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What Tech for Good is and Why it Matters

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Tech for Good groups provide opportunities to connect with people who share a positive vision of the future and look for ways to use technology in order to have a positive impact. Ellen Ward spoke about Tech for Good Dublin at Women in Tech Dublin 2019; she presented what Tech for Good looks like in reality, why it matters, and how people can get involved.

Tech for Good Dublin is a group who believes in the power of technology to positively impact people, communities and the planet. They care about the future and want to help ensure that tech is used as a force for positive change. It is part of the global Tech for Good movement which seeks to share the message that technology is a tool for everyone, and that we are all stakeholders in the future of tech.

Technology should be designed by and available to everyone, so they have aimed to be as inclusive as possible from the start, Ward said. Tech for Good Dublin aims to find inspiring topics that will encourage creative thinking and collaboration, so they have looked at technologies being used with children, older people and people with autism or dyslexia, for example. By sharing good news stories, their events and communications aim to amplify unheard voices and promote the important work of changemakers in our communities.

Ward explained how Tech for Good acts like an antidote to the negative news we hear every day about the impacts of technology which may cause us harm now or in the future. People love trying out new technology and asking questions about how it works, she said. They also like to talk about how ideas can be turned into reality, and the challenges that can occur along the way. It’s a fantastic form for learning and connecting with other people.

InfoQ interviewed Ellen Ward, head of information systems (interim) at Concern Worldwide and co-founder of Tech for Good Dublin, after her talk at Women in Tech Dublin 2019.

InfoQ: How are you involved in Tech for Good Dublin?

Ellen Ward: I’m a co-founder, together with Máirín Murray. We design and run the events (unpaid and in our own time) to focus on projects with purpose and showcase how people are using technology to solve everyday problems.

By highlighting the Tech for Good project we can influence the evolution of technology and encourage people to take back some technological power. Our group is open to anyone, we welcome non-technical people especially, and we encourage open and inclusive discussions as well as member networking and spin-off volunteer projects.

Since we started in March 2017 we have gathered more than 1,700 online members, and are proud to say that we have become an enthusiastic and diverse group of people who share a common mission.

InfoQ: What has Tech for Good accomplished?

Ward: Tech for Good Dublin has run 21 events so far, and given away more than 1,080 free tickets to people who want to learn more about Tech for Good. We have zero budget, and rely on donations in kind (room space, donuts etc.) and volunteer speakers. There has been incredible goodwill for our group which shows that people believe it is important.

We are part of a global movement. We know of groups popping up all over the world, such as Auckland, Denver, LA, Orlando, Cardiff, Birmingham, Brighton, Naples and Lisbon, plus Kenya, Nepal and Madagascar. There is set model to follow; the groups interact with and respond to their own community interests and needs.

In Dublin we do this by sharing stories of real people making change happen. Examples we have featured include a geography teacher who introduced Virtual Reality into classrooms to help students get engaged with the natural world, a team who built a platform to help charity shops sell their many donated books, an app to help children with Dyslexia with their education and connecting with other people, and an intelligent bike light which is helping city planners to improve cycling infrastructure.

InfoQ: What kind of topics does Tech for Good look for?

Ward: We are always finding new topics to talk about. For example, a new app is being released this month (October) to assist people learning and using Irish Sign Language and we have the creators speaking at our next event. They will explain how the app came about, and demonstrate how it works with a hands-on exercise.

Then for our November event, I have found speakers who are using technology like sensors, crowd-sourced data and AI to manage and protect bees in hives and the wild. Once I started researching I found quite a lot of bee projects using tech, and I think that will be a very interesting session.

InfoQ: What do you do to build inclusive groups?

Ward: Some of the simple things we have done from the start to encourage inclusive groups include ensuring we have 50% women speakers, and we seek out people whose voices may not ordinarily be heard. We do not charge for events as we don’t want anyone to feel that money is a barrier to participation. There are zero prerequisites to getting involved; people don’t have to have technology skills, just an interest in what we are talking about. We provide a relaxed and friendly forum where no one is turned away and everyone can contribute if they wish. At the end of each event, we ask if anyone in the room wants to talk about their own work or ask for help, share their CV, invite people to another event etc., and this is a great way to learn more about what is happening in our city.

We also ask for feedback constantly and try to improve and evolve with the group as it grows. The Women in Tech event is a great way to talk to more people about what we could do with the group in the future, so I will be asking the attendees for their feedback too!

InfoQ: Where should people go if they want to join Tech for Good?

Ward: Well, in Dublin, come to us! The Tech for Good Dublin MeetUp group is the best place to go if you want to hear about all our future events, and you can follow us on Twitter @tech4gooddublin.

You can watch our TEDx talk about Tech for Good: Community+Technology=Positive Social Change.

If you are interested in starting a Tech for Good group somewhere else in Ireland or further afield, we can strongly recommend it as a great way to meet fascinating people and start interesting conversations. All you need is a bit of free time and a room you can use. Everything else you can find online, or by talking to one of the groups already created in cities around the world.

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