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Using technology for real social impact

03 September 2018

A powerful force for good – the combined strength of digital technology and social investment


Using digital technology to solve complex social problems is relatively new concept – but it’s an approach that’s gaining real momentum around the world.


Here in Victoria, a multitude of tech entrepreneurs and social services are turning tech into a powerful social-change ally. These people are putting digital tools to work in solving all kinds of complex social problems, from homelessness to family violence, and from disaster relief to issues faced by people with disabilities.


Given that social problems involve people, the digital world may seem an unlikely place to start looking for solutions to our unique and complex problems. But the combined power of big data and artificial intelligence can deliver finely nuanced and carefully tailored approaches to mapping, measuring, managing and mitigating even the most complex social issues.


Powerful new tools designed to support social change


So for most digital innovators developing social-change products and solutions, the biggest challenge is not the intricacies of society or humanity. For most innovators creating new technologies, the biggest challenge is often awareness.


Socio-tech entrepreneurs and philanthropists know what is possible, but their field is a new one so most of the rest of us – and especially people outside the social-change sector, such as corporates and venture capitalists – have no idea these powerful change-enabling tools exist.


And this is where the Victorian Government’s Digital Innovation Festival (DIF) comes in, and in particular, the Social Innovation Tech Summit


A collective approach is the best way forward


Megan Wright, a socio-tech entrepreneur and President of the Social Innovation Network, the summit’s organiser, says a more collective approach to harnessing technologies for solving social problems is the way forward. And by collective, Megan means everyone.


“All industries can benefit from the innovative work happening in this sector – and if we work together we can develop better understandings of how to lead a more sustainable future together,” Megan says.


Connecting technology with our new, purpose-driven culture


“Purpose-driven business used to be a marketing-type trend, but now it’s becoming more of a market demand. More customers and employees are questioning organisations, saying: ‘What are you doing to make this world a better place? Because if you’re not doing anything, I don’t want to know you, buy from you or work for you,” Megan explains. “So, the summit can help organisations leverage this purpose-driven culture, giving them a competitive advantage in whichever market and industry they’re in.”


As someone who has been immersed in the digital innovation sector for many years, Megan knows cross-sector collaboration is an integral part of social innovation. “And yet,” she says, “Our vehicle for cross-sector collaboration is fundamentally flawed because we have no idea who’s doing what, where they’re doing it, why they’re doing it, who they’re collaborating with or what could we learn from them.”


So right now, we have a corporate sector looking to create real social value, many industry sectors unaware of new technology being developed specifically to help them, and start-up digital entrepreneurs unsure how to connect with potential partners. This is why the Social Innovation Tech Summit is such a valuable opportunity for people working in all kinds of industries.


Adding value through using tech for good


As social responsibility becomes a clear market force, Megan says the summit will be especially valuable for corporates who have not been exposed to the types of technology being applied to social issues right now.


“When corporates recognise digital innovators are offering real opportunities for effective collaboration, both with not-for-profits and social entrepreneurs, these corporates can go beyond their everyday CSR strategies. They can align their CSR activities with opportunities to  solve really big social problems – and support projects that are aligned with their brand values,” says Megan.


Showcasing Australia’s innovative socio-tech thinkers and developers


The summit will showcase more than 30 socio-tech entrepreneurs and innovative leaders, each sharing insights on how innovative digital technology can help change lives for the better. And on how organisations can help put this tech to work in positive ways. The focus is on making information accessible to all, from tech gurus to complete newbies, so case studies and practical examples will be used throughout.  


“We’re steering away from buzzwords and abstract concepts – we want to inspire and excite people and if you come along, you will leave with a head full of ideas, new and interesting contacts and a fresh perspective on how technology can deliver social benefits,” says Megan


Examples of speakers you’ll hear on the day include Max Lynam, whose start-up, Impactful AI, is developing a tool to improve the measurement and evaluation of social outcomes for not-for-profits and aid organisations, assisted by machine learning and artificial intelligence


Also presenting is David Spriggs, CEO of Infoxchange – a Melbourne based not-for-profit social enterprise that’s been delivering technology for social justice for more than 25 years. “We've provided 7,500 community organisations with tools to improve efficiency and deliver greater social impact on both national and local-scale projects,” David explains.


Infoxchange also supports the Australian Digital Inclusion Alliance, an initiative working to empower disadvantaged people through better digital access, in partnership with corporates and universities. David will share his diverse and extensive knowledge at the summit.


Grow your social investment impact with advice from the experts


“Summit attendees – including those from all sectors – will come out with practical tips and strategies for growing their impact,” is how Megan puts it. “All summit thought leaders are all going to talk about what they’re doing within their organisations with digital inclusion, shared value, preparing for the future of work, data for impact, measurement and evaluation – and lots more. ..


The summit will model the kind of world it wants to create – a super-inclusive and collaborative world. A two-way conversation between audience and speakers will be conducted throughout. “Everyone in the room will have a digital tool for sharing what’s happening for them, what they think about the on-stage discussions, and for asking questions as the discussion progresses,” Megan says.


“We’re saying we need more cross-sector collaboration and more visibility – and this collaborative and conversational approach means we will all be practicing what we preach.”


How hackers, activists, government and corporates are finding common ground


Kelly Hutchinson, founder of Digital Social Innovation Australia (DSI4AU) is the summit’s keynote speaker. An international expert on digital social innovation, Kelly will share her deep knowledgeon the power of digital technology to drive social change.


“I plan to take people on a journey,” Kelly says. “Together we’ll explore both global and local examples, perspectives and experiences from within this emerging field.”


Like Megan, Kelly sees inclusion and collaboration as key drivers of digital innovation. Kelly says she is most excited by the fact “hackers and community activists are now working together with corporates and all levels of government, joining forces to address issues that matter to all of us.”


Mapping Australia’s rich tech-for-good landscape


Social-change-focused collaborations are something both Megan and Kelly would like to see more of, and Kelly is taking steps to make connecting with like-minded people easier. “I see many different activities happening – but what’s getting developed in one place might already be developed by somebody else. So I’m putting a lot of energy into building a DSI4AU crowdmap of Australia’s digital social innovation projects.”


With a map, Kelly says it will be easy to see what’s happening in the socio-tech sector, including “where it’s happening; who funds it; who's doing it; who’s driving it and who will benefit. With this tool, we can connect people working on related projects, and share learnings and do things better,” Kelly explains.


Kelly says Victoria is well-placed to lead the socio-tech charge. “We have a really long history of philanthropy here: we have a corporate sector that’s committed to social responsibility; and the use of private wealth for public good, via foundations and community giving. And we’re now seeing these new developments in the intersection between technology and philanthropy.


“This trend is happening worldwide – but in Melbourne – and across Victoria – there’s this coalescence between our culture of giving and our focus on digital innovation,” Kelly says.


Take the next step: join the DIF Social Innovation Tech Summit


If you want to find some inspiration, discover new ideas, connect with like-minded people or learn how digital innovation is helping make the world a better place, this summit is designed for you. Get your tickets early for the Social Innovation Tech SummitFriday 7 September, 2018


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