Written by Dan Ziv, TouchNote CEO
For the last half a decade, ‘tech for good’ has been the rallying cry of those looking to make a difference in our sector. From it, a series of products developed out of kindness, empathy, accessibility, and authenticity have sprung up to improve the reputation of the tech sector as a force for positive social change.
Tech for good is an important goal, but going forward it needs to be expanded. A 2019 McKinsey report identified six key areas for tech to drive social change which included health, education, and sustainability. These macro uses undoubtedly provide value for society, but they aren’t flawless.
In the UK, a growing digital divide means that ‘tech for good’ is only reaching some. Additionally, the lack of micro-level connection many people face on a global level can also exclude those across the globe. If tech is truly to be seen as a force for good, it needs to ensure that ‘tech for good’ means ‘tech for all’. This means taking a more diverse view and focusing on audience, workforce, and targeted application.
Let’s take as an example the older generations. In the UK, more than 3.4 million people don’t use the internet, mainly the older generations. According to Age UK, concerns over security, lack of accessibility and price all mean that elderly people are reluctant to use the internet. More pressingly, seeing no real-world benefit from using tech means that elderly people who have used the internet stop doing so.
As a result, we’re seeing a digital divide develop, causing a rift in our society between those who are connected, and those who are isolated. Whilst those who don’t use the internet still benefit from the indirect application of tech through public services, understanding the true benefit means closing this gap. But how can tech companies do it?
At TouchNote, our largest demographic is the over 65s. Unusual for the tech space, but it’s something we’re particularly proud of. All good products are about providing value, but value differs from person to person. We have found a way to create a means of inter-generational communications, bridging the divide between convenient digital communications and more accessible ‘slow’ communications like postcards.
For a lot of elderly people, the capacity for tech to transform the digital into something physical is a key driver of value. Through this, tech isn’t some abstract concept that may or may not have a use in their life, but something in which a physical impact can be created. To bring isolated demographics into the tech space, we need to prove our real-world value.
Tech for all doesn’t just mean tech for all customers, but it means tech for all those who make a team as great as it is. This means two things: diversity in the workplace, and upskilling across the globe.
In the UK, tech has a diversity problem. Whilst women are particularly underrepresented in directorial roles across most sectors, this is particularly true in tech. According to TechNation ‘the proportion of men and women being appointed directors of tech companies in the UK has remained almost exactly the same since 2000.’
It goes without saying that this needs to change. If tech for good (and indeed ‘tech for all’) wants to live up to the name by driving societal inclusivity, it needs to start in its own space.
But when we talk about diversity, it needs to be in a global context as well. One of the most important factors in determining the use of tech, is practical application and training at work. Tech companies can start making a difference in their own space by upskilling their workforce across the globe.
At TouchNote, we have our main team based in the UK, and a smaller set of contractors based in India. We offer each of our Indian contractors free use of Coursera, with a 95% sign up rate. It allows our team to not only benefit from the tech product they help create, but to upskill and train themselves with tech. This direct application doesn’t just increase tech’s capacity for social good, but also helps break down barriers to accessibility.
For most people, however, the criteria for tech being a force for good comes down to its daily application. Tech for all means that these applications have a day-to-day impact on improving people’s lives. It’s the responsibility of tech CEOs to view their product through this lens: how are we helping improve lives?
This doesn’t have to be a high-end, lifesaving technology. Although there are plenty out there that do just that, but it needs to be a real, tangible impact on someone’s quality of life. For example, through our card-sending service, TouchNote offers people the chance to have meaningful, authentic connection with their loved ones on a regular basis. We know this brings value because we see the impact it has on our customers’ happiness.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, lifesaving technology, but tech organisations should ensure that their product is working for all, by providing value for everyone.
Tech for good is an important aspiration, and the benefits it has brought over the last half a decade are substantial. As we look to expand it, our focus should be now on ‘tech for all’. By keeping this in mind through our customer outreach, our treatment of our own team, and through the application of our service, we can improve the tech space even further.