Investments in Technology that Help Social Impacts

Along with the revolutionary advancements in technology seen since 2000, there has also been a revolution in the way businesses are able to engage with society, using corporate social responsibility as a way for a company to create social impact.

The idea of social responsibility has long been an essential part of business, with company owners pursuing philanthropic interests and making charitable donations. As time moved on, this has developed into our modern understanding of CSR, with businesses recognising their responsibility to society as well as stakeholders and doing well through doing good.

However, the emergence of technology has transformed the landscape, greatly expanding the limits of what organisations, charitable and otherwise are able to do. Coinciding with the revival of venture capitalists, investment in new technologies has become a priority for many businesses that seek to make a sizeable social impact.

One example of an in-demand technology with a social impact is the Raspberry Pi computer system. When IT industry officials and UK government departments signalled concern over the widespread lack of IT skills such as coding in schools, the Raspberry Pi was pitched as a solution. Devised by the charitable Raspberry Pi Foundation as a simple but powerful single-board computer to aid in the technical education of children, they were supported by Sony’s UK Technology Centre which has since made six-figure investments to help develop and improve the production of Raspberry Pi units to meet demand. In addition, within a year of the Pi’s launch, Google invested in 15,000 units for UK schools to support IT education in 2013. As a result, schoolchildren across the UK have been able to greatly improve their technical and coding skills, which will have a significant social and economic impact on the UK in the near future.

The social impact that technology can have is even more greatly amplified in the developing world, where the introduction of new technologies have been able to generate new sources of income and new opportunities where there once none. Kenya is one such country where investment in technology has helped to create a significant impact on society, as demonstrated by the M-Pesa money transfer service. A branchless banking service that lets consumers deposit, withdraw and transfer money in addition to payment through a mobile device, M-Pesa brought accessible financial services to millions of people in Kenya, which is traditionally a cash-based society.

The concept originates from the early 2000’s, when researchers noticed the way in which people in several Africa nations were using their phone’s airtime minutes as a makeshift money transfer system. Although several organisations subsequently discussed the possibility of creating a formal money transfer service, M-Pesa was made possible through the involvement and investment of a large company like Vodafone, which launched the service in association with Safaricom in 2007.

As a result of this backing and development from Vodafone, M-Pesa has had a significant social impact in Kenya, bring many people into a formal financial system that had previously been difficult to access. By 2017, 10 years after its launch, the service had 18 million users in Kenya, and had helped to raise 2% of Kenyan households out of extreme poverty. One report even shows that 70% of adults use M-Pesa compared to only 31% who use banks, highlighting the level of accessibility that the mobile service has afforded Kenyans. This impact of this has also been felt in other surprising ways – the proliferation of a secure mobile wallet saw a decrease in cash-motivated crimes and has created thousands of new jobs.

Technology has become increasingly integral to a modern way of life around the world, and so the rise in innovative new technologies that can create a significant social impact is perhaps unsurprising in one respect. However, businesses and investors alike must realise the role that they have to play in generating that impact through identifying where there is a social need – be it better education or the transfer of money.

With the need to tackle issues such as poverty, health, sustainability and climate change high on the social agenda, there are likely to be no shortage of technological innovations being invented to provide solutions. It will be up to investors and businesses to invest in these technologies and bring them to the world so that they are able to create the social impact needed.