Accelerating the Use of Tech to Drive Social Change was the topic of conversation at the launch for CAST, the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology.
Matt Hancock MP, Minister of the Cabinet Office; tech entrepreneur Sherry Coutu; Big Society Capital’s CEO Cliff Prior; senior leaders from Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM and Kainos as well as dozens of funders, investors and social entrepreneurs came together to explore how we can accelerate the use of technology for social innovation.
The event was a morning of interactive, action-oriented talks and panel discussions will be followed by practical hands-on workshops for tech for good startups and nonprofits in the afternoon.
As an agency involved in the marketing side of the #TechForGood movement, Empower went along to discuss what steps we can take – across the social, tech, business and public sectors – to bring a social purpose to the digital revolution. You can also read our co-founder’s thoughts on the rise of the Tech For Good movement over on Ben’s blog.
Below are the notes from the opening talk, featuring a range of social entrepreneurs, investors and sector influencers on how we can scale #TechForGood approaches and the market as a whole.
On the opening panel were:
- Sherry Coutu, Chairman, Founders4Schools – @scoutu
- Liam Maxwell, National Technology Advisor, Cabinet Office – @liammax
- Sam Sparrow, Founder, vInspired Task Squad – @samrsparrow
- Cliff Prior, CEO, Big Society Capital – @cliffprior
- Jen Hyatt, Founder, Big White Wall – @jen_hyatt
- Dan Sutch, Co-founder, CAST – @dansutch (Host)
Here are our notes from the panel discussion:
Sherry Coutu, Chairman, Founders4Schools
- Tools that techforgood need:
- access to finance, might have got harder since Brexit
- training and support for leaders to drive change and scale their projects
- access to infrastructure, but there is there for us, e.g. AWS
- What information can central government open up for social enterprises to prove the impact that they’re having?
Liam Maxwell, National Technology Advisor, Cabinet Office
- Before we relied on surveys to see how many people actually used our services, now we rely on data to tell us.
- This is much better and is something we’re trying to do more of, e.g. opening up data
- Other countries don’t have these tools, but we can use this data to leverage these tools to scale our techforgood startups much better
- We can share across borders, e.g. we don’t compete with other countries to give out driving licences, so we can share the tech and data that drive those services with other countries
- Sharing info around procurement, development, addressing column problems will help aggregate best practice and cut down on waste
Sam Sparrow, Founder, vInspired Task Squad
- Grant funding has allowed us to scale by accessing different funds at different points in our growth
- Greens allow us to test new ideas, get business models behind them and draw on expertise
- Most important was when we were on cusp of knowing we had a good business model and clients, but there was a gap in funding to help us make the final leap to sustainability
- We’re now breaking even at Task Squad and are sustainable in London, so no longer need grant funding
- Next step is to use grant funding to expand impact across the UK
- Problem is there’s not enough grant funding to get you over the hump. There is initial grant funding for early stage projects, and impact investment for large scale proven startups, but a lack of funding to bridge the gap between the two
Cliff Prior, CEO, Big Society Capital
- Need to think about timeline – how long does it really take to scale? e.g. in healthcare, you’ll need a controlled trial which will take at least 5 years. How many of us are thinking on those kind of timescales?
- Mapping and understanding who is next is crucial. Understanding which finance tool at which stage is the most useful
- We have a particular problem where for investment we can only really use debt for investment, which is a pretty useless mechanism for growth if you need to scale fast
- We need to move from slow cycles to monthly, weekly or even daily changes, responding to the needs of the techforgood project
- Number of commercial incubators and accelerators are much moe interested in investing in techforgood projects. e.g. Wayra worked with UnLtd to open doors to social good projects
- Barriers to investment to charities getting investment for techforgood projects: structure of charities to receive funding, fear of mission drift away from social good projects
Jen Hyatt, Founder, Big White Wall
- Focus mostly on what’s causing you pain and get that right to help you scale
- Two things that help with success: engagement and advocacy
- If you don’t get engagement early on then people won’t know what your techforgod project is for. Look at your data, do loads of A/B testing and look at feedback loops to see how engaging your project is. Your project needs to be agile and you need to be responsive daily to the people it’s for, otherwise you’re wasting money
- Advocacy – if your project isn’t having the impact that you set out to do and you can demonstrate how you’re making a difference
- Partnerships across the sector are so critical for building techforgood projects at scale
- Need for a research project that looks at techforgood impact from a social perspective, nit just an economic aperepcitve
- Marketing is critical – we were too dependent on third parties, but until we took on good practice about reaching our target audience did we get real growth
- One of the main drivers behind #Brexit was inequality
- What are the structures for techforgood organisations that help fight inequality?
- Coops are mentioned as a hack to circumvent normal structure and ensure equality
- What we haven’t seen is a Coop Digital – can this structure work?
- You can’t do it all yourself, you need to collaborate and partner
- Get out there and talk to the people who have the need for your project
- Don’t use the techforgood movement as a way to get a one up on the market – collaborate and you’ll scale and get funding quicker
There are also some more updates from CAST that are worth a read:
- CAST co-founder, Annika Small, discusses how the UK can lead the world in bringing social purpose to the digital revolution, as part of Huffington Post’s recent ‘tech for good’ series.
- CAST co-founder and director, Kieron Kirkland, reflects on the African startup scene, having spent two months meeting tech for good innovators in South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia
- CAST also discuss the benefits of co-working for social entrepreneurs on their Medium blog.
For more on CAST, take a look at their website at wearecast.org.uk or follow the #techforgood hashtag for more updates from the event.