Disruption for Social Good

with Renee Kaplan

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Good Tech

Disrupting global issues with technology

Renee Kaplan

Chief Strategist, Change Maker, Impact Investment Expert

Lessons Learned

Technology is the biggest social disruptor of our time.

Do not think about technology from a product perspective but rather how it solves problems.

Accelerate your learning by using data.


Lesson: Disruption for Social Good with Renee Kaplan

Step #7 Good Tech: Disrupting global issues with technology

We look at it a little differently. I think it is so naturally embedded into the idea of entrepreneurship, particularly in Silicon Valley. I think technology is certainly the biggest disruptor of our lifetime. We see technology as the social disruptor in a great way.

We don't look at technology innovation or just looking at pure technology from a product perspective as a focus for our investments. We really look at what can technology do to help solve these big problems. We're seeing the use and the creativity and the application of technology just floor us in terms of how mobile is being used, how different aspects of tracking and mapping, whether it's Google Earth technologies or whether it's customized applications that people are building on their own to track oceans or fish stocks.

It's super exciting and it definitely is accelerating the learning and the data that's available to these entrepreneurs. So it's hugely important for us to be not only tracking and investing in, but really working with our social entrepreneurs to help them adapt and be able to use technology in new ways.

We see that as a fundamental part of what foundations can do; is to help social entrepreneurs that may not have a lot of technical capacity but absolutely have to be thinking about how technology can help their work.

One organization that I think comes to mind in terms of the use of technology is an organization called Medic Mobile. It was started by a guy who was a typical Silicon Valley. He went to Stanford. He was studying to be a doctor. He went out in the field, in this case it was in Africa, to look at how medicine and how access to medical facilities in rural areas was being done. His name was Josh Nesbit.

When there are not doctors and nurses widely available, community health workers is a model that helps bridge that access from a rural village to a medical clinic or to a hospital. When Josh, this Stanford student who's studying to be a doctor, went to a village in Africa and looked at the community health worker who was walking up to hundreds of miles a week to track his patients and bring that data back to the clinic, he looked on his cell phone and it had four bars of cell service that he said, "He should be using a mobile phone to input this information. Not walk to the hospital, but send it back to the hospital and medical clinic and he could see many more patients."

They started to look at how to develop applications, not for the sake of selling them as a floor product offering, but designing mobile applications for community health workers and customizing that technology to be able to help accelerate and basically reduce the costs of what it was taking to get those medical records, to improve the outcomes, so more patients were getting better health services more quickly, and ultimately able to show the results because this data was now in a database and online and accessible to others. So he could also share that with other funders and with other clinics nearby and to show what was working and what they were challenged by. That is an example of adapting technology for the sake of improving a social situation that we really look for and want to support.

There's a great organization called Ushahidi. They're not in our portfolio but they're a partner we look at. During the Haiti earthquake, it was started by some very smart folks in a college dorm room that said, "This global atrocity is happening. How can we help?" They said, "We know how to map and we know how to code. We know how to do SMS. Could we figure out a way to map and create and contact?" and they had a couple people they knew in Haiti. They said, "Well, could we map where there are big needs, create an SMS system and a mapping system that would help people who are in Haiti say, 'I need help here, or there are children trapped in this building here?'"

They developed it pretty quickly and turned around in days what then the US government was using for real-time information about where people needed resources and help, they were able to map the country. They were able to get local input from people on the ground and then broadcast that in a way that really helped others direct resources and funds.

So as an example of a use of technology in a way that was really real time, absolutely essential and was a gap, so the government didn't have that capability and also was open. So it wasn't a proprietary system that they were trying to control and sell. It was, "This is an open system that people can use." Now they've broadened that, whether it's other countries or other disasters. They've become really known for their ability to create technology systems like that that really help people when there's a real-time crisis.

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