Tech is not just about making profits and glamorous gadgets, some organisations out there are putting the latest advancements in science and technology to good use for the benefit of humankind.
What do you think of when you hear tech for good? The average consumer here in Ireland, or what we call the western world, might think it’s something like a new renewable energy project or even just a company making another a claim to reduce its carbon footprint.
But both here and in areas of dire poverty, tech is one of the many things philanthropists and others are using to instigate real change in the world in areas like conservation, knowledge, poverty and humanitarian efforts.
Just recently, Siliconrepublic.com highlighted one Irish start-up’s efforts to help save the dwindling bee population using internet of things (IoT) sensors capable of spotting the Varroa destructor mite, which feeds off the larvae of bees.
We have even seen the wondrous potential of 3D printing being used as a way to help one young Northern Irish girl receive a kidney transplant she so badly needed.
While there’s dozens of examples out there, here are 18 that have certainly caught our eye.
Language and coding
Busuu is a social network for language learning, offering an affordable way to become proficient in languages from English to Arabic by communicating with a community of other learners and native speakers around the world.
Inspired by, and drawing its name from, the plight of the Busuu language – spoken by only eight people in the entire world – Busuu aims to make learning language easy, cheap and mobile (thus making it accessible to all learners, regardless of location or wealth).
The language courses are offered on a freemium model.
CoderDojo is a 100pc free to attend, a volunteer-led and community-based organisation, made up of programming clubs for young people between the ages of seven to 17.
It supports these young people as they learn to code, develop websites, apps, programs and games, and explore technology, with an emphasis on showing how coding is a force for change in the world.
CoderDojo was founded in 2011 by James Whelton and Bill Liao, investor and venture partner with SOSV, and has since expanded globally. Dojos are now run in Europe, North and South America, Asia, Africa and Australia.
One of its most recent successes saw 14-year-old EU Digital Girl of the Year and Inspirefest 2016 speaker, Niamh Scanlon, head to the World Economic Forum in Davos to teach the rich and powerful the wonders of coding, picking up a few famous fans along the way.
— Niamh Scanlon (@niamhscanlonirl) January 21, 2016
Khan Academy is a global not-for-profit that aims to offer a world-class education to anyone who wants one. The organisation, powered by volunteers and donors, offers online classes in everything from science to computing to the arts. Partnerships with institutions like NASA, MOMA and MIT ensure that pupils receive specialised tutelage and learn in exciting ways. The Academy’s resources are translated into more than 36 languages beyond Spanish, French and Brazilian Portuguese, and lessons are free, making it a truly accessible education for children the world over.
“Poverty is unacceptable.” So said Camara CEO John Fitzsimons not so long ago in a line that pretty much sums up his organisation’s plans.
Camara is an international charity that uses technology to deliver tech skills and education tools to disadvantaged communities around the world.
On a basic sense, it puts computers into the hands of those without. Its plans state that Camara wants to install and support 60,000 computers in schools and train 20,000 teachers worldwide with a view to educating 2m children.
An African non-profit promoting women in technology, AkiraChix is a five-year-old venture that is actively reaching young women all through the education system to encourage them to enter STEM professions. Holding events and running courses to allow women to try their hand at professions they may not have originally intended investigating, the organisation has taken 61 women through its diploma IT course. These young women have gone on to get internships, jobs and start their own businesses.
Holding events and running courses to allow women to try their hand at professions they may not have originally intended investigating, the organisation has taken 61 women through its diploma IT course. These young women have gone on to get internships, jobs and start their own businesses.
Techmums is a movement aimed at teaching mothers digital skills in order for them to empower their whole family. During this five-week programme, participants are asked to commit just two hours per week to learn a range of digital skills, from basic office tech and how to use social media, to app and web design and Python coding.
While the skills acquired through Techmums are useful for those mums who are working or re-entering the workforce, the fundamental tech knowledge gained is universally applicable. Started in the UK by Inspirefest 2015 speaker Dr Sue Black, Techmums has gone international through work with An Cosán and The Digital Hub in Dublin. “Everyone now needs to have digital skills and understand the digital world better, and I think mums are really critical because they’re the key influencers in the home. So, if mums understand technology I think the whole family understands technology better,” explained Black.
Robotics, science and biotech
A company looking at dramatically reducing the cost, and time taken, to treat patients, Nanobiosym’s work covers nanotechnology and biomedicine.
Gene-RADAR’s technology has been developed over 20 years leading to the world’s first, mobile, tricorder device that enables real-time diagnosis of any disease with a genetic fingerprint, at a cost at least 10-times cheaper than any comparable diagnostic tests on the market today.
According to the group’s aims, its technologies will help decentralise, personalise, and mobilise the delivery of healthcare to give each person the ability to take ownership over their own health.
A genuine example of next-gen diagnosis.
Robotics for Good competition
While many of the robotic advancements we see being made inevitably have some military leaning, like a drone or Boston Dynamics pack-mule on four legs, some organisations out there still see robotics as following Asimov’s laws of robotics and doing good in the world.
One competition, in particular, the AI and Robotics for Good competition based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), has become one of the biggest events of its kind globally, with the overall winner of the competition getting a cheque for $1m to further their research.
One entry for the 2016 competition was featured recently on Siliconrepublic.com, that being, suitX’s Phoenix light exoskeleton, which aims to give paralysed users a new lease of life.
One of the obvious stumbling blocks to undertaking scientific research is a lack of funding, which, in many cases, sees some potentially exciting projects fall to the wayside due to possible conflicts of interest.
