THE BLOG

How is Technology's Transformative Power Driving Social Change Around the world?

03/02/2015 09:39 | Updated 04 April 2015
  • Annika Small Annika Small is a social entrepreneur who explores how digital technologies can be used to address big social challenges.

Commenting on the role of technology in society, historian Melvin Kranzberg said "Technology is neither good nor bad - nor is it neutral". Technology is what you make it, and there is a largely unsung bunch of heroes using digital tools to bring positive changes to societies and communities around the globe.

From 3D printed on-demand houses to Cancer diagnosis by smartphone, or a crowd-sourced website mapping disabled access to public places and even a Braille printer made out of Lego by a 12-year-old boy - humanity continues to produce innovative solutions to major social challenges that build the future of digital social technology.

Now in its second year, our NT100 list of world-leading 'tech for good' highlights the power of digital technology, celebrating the myriad of projects created by people taking action to solve issues that matter to them. With enthusiasm and access to basic technology, these projects tell us you don't need to wait for governments to introduce policies or big business to provide financial backing in order to drive change where it is needed. Across time zones, cultures and sectors, all address big challenges of our time in creative ways.

One prime example is Harassmap, which uses crowd-mapping to try to end the culture of impunity around sexual harassment and assault in Egypt, a country where a staggering 83% of women, and 98% of foreign women, have experienced sexual assault. Then there's DonorSearch in Russia, an online database which geolocates those who need blood donations, and flashes up alerts to those living close by who have the same blood type and might be able to directly donate.

Another example is microfinance site Lendwithcare, developed by leading aid agency CARE International. It supports peer-to-peer lending by offering small loans that will help people lift themselves out of poverty. Another international organisation, Libraries Without Borders, has harnessed technology from an education perspective and created Ideas Box, a fantastic project that equips refugee camps with education, information and culture through pop-up media centres.

It's an exciting time in technology and the people behind these brilliant ideas show that with passion, resourcefulness, creativity and courage it is possible to make a significant impact on the lives of others.
It is particularly exciting to see recent inventions such as 3D printing picked up by social innovators. Still a relatively new form of technology, we have seen the inspirational Project Daniel introduce it to a remote community in South Sudan. The team behind the project has the world's first 3D-printing prosthetic lab that allows victims of conflict to get access to a limb, costing just hundreds instead of tens of thousands of pounds. Another early adopter of 3D printing for good is PEEK, which uses a plastic adapter that slots over a mobile phone handset to create a portable eye examination kit.

What's also hugely encouraging is that we are seeing an explosion of organisations, such as CoderDojo and Maker Faire, spreading digital making skills across the world, enabling more people to use coding and electronics to shape their communities and their own lives in ways never before dreamt of.

Lists are not as important as world-class and well-funded research facilities in driving innovation in technology, but we hope that by showcasing some of the best examples of positive action, we will encourage debate and draw inspiring developments to the attention of the students, educators, investors and politicians from around the world that are committed to driving social change.

The NT100 is gaining ground, shining a spotlight on projects that find effective solutions to global challenges quickly and inclusively. But we don't purport to be a definitive list. Call us out on what we've neglected. We want to know what submissions we've overlooked. We want to create a growing resource of expertise and sound digital social practice that serves to inspire the use of digital technology as a tool for ground-breaking worldwide change.