Mich Atagana, Communications and Public Affairs Head, Google SA
Technology, after all, has the ability to connect people who need one another and allows users to share resources and skills, empower themselves and others, and mobilise across borders to help people in need. This makes the #Tech4Good revolution the most powerful social change-maker in our lifetime.
It is impossible to imagine our world without technology, from an economic point of view but certainly from a social and human well-being perspective. We have countless digital solutions at our disposal that make business sense and improve the lives of ordinary people and help level the playing field between the haves and have-nots. These days, profits are no longer the only corporate finishing line of importance. How businesses are changing lives, communities, and the world at large has become equally important.
Users themselves, particularly millennials, have been the ones who kick-started this trend. This army of digital natives, who make up 24% of the global population, isn’t just after products and services with a high convenience factor. They are after purchases that help them make a social impact, too.
Deloitte’s 2018 Global Millennial Survey shows just that: according to the data, people born between 1980 and 2000 believe businesses have a duty to make a difference in society through innovation, be kind to the environment, and improve people’s lives. Most of the survey’s 10 455 respondents also said they would be prepared to spend more on products and services that do good – shunning companies that don’t have any regard for this.
This filters through to what they expect from the organisations they work for and the ventures they develop. Of course, financial viability remains important, but that is not where their quest stops. Making a change has become their currency of choice.
Take TooGoodToGo, founded by Jamie Crummie, a young lawyer from the UK who has found himself a spot on Forbes’ 2019 Under 30s list. His platform kills three birds with one stone, over and above being a profitable venture. Firstly, by connecting consumers to nearby restaurants and retailers with unsold food, allowing them to buy great meals at great prices, it helps to reduce food wastage. In the UK alone, TooGoodToGo is preventing 100,000 meals a day from being landfilled.
Secondly, the platform is fighting malnutrition and hunger, a global problem that is also prevalent in developed countries. In the UK, 1.5 million people have reported not eating for a whole day because they can’t afford food. Three million Britons live in households where someone had been forced to skip some meals.
Finally, Crummie and his team are helping food companies to expand and diversify their client base whilst allowing them to recover some costs associated with unsold food.
Other social entrepreneurs focus on connecting people and fostering friendships. Despite our connected world, loneliness remains prevalent in our society, especially amongst seniors.
ShareThyme is a good example of what can be done to solve this. Developed in the UK, this free platform pairs people aged 65+ who are lonely and love to cook with younger people keen to learn new recipes. See it as an Airbnb Experience, but one for cooking!
The millennial drive to use technology to change the world has inspired multinationals to do the same, including technology giant IBM. Together with the American Cancer Society, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and the Clinton Health Access Initiative, the company has helped pave the way for a new tool to improve cancer care and treatment in Sub-Saharan Africa.
As part of this alliance, IBM has developed a Cancer Guidelines Navigator, an online clinical decision solution to help African oncology specialists make better and faster diagnoses whilst assisting them in optimising the patients’ treatment trajectories.
This is necessary. According to the Global Cancer Atlas, sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 752 000 new cancer cases last year, 4% of the global total, and 506 000 cancer deaths. Cervical cancer is especially problematic: one-third of all deaths associated with this disease occur in Africa south of the Sahara, a region which accounts for only 14% of the global population. Lack of proper diagnostics and treatment options are key causes of this.
Other corporate giants are focussing on enhancing people’s skills sets, targeting vulnerable and marginalized individuals. Accenture, one of the world’s largest business and IT consulting firms, has, for instance, developed a Skills to Succeed Academy. As a free and interactive online training programme, it helps disadvantaged youths aged 15-24 boost and build relevant skills to grow their career prospects.
Closer to home, JSE-listed IT company Business Connexion has partnered with the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi), Africa’s oldest tech incubator, to equip unemployed South Africans with skills vital to today’s workspace. Think geometrics, artificial intelligence (AI), operations technology, and cybersecurity. Not only does this programme improve their chances of finding meaningful employment and a ditto salary, but it also provides businesses in our country access to the scarce skills they need to grow, remain competitive, serve their customers, and make a difference.
In many aspects, Accenture and Business Connexion, are hitting the nail on the head. Technology truly is the perfect vehicle to help people, business owners, NPOs, activists, start-ups and anyone else grow, enhance, and polish their skills sets. Innovation has the ability to bring knowledge closer to people, instead of the other way around. This allows you to learn anything from anywhere, at any time. All you need is internet connectivity.
For example, Google’s Grow Stronger with Google initiative is helping to accelerate economic recovery through providing people with the tools, skills and insights they need to grow their careers, start new businesses, and expand their existing ventures.
In the same vein, the Digital Skills for Africa programme is providing young Africans with the skills they need to participate in the digital economy and either find jobs or create their own. It also enables SMEs to take advantage of the digital tools they need to be where their customers are. So far 5 million young people and SMEs from 29 African countries have gone through the programme. Of these participants, 60% have seen their businesses expand, started new ventures, secured jobs, and grew in their current positions.
Some 48% of participants in the Digital Skills for Africa programme so far are women. This is important because women remain economically under-represented and, therefore, most affected by unemployment, poverty, and hunger. To add insult to injury, those who have jobs often earn less than men. South Africa is no exception, where female workers on average earn 28% less than their male counterparts, the 2018/19 Global Wage Report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) shows. The fact is countries and economies can’t transform, grow, innovate, and bring about change if they continue to exclude women.
Programmes like I am Remarkable and Women Will aim to empower women by giving them critical entrepreneurship, workplace readiness, leadership, and technology skills, as well as the interpersonal skills needed to truly rise, and take other women along with them.
There is a simple reason why more and more companies have shifted and continue to shift their attention from revenues to purpose through technology, and are putting social impact at the heart of their operations: as good corporate citizens, using our profits for good is our duty. The world in which we operate is not ours to keep.
Besides that, it is what our customers, suppliers, clients, employees, and shareholders expect from us. Making a social impact is no longer a nice-to-have, but a must-do. If we can’t meet their demands, closing down is just a matter of time. Being a super brand makes no difference. Look at what happened to Kodak. Once the biggest film and camera brand in the world, they failed to move with their customers’ demands and expectations. As a result, they are no more.
The same thing can happen to any of us.
About the author:
Digital native Mich Atagana is head of communications and public affairs at Google SA.
Previously the Editor of Burn Media, a multimedia digital publishing house where she ran Memeburn and Ventureburn, Mich has travelled extensively through Africa learning about tech and startups on the continent.
She has a Masters in New Media and Journalism and is completing a PhD on social media usage to aid extremist movements.
She has spoken at Netprophet, the UN Social Good Summit (2014 and 2015), MEF San Francisco 2013 (and was a Meffy’s judge that year). She was a GSMA Global Mobile Awards judge for 4 years in a row to 2017. She wrote a column for CNN for a couple of years and has interviewed a range of senior tech people from around the world.
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