Tech for good: 4 benefits of philanthropy for companies
This is a contributed piece by Cain Ullah, CEO of Red Badger
The emergence of social technology or ‘tech for good’ in recent years can be viewed as something of a fight back against what is perceived to be corporate greed in the wake of the financial crisis. Technology is one of the key drivers of positive social change both at home and in the developing world, breaking down barriers and transforming traditional models. The UK is one of the countries at the forefront of the social tech scene. While traditional angel investors are looking for a good return on investment and little else, there are now numerous philanthropic funds, government funds and organisations set up to support companies making a social impact. But what are the benefits of developing tech for good to your firm?
For many firms which get involved with developing tech for good, and certainly in our case, the main objective is simply to give something back. Companies and their staff are aware of the difference they can make to society through technology and want to use their skills for the greater good and to improve the lives of others. But in today’s world where Corporate Social Responsibility is increasingly important, particularly to a company’s brand and reputation, a long term, strategic commitment to CSR can improve competitive advantage, protect and raise brand awareness and build trust with customers and employees. So if purely philanthropic reasons aren’t enough there is also a tangible business benefit to getting involved in tech for good.
Another business focussed benefit of being involved in social tech is that it can help firms win the war for talent. As the UK’s booming tech scene has grown at breakneck pace a skills shortage has emerged where there are simply not enough people trained in the required technology skills to meet hiring demand. A battle for the best tech talent has ensued as a result. Gone are the days when our youngest and brightest want to work for traditional global corporate organisations who are now perceived as greedy and immoral. Today they want to work for companies like Google or the next exciting new startup and they want to be involved in work which has a social benefit. Enabling staff to spend a portion of their time working on charitable projects can be a great motivator. People enjoy having the autonomy to work on projects which interest them and which they feel have a real benefit to wider society.
Working on pro-bono projects gives staff a bit more freedom than usual to stretch the boundaries and try things that they might not when working on a client project bound by time and budget constraints. It gives staff the opportunity to be more creative and smart with technology. In turn this means that new ideas or developments which are found to work well can feed back into normal day-to-day business.
The Haller Foundation
The reason we know this works is because we’ve done it ourselves. We teamed up with the Haller Foundation, a UK-based charity to support its work in helping subsistence farmers in Kenya by developing an app which provides online training in essential farming skills to help improve productivity and incomes. This was done on a pro-bono basis and the majority of the work was done by recent graduates who had just joined.
One employee who worked on developing the app when he first joined and says; “With university being so theory-based, graduates need more experience in actually creating stuff and using modern technology in the process. Being involved in developing an app at such an early stage of my career really helped me to quickly build the practical skills I was missing”. By using graduates to do the bulk of the work it also means that only a small amount of time is needed from the more experienced developers to complete the project.
While there are some new social tech firms out there who have a double bottom line; to make money and make a difference to society, for the rest of us the main focus for any business remains making a healthy profit. But there are plenty of reasons why firms should consider apportioning some of their time and energy into social tech. There are clear benefits to both wider society and to the business and its staff.