Tech for Social Impact: 6 Examples

October 7, 2019 • Shannon Flynn


You may typically think about technology that’s fun to use or helps you get things done. But, what about applying tech for social impact? Here are six examples:

1. LifeStraw Products Make Water Purification More Accessible

You may be lucky enough to live in a part of the world where you can merely turn on a tap to get seemingly limitless access to clean water.

But, 780 million people around the world do not have access to water sources that give them reliable and typically contaminant-free sources of hydration. LifeStraw is a company that wants to change that. It sells water purification options that remove bacteria, microplastics and parasites.

Many of the items in the product lineup are for personal use, making them perfect for distributing around the world. 

The original LifeStraw weighs only 2 ounces, and people can use it tfor drinking directly from streams and lakes. LifeStraw also has a program whereby proceeds from its items go towards providing clean water for schools.

2. A Google Artificial Intelligence Project Facilitates Better Emergency Preparedness and Response

As artificial intelligence (AI) becomes more advanced, some people worry about the possibility of the technology being used for evil or unethical things. Fantastic potential exists for AI to help people on a large scale, though. A far-reaching example called Google Crisis Response illustrates how AI could help people stay informed during natural disasters.

This high-tech application has several components, such as a Person Finder, which boosts the spread of information about missing people. Also, something called SOS Alerts gathers data from multiple authoritative sources and provides the most current information about disasters.

There is also Public Alerts, which works as an emergency broadcasting system that tries to reach people wherever they are, such as when they use a search engine. So far, that service extends to a dozen nations, and Google wants to expand it.

These uses for AI show how it’s possible to bring accurate, timely information to people who need it. Whether those people are disaster victims, the people responding to a crisis or individuals who want to stay as safe as possible when a catastrophe looms, AI could deliver crucial details.

3. UpEffect Gives a Social Goodness Slant to Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding has arguably changed the landscape for people needing project funding or financial lifelines to get them through unexpected rough patches. But, at many crowdfunding sites, the campaigns are a mixed bag. You have equal chances to fund a new tech gadget, help someone pay their medical bills or assist a musician with completing their next album.

UpEffect is different. It focuses solely on people who need money for projects that further the global good, and those who are ready to support them. The initiatives range from social and ethical luxury fashion items to ceramic water filtration systems for rural communities.

Without UpEffect’s platform and the reach that the internet provides, many of the projects listed on it may fail to gain momentum, even if they center on groundbreaking ideas. Many of the more generalized crowdfunding sources are saturated. The niche UpEffect emphasizes gives socially conscious entrepreneurs the chance to make a bigger impact.

4. An Atlanta-Based Company Streamlines Getting IDs for Homeless People

When people are homeless for long periods, they often don’t have access to the methods of identification that are necessary for helping them access local services. Then, they get caught in an endless loop where they can’t avail of the support systems that could help them gradually enjoy more stable situations.

A tech startup in Atlanta called Mini City aims to use tech for social impact to address the obstacles faced by the homelessness population. One of its priorities is shortening the process that people through to get new, up-to-date forms of identification. Their website reports that the procedure usually takes up to 3 months, but Mini City can achieve it in as little as two days.

The company distributes wearables that contain an ID number for a homeless person, plus enable access to an app that allows access to some services while waiting for their government-issued IDs to arrive. They can check the status of an application through the wristband, too.

5. Cell-Ed Uses an App to Tackle Adult Illiteracy

Adult illiteracy is a bigger problem than many people realize. It can affect someone’s ability to get a job, as well as their self-esteem if they feel too embarrassed to be around others in situations that may require reading. 

Cell-Ed developed a smartphone platform to help adults learn reading and other skills. It uses three-minute modules to break the learning principles down into manageable chunks.

6. Mobile Apps Bring Transportation Transparency Low-Income Communities in South Africa

Transportation is something else many people take for granted if they have ongoing access to it.

In some South African communities with primarily low-income households, using informal methods of transportation — such as cab shuttles and auto rickshaws — is impossible because people lack information about the routes. 

App developers are filling in the gap with tailored smartphone tools that give the necessary information with a few taps on a smartphone screen.

The Power of Tech for Social Impact

This list reveals that there are plenty of ways to use technology to help others. Being aware of unmet needs and having a creative approach help tech entrepreneurs enact positive changes.