The bright side of technology

At Nesta Italia we strongly believe in the power of technology to benefit people, the planet and the society. For this reason we made Tech for Good one of our key areas of innovation.

In this article, I will explain why we chose to focus on Tech for Good, what exactly we mean with this expression and how we work in this area.

Why Tech for Good?

In a nutshell, the expression Tech for Good simply means using technology to do good. 

There are many ways to achieve a positive impact and many possible directions to aim our efforts. So it’s immediately apparent that Tech for Good only really refers to the tool we use, i.e., technology, rather than what we use it for.

The decision to focus the attention on the tool, rather than the objective may seem odd. Is technology really so exceptional in the toolbox to deserve a special mention?

We believe it is. 

We believe that technology has a unique potential in finding new solutions to existing and emerging problems and in scaling the reach and impact of these solutions.

Technology innovation has been a catalyst for change for the entire history of humankind. In recent decades though, the pace of development has been accelerating at a breakneck rate, with technology becoming not only a sector on its own, but the dominant one.

Today, technology is where most innovation happens and where the best talent gravitates to. Innovation by its very nature always creates new solutions to problems, making technology a real hotbed of opportunity.

Of course not all technology innovation is made “for good”. In fact, the vast majority of technology innovation is driven by strictly for-profit reasons, sometimes from sectors that we would struggle to immediately associate with the notion of a positive impact. However, innovation often crosses domains igniting applications far beyond its original purpose. This phenomenon, combined with the increase in openness of technology research, collaboration and standards, allows Tech for Good opportunities to sprout up from unexpected places, leveraging the liveliness of the ecosystem.

The other major benefit of technology is its scalability. A technology-powered solution can often scale rapidly to serve an entire community and even be replicated to new communities at near-zero marginal effort or cost. This not only provides a tremendous multiplier of impact, but also has the added benefit of scale itself, with solutions becoming ever more effective as the number of their users increases.

What do we mean exactly by Tech for Good?

Tech for Good is an expression that makes intuitive sense but that lacks a univocal and widely accepted definition, so we would like to clarify what we mean by it.

For us at Nesta Italia, Tech for Good broadly means the use of technologies for the benefit of people and the planet. But let’s look at some fundamental questions that can help us qualify Tech for Good solutions.

Why The purpose of Tech for Good solutions is to make the world a better place by addressing one or more Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), as defined by the globally accepted blueprint defined by the United Nations.

The SDGs address the global challenges we face, including those related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice, and are designed to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all by 2030.

How Tech for Good solutions are developed in such a way as to create sustainable impact, which is meaningful, significant and long lasting.

To ensure the solution’s impact has the required qualities, it’s crucial that a rigorous approach is adopted from the initial design phase, all the way through development, tracking and continuous assessment and improvement.

What Tech for Good solutions are all built on technology but can take different forms depending on the specific circumstances of the challenge addressed. They can be products, services or intelligence, unlocking new and better ways to tackle the target problem. 

They create long lasting impact, either through ongoing adoption and use, or by enabling one-off interventions structurally changing the current operating model behind the challenge.

Who Many different players can be involved in the making of Tech for Good solutions. It’s important to make the distinction between 3 types of actors, those who develop, operate and use the solution. 

The first group is the most varied: really anyone with the right technology skills can lead the development of the solution, as long as they work closely with the users and with those who will operate it. Profit and no-profit organisations, startups, corporates and open source communities are all welcome.

Operators are those who will manage the solution to ensure it delivers impact to its users and beneficiaries and continues to do so over time. They play an important role to help specify the key impact metrics and identify the requirements of the solution as they know well the challenge addressed and the community of interest. They can be third sector organisations, social enterprises, territorial institutions or corporate social responsibility arms (CSR).

The users, or strictly speaking the beneficiaries, are obviously the most important group. They are the target of the solution, to whose needs we want to tailor it and whose life will be mostly affected by it. They are members of the population identified by belonging to a specific group or geography.

Our work in Tech for Good

At Nesta Italia, we believe that new and emerging technologies offer unprecedented possibilities to address and solve social and environmental problems and to transform the way we do social innovation on the ground.

However, we recognise that the Tech for Good sector in Europe is still young and fragmented, with pockets of adoption and innovation facing barriers to diffuse best practices and scale impact.

To accelerate the uptake of Tech for Good in Europe, Nesta Italia focuses on three areas:

  • Connect the ecosystem: we coordinate projects at urban, regional, national and international level to break barriers and bring together institutions, innovators, third sector organisations and investors in response to the challenges of the population of interest.
  • Promote experimentation: we create the conditions for “safe harbour” experimentation of new Tech for Good solutions by innovators, in direct contact with the end user and supported by capacity building and financing programmes.
  • Disseminate information: we research and communicate new technology solutions and the social and environmental opportunities these create, guiding and supporting the adoption and scaling of best practices to maximize impact.

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Stay tuned!