Technology & Social Impact

In the first of this series of blog posts on what we look for in potential grantees, I want to focus on the relationship between technology and social impact. At Indigo, we’re interested in technology, but passionate about social change. The truth is we recognise that few – if any – developmental problems can be remedied through technology alone. Having said this, we do believe that technology can have a transformational effect on people’s lives and that it can be used to sustain and expand social change. In order to achieve that sustained change, however, technology must be integrated into a wider project or framework that takes full account of the fact that technology can only ever be part of the solution.

But what does this mean in practice? Well, whenever we look at a project, the first thing we want to establish is whether it will lead to sustainable social change. One of the misconceptions I often come across is the assumption that we’re interested, magpie-like, in shiny new technology  for technology’s sake. This couldn’t be further from the truth. No matter how beautifully designed a website, mobile app or SMS platform may be, if it fails to change people’s lives for the better, we simply aren’t interested.  

iCow’s on-the-ground work has been crucial to its success

Often, any technological intervention will need to be accompanied by significant amounts of ‘offline’ work, such as face-to-face meetings, training sessions and on-the-ground outreach. One of our most successful grantees iCow, for example, has only been able to achieve the sustained impact it has because of the hard work that Su and her team have put into talking to farmers, showing them how the system works and being there to respond to their queries and questions. In Tanzania, meanwhile, ActionAid’s land-grabbing SMS reporting system only works because of the presence of on-the-ground activists who can advise communities on their rights and work directly with them to respond to incidents as and when they arise. This on-the-ground work is crucial to the success of both projects and it’s often one of the very first things we look for.

In the next post, I’ll be looking at the importance of research.