle our world’s most challenging development issues, but these trends are sure to define the future of social good.

We hope you join us at next year’s Social Good Summit. In the meantime, we invite you to consider, what does 2030 look like to you?