Therefore, it seems like common sense that a crowdfunding website, called Experiment, would develop out of this necessity, with researchers able to promote their idea and hope budding philanthropists will get on board with it.
Co-founded by four researchers, the site has already received praise from none other than Bill Gates and has so far enabled 366 projects to raise $4.7m for a variety of scientific endeavours.
DCU Water Institute
The Dublin City University (DCU) Water Institute aims to address national, international and global water resource problems through working with academia, industry and society to help develop solutions to national and global problems in water.
Recently, principal investigator at the Institute, Dr Jenny Lawler, received funding to study the dumping of phthalate chemicals, which are used to make plastic, and possible links with health problems.
The Institute also recently hosted DCU Water Institute Week, which held a range of events to raise awareness about this natural resource, including a fashion show that featured marine-inspired clothes.
Global Forest Watch
Global Forest Watch (GFW) monitors the world’s forests using high-resolution aerial imagery from NASA satellites and information from people on the ground to keep watch on the health of global forest ecosystems.
Its technology is free and it enables anyone to create custom maps, analyse forest trends and download data for their area or the world.
GFW, which was founded through the World Resources Institute in 1997, has crowdsourcing tools that allow users to contribute information, as well as special apps that provide detailed information for companies wishing to reduce the risk of deforestation in their supply chain and users who want to, for example, monitor forest fires in south-east Asia.
Smart Earth Network
With the threat against the natural habitats of hundreds of species across the globe continuing to grow, a group of conservationists and technologists have decided to work together.
In creating the Smart Earth Network (SEN), conservation agencies, universities, government, NGOs, the private sector and philanthropists have pooled their resources to develop technologies like bio-trackers, metadata collection from phones in an area and GPS tracking.
It most recently featured on Siliconrepublic.com with one project that used smartphones to track the populations of the endangered dugong, or ‘sea cow’, in the Philippines.
Samasource is a social venture intent on moving low-income and impoverished groups to middle income through securing work in the tech sector that pays a sustainable, living wage.
Its global platform connects companies with the people power needed for digital projects involving big data, performing tasks such as file management, data validation and enrichment, content curation, and image annotation to develop machine-learning algorithms.
Founded in 2008, Samasource focuses its efforts in areas of high unemployment, including slums and rural communities in east Africa, south Asia and the Americas. On average, Samasource workers have increased their previous income by 114pc after six months of employment.
Samasource is one of three social ventures from non-profit organisation Sama Group.
GoodSAMs are good Smartphone-Activated Medics and, with the help of the technology many of us carry around in our pocket, could be the difference between life and death in a medical emergency.
In an emergency situation such as cardiac arrest, delayed treatment results in decreased survival rates, so early intervention is vital. GoodSAM is a social enterprise built to enable qualified bystanders to provide fast, potentially life-saving care in such emergencies.
This network of first responders (many of whom are off-duty doctors, nurses and paramedics) is connected via the GoodSAM app and online platform, which allows users in need to alert both the emergency services and any nearby registered responders. All responders are checked and verified and the app also houses the location of more than 13,000 defibrillators.
For 30 years, An Cosán, a community organisation based in south Dublin, has supported access to learning, leadership and enterprise for those in disadvantaged communities.
When then-CEO Liz Waters attended the launch of Silicon Republic’s Women Invent Tomorrow research with Accenture in 2013, she had a lightbulb moment regarding the digital opportunities for young women in disadvantaged areas. This led to the inception of the organisation’s Young Women in Technology (YWIT) programme, which gained industry support from the likes of Accenture and Xilinx.
Through a series of workshops on subjects such as app design, coding and social media, YWIT offers young women a chance to engage with technology and take the first steps on a pathway to new career and life opportunities.
As you have most likely seen, the refugee crisis has seen millions of Syrians flee the war-torn state in search of refuge in Europe.
Seeing the horror that was unfolding due to difficulties in making it to Europe, TechCrunch’s editor-at-large Mike Butcher set up a Facebook page called Techfugees to create a community of techies willing to use their knowledge to aid the struggling refugees.
The group now has nearly 3,000 members and has already begun transmitting live events online, including hackathons, and highlighting helpful apps.
Tomorrow (9 February), the organisation will host its first major US event at the New York Creative Conference bringing together expertise from tech, design, innovation, media and other communities to explore solutions not just to the Syrian refugee crisis seen in Europe, but globally, as well.
Disaster Tech Lab
From the relief efforts following Hurricane Sandy in the US to earthquake-stricken Haiti, the Philippines and the island of Lesbos trying to cope with Syrian refugees fleeing to Europe, a Galway-based charity called Disaster Tech Lab has provided a vital lifeline for families affected by disaster and war.
Since its first meet-up in Galway in 2012, the charity has provided much-needed wireless broadband access to affected refugees and rescue workers all over the world in disaster-stricken areas. For example, in recent months, the Irish charity built a wireless network with 50Mbps backhaul that will provide internet access to more than 7,000 refugees in two camps – Moria and Kara Tepe – on the island of Lesbos, off Greece.
TechChange.org is an online professional development resource aimed at implementers in public health, emergency response, monitoring and evaluation who struggle with limited resources.
The platform connects them with relevant content, experts and certification using its learning platform. The premise of the service is that a technology-enabled individual or organisation can play a vital role in saving and improving lives.
Disclosure: SOSV is an investor in Silicon Republic
Syrian refugees image via Orlok/Shutterstock