We’re delighted to feature an interview with Vicki Hearn, CEO of Nominet Trust, about their recent report.

1.What prompted Nominet Trust to develop the Transforming Lives with Tech: A Global Conversation report?

In 2017, we marked the fifth year of NT100 – Nominet Trust’s global celebration of socially motivated tech. In producing NT100 each year, we’ve learnt a lot about what it takes for tech to transform lives around the world, and a fifth birthday seemed a very good time to share the insights we’ve gathered. The report sparks a global conversation about how we can scale the impact of socially transformative tech.

We revisited our 400 NT100 projects, interviewing 10 in depth to explore what’s helped them succeed. Their stories gave us five key insights into key factors that have enabled them to change people’s lives for the better. With further research, we also identified five social tech trends, some of which can grab the headlines for the wrong reasons, and explored their potential to transform our future lives.

2.Can you summarise the key trends from the report and who is doing them well?

We researched how five types of tech are set to transform lives and profiled some of the pioneering projects that are already using them.

1.Blockchain is set to bring financial inclusion to billions, including refugees. Organisations such as BanQu use the secure ledger tech to give people without a bank account a secure, verified ID.

2.Artificial intelligence (AI) is enhancing the support available in key health and social care services. Wysa is a chatbot using deep learning and natural language processing to provide mental health and wellbeing support.

3.Bionics are being taken to the next level through neuro-tech trials to enable amputees, stroke survivors and those with spinal cord injuries to regain movement. US army veteran, Bill Kochevar, became paraplegic following an accident during a charity bike ride. BrainGate’s electrode brain implants have allowed to feed himself for the first time.

4.Immersive tech, including virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), is reimagining healthcare. In the UK, Patient’s Virtual Guide is an AR app helping children due to go into hospital feel more informed and confident before they arrive.

5.Autonomous vehicles have been tipped to improve safety on our roads, and they’re also being developed to increase accessibility. In Canada, Cyberworks is developing autonomous wheelchairs to help people move around their homes more easily.

3.What can charities learn from the report insights?

We gathered five key insights from our analysis of NT100 projects:

1.We found that collaboration between the individuals and communities in need and tech developers enables ventures to achieve significant impact.

2. Successful NT100 ventures, although socially motivated, are often structured around a commercial revenue model. Their purpose is still centred on people, not profit, financial sustainability enabling them to achieve their social objectives.

3. Many of our NT100 founders stressed the need for infrastructure and logistics to support advancements in tech. In some cases, tech ventures are working with governments and NGOs to develop infrastructures and systems that improve the overall environment in which they operate.

4.Most of the successful European and US social tech ventures we spoke to benefited from an established ecosystem of grants, investment, education, incubation, infrastructure and support. Addressing this global imbalance, we believe, would further enrich the diversity of socially transformative tech.

5.Our research showed that social need leads and tech follows – people who want to tackle a social problem by finding a new approach turn to tech experts for help. Most founding teams have at least one techie on board, but they aren’t usually there at the outset.

Charities can take inspiration and draw knowledge from our social tech trends.  Having worked with many charities over the last 10 years, we’re aware of the challenges they face and the pressure to deliver their services more effectively and efficiently.  We’re also aware that digital tech can seem a complex specialism, or the preserve of the tech sector.

Most of the trends we’ve highlighted are starting to emerge into the mainstream, with the infrastructure in place to support pilots.  The opportunities are increasing for charities to access new tech solutions to previously intractable challenges.  With social purpose at the heart of tech development, charities can embrace the potential of digital.

4.What do you think is the best way to get charity trustees and leaders up to speed with the issues raised by the report?

The opportunity to use tech to transform lives is open to everyone. Many of the founders of social tech projects are not technologists themselves. For example, Chris Sheldrick, co-founder of what3words, didn’t have a tech background and this has driven his team to focus on creating a system that is truly intuitive.

The ability to convene and collaborate around a social challenge is critical to success – another key trend we highlight in our report.  Charity trustees and leaders are ideally positioned to bring invested people together with common purpose and make this happen.

Whilst some appreciation of the potential is important, being open to the possibilities in the first instance is enough to begin the journey.  We’ll be delighted if our report encourages charity leaders to be open minded about the role of tech, or even champion tech within their own organisations, resulting in an acceleration in tech adoption in all aspects of service delivery.

You can download the full report here.

If you’re looking for further inspiration, explore Nominet Trust’s Social Tech Guide and subscribe to their new podcast series Our Lives + Tech.