The problem with Silicon Valley, and many of the tech companies today, is that they have been wrapped up in where the money is flowing from i.e. the first world. This means the bright, young and innovative technical talent of today is primarily being funnelled into the latest pizza delivery, car sharing, or queue jumping app, while the developing world is left to solve its own problems. While this is not necessarily anyone’s fault (after all, its easier to solve problems that you can experience and understand first hand) it means that more progress could be made on bigger problems, but is instead wasted on first-world problems with minimal impact, vs big projects with real impact.
To fix this issue, I think there are some fundamental next steps that need to come into play. Fortunately, most people are genuine in their willingness to do good, they just an easier path to doing it. I think there are 3 key turning points that could be the tipping point in making it easier to do good:
1. A steady flow of well understood, constrained problems
Without going to a developing country, or living in an environment where you experience the social or moral inequality first hand, its impossible to know what life is like on the ground, and what the true problems are. NFP’s already do work with those affected by the big problems everyday – why don’t they communicate some of their challenges, and allow others to solve them?
You could imagine the solution being a challenges marketplace, similar to IDEO or another platform, except tailored to the specific needs of non-profits. Universities could be a great place to start recruiting solvers – many people wanting to solve real problems, with time/resources available to make the first step – they just need the problems and a way to apply them. Of course, there are practical implementation problems; non-profits also need to invest in defining really strong briefs and having people in place to work with solvers – so its not that straightforward, however its an area I believe with a lot of potential to explore.
2. An easier way for everyday merchants and businesses to get involved
For everyone who’s not a university student or a solver, for those who may be wrapped in work and minutiae of the day-to-day, philanthropy is not something that naturally comes top of mind, nor is easy to do. Most people do the most convenient or simplistic thing – thats why people take the car instead of public transport, why they’ll drive to down the road instead of walking, and so on. Philanthropy needs to become something easily accessible that still provides substantial benefit to the consumer i.e. the concepts of value exchange and social enterprise. Thankyou is a great example of a successful product company that has married consumer benefit with philanthropy – a true example of the value exchange concept. Once our basic needs are met, we naturally want to do good and to help others, so creating a scenario that meets both our needs and is philanthropic is much more likely than the alternatives.
Similar to Thankyou, I think that making philanthropy an easy, everyday choice through value exchange is the key to greater engagement and impact. You can imagine programs and services that make it easier to integrate philanthropy into an existing service appearing over the next few years, as consumers become ever more conscious about their purchases and their effect on the environment.
One such idea is an easy add-on platform that allows Shopify stores to add an automatic 5% donation to charity stores. By installing this app, the brand develops a new point of difference (they support a real cause, in line with their vision), and their customers automatically receive branded communications from the platform outlining how their purchase has helped the nominated charity, providing instant feedback and strengthening the value of that purchase. The delivery of comms and the billing is entirely automated, so all the brand has to do is select a pre-approved charity, provide their details and they are ready to go.
3. Greater transparency and understanding from non-profits
The above points only will work if the NFP sector is more prepared to open up and share its performance and progress. For a lot of NFPs, this is quite difficult, due to lack of resources and multidimensional issues that are difficult to measure effectively, however as organisations like Thankyou and charity:water have proven, having a traceable impact that is fed back to supporters each and every time is a key differentiator for building the brand.
A big shift in perception
Unfortunately, most people in technology just aren’t thinking about the bigger problems – they are stuck looking at the problems they can see in the first-world. I think that the world needs more Thankyou’s, more enterprises that really put good at the top of the agenda alongside profit – and we need there to be more, so that others believe this and can follow suit. Coupled with greater access to problems and easier ways to good, the tech sector, (and even businesses in general) can improve their impact on the world and in doing so create greater value for themselves than ever before.