The Latest in Tech For Social Good

We had such a blast attending both the Social Good Summit and the Clinton Global Initiative that we had to write a second post about some of the great tech innovations we saw.  While the Social Good Summit is known as the must-attend event on all things digital, CGI also had many commitments and discussions this year showcasing technology for the greater good.  President Clinton recently wrote a piece in Time Magazine, discussing five ideas changing the world right now.  Technology was at the top of his list.  “Forget what you may have heard about a digital divide or worries that the world is splintering into ‘info haves’ and ‘info have-nots,’  Clinton said.  “The fact is, technology fosters equality, and it’s often the relatively cheap and mundane devices that do the most good.”

There were many examples of how nonprofits, governments and the private sector play a role in making the world better with technology. Here is our highlights roundup:

Slavery Footprint – President Obama announced a new initiative to combat human trafficking at CGI.  The US State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons launched the platform last year to allow users to calculate how their lifestyles contribute to the demand for human trafficking.  The goal was to register at least 150,000 people and calculate their “slavery footprint” in real time using an online survey and mobilizing them into action.  According to the State Department, they reached their registration goal within a month and continue to bring more awareness to this growing problem.

IntraHealth International – President Clinton presented a CGI commitment to IntraHealth International for its expansion of access to better training for Kenyan health workers through locally designed technology, or specially mobile phone platforms.  Traditional classroom training can be expensive, time consuming, and often out of reach to health workers in remote areas.  This initiative will design and test an open source, mobile learning program for these workers that is low-cost, easy to use and adapt and workable on commonly used mobile devices in Kenya.  Eighty maternal health workers will be trained in the initial phase by Kenyan software developers, which will include many emerging women technologists.

PeaceEarth – Academy Award-winning actor and UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Peace and Reconciliation Forest Whitaker came to the Social Good Summit to announce the launch of his new charity PeaceEarth, a humanitarian agency that promotes peace, conflict resolution and development through the use of social media and multimedia storytelling.  “I see computers and the Internet as an evolution,” Whitaker said during a media roundtable at the Summit. “It moves into the mystical and spiritual. In one second, we can touch a million people, and even move them. We’re all holding these [mobile devices], but we think of them as things, not a part of ourselves. But if you look at them as an organic being, they become a new attribute that we have. This phone is a part of me. I think we’re evolving to understand that these things are part of us.”

Catapult –  Women Deliver founded Catapult, a new online crowd-funding site designed to support women and gender equality worldwide.  According to a video on its homepage, none of the money raised goes towards “fine print stuff,” but rather goes directly to described projects.  “We understand that transparency can be a bit of a buzz word. But it really describes the experience of crowd-funding on Catapult — transparency is baked into our DNA. Each project includes a detailed description, budget (including administrative costs) GPS coordinates, and video or pictures of the people involved. And all the information is coming straight from the partner organization doing the work on the ground.”  Catapult officially launches on October 11, the International Day of the Girl Child.

Tech & Farming in Nigeria – During a CGI panel discussion called the “Future of Food,” Nigerian Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development Akinwumi Adesina stressed the importance of technology supporting farmers.  Adesina noted that mobile technology is part of the legacy of former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, and that the Nigerian government has continued to support emerging technology through local farmers and its fertilizer subsidies program.   For many years rural farmers depended on getting their subsidies from shady middlemen, who would either steal all the money or charge a high fee.  Adesina said only 11 percent of farmers actually received their full money through middlemen.  Now the subsidies are sent directly to farmers on their mobile phones and the farmer direct receipt of subsidies has dramatically risen to 90 percent.  “That small technology in that mobile phone is going to make a big difference,” he said.  Adesina also announced on Friday that his government will distribute free mobiles to 10 million farmers in 2013.

Living Goods: During a panel discussion at the Social Good Summit, Living Goods founder Chuck Slaughter described how his business model is directly bringing health care to the poor.  Living Goods essentially is the “Avon of pro-poor products” by hiring female independent contractors in Africa to sell health and wellness products like soap, medicine, bed nets and fortified foods door-to-door.  Smartphones play a big role in making this operation happen, including direct marketing, using SMS texting to register pregnant women and newborns, quality control, training opportunities and managing the workforce.  Most importantly, Living Goods provides entrepreneurial opportunities for women, while supporting healthy communities and eradicating poverty all at the same time.  This was by far our favorite social good tech takeaway of the week!

Development ChannelThe Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had major clout at both events this year.  The Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy initiative of the Council on Foreign Relations has launched the Development Channel blog for discussions on innovation in development challenges worldwide.  Posts will be primarily written by the initiative’s director and senior fellow Isobel Coleman and fellow Terra Lawson-Remer, as well as other thought leaders and practitioners in the field.  The Gates Foundation also supports the Poverty Matters blog on The Guardian’s website.

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