It’s a crazy world we live in today with disruptive technologies, wars, rumors of wars, populism, and tribalism. With the advent of technology and development, some may say our lives have become better with the increased convenience and cozy standard of living that we enjoy - but does that mean that our grandparents led “worse” lives because they did not have television or video games?
At a recent conference I attended Our Social Future: Innovating For Tomorrow, Dean Williams shared an interesting point that we can always draw lessons from history. For example, he spoke about the Renaissance period, a cultural movement that began centuries ago in Italy and later spread throughout Europe. The Renaissance period came about after our ancestors experienced famine, diseases, and war during The Dark Ages.
Even the 1900s saw ideologies like Communism and Nazism, and World War 1 and 2. Today, some parts of the world are facing wars, homelessness, and starvation. Drawing on Dean William’s point that the issues we face now are not new, the question is, is the world we live in really better? And how can we use the technology we have now to make the world a better place?
When you think of non-profit organisations and social work, you think of human relationships, interpersonal communication and being on the ground, and it can be hard to associate this with technology and artificial intelligence that is cold and something that does not stir emotions. However, digital technology can actually help non-profit organisations and social enterprises boost their reach and funds with the right messaging and collaboration.
Kiva is an example of a non-profit organisation that has harnessed digital technology to expand its outreach. Kiva aims to connect people through lending to alleviate poverty, so anyone can help a borrower access clean energy, go to school, or start a business. What sets Kiva apart from its key competitor in crowdfunding, The Grameen Foundation, is the way they used digital technology.
Firstly, Kiva’s platform is accessible in 86 countries, and it also used several blog promotion tools to spread its message. In addition, Kiva provides a developer API so that anyone can conveniently access their public listed information. They provide live updates on the latest loans made, trending sector, trending borrower and lender country and amount of funds raised. This transparency helps to build credibility and also provides the information and visibility so that people are better informed. As a result, they have managed to raise $100 million in just over 4 years since its inception.
Besides being tech-savvy, Kiva does storytelling in a way that allows people to relate and at the same time, see a tangible impact. One of the speakers, Prantik Mazumdar, shared that in this digital age, organisations should look into an individualized focus, such as personalised communication and sharing personal stories of beneficiaries. Kiva does this by featuring members of its community: both borrowers and lenders. On Kiva’s website, you will see borrowers’ personal stories ranging from single parents, those in need of better sanitation, to small business owners in regions affected by violence or instability. Even lenders have their own profile where people can see why they choose to loan on Kiva and who they have loaned to. There is also the option to join a team that supports the same cause you believe in.
Besides organisations, technology has also allowed individuals to share causes that are close to their hearts. With Heartful.ly, people can choose to raise awareness of and support their chosen cause by requesting their loved ones to make a donation in their honor, for occasions like birthdays or weddings.
The conference had me thinking about World Mental Health Day which was just observed last month. Mental health is a growing issue of concern as more people in Singapore (and across the world) are seeking help for mental illness. As an SEO specialist, I realise that searching for certain keywords related to suicide on Google brings up negative forum discussions and there are things we can do to boost the visibility of websites or pages that offer help so that they rank above these forums.
I believe that the key is to find something that you as an individual are passionate about, or as a company, to find social causes that make sense for the company and use that sense of purpose and creative thinking, along with technology, to make a change.