“Who are we doing this for?”
I think we have to ask ourselves that question whenever we’re working on a project—and I think it’s a question a lot of people in the tech industry (and those who fund it) have been forgetting to ask themselves.
Technology can be an amazing and powerful tool that can help solve global problems, spark joy in people, and literally save lives. But it can also do the opposite, which is a part of why tech has gotten a bad reputation over the last few years. Russia used social media to meddle in the 2016 U.S. elections. Facebook provided Cambridge Analytica with 87 million users’ private information. Google gave a $90 million exit package to an executive after he was fired due to sexual misconduct. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg—think about how your own views of tech have changed.
These kinds of things happen when the focus of those developing technology is solely on growth and creating value for shareholders, with none on the wellbeing of the user. Sure, you have to consider that companies need money to survive, but there needs to be a balance between that need and protecting the interests of consumers.
The double (or triple) bottom line
In New York City, and around the globe, there is a growing interest in the idea of “tech for good” enterprises, which not only focus on profit, but also on social value—a so-called double bottom line. This is not a new idea in general, but one that is nascent in the tech community. A triple bottom line model—one that combines user, social, and economic impact, is also common in the tech-for-good conversation.
One way companies are declaring their double or triple bottom lines is by registering as certified B-Corporations (operated by the nonprofit B Lab), which are “legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community, and the environment.”
One slice of the tech-for-good pie that I’m specifically interested in is Civic Technology, which is “technology that’s spurring civic engagement, enhancing citizen communications, improving government infrastructure, or generally making government more effective.”*