29 Apr 2020

Tech for Good vs. COVID-19

By Will Spurr

Five ways the Tech for Good movement is responding to the COVID crisis

For the weekly tech for good highlights newsletter, we try to keep up to date with what’s going on in the tech industry. Since early February, we have seen how people throughout the tech for good community are stepping up to the unique challenges as a result of this pandemic. To keep the world safe, healthy and fulfilled, tech for good is more relevant than ever. 

On April 30th, the Tech for Good London Meetup (which BGV organises with the wonderful people from the Centre for the Acceleration of Social Tech) will be hosting a Tech for Good vs. Coronavirus Virtual Meetup. Ahead of the meetup, we’d like to draw attention to a small slice of the vital and exciting work going on throughout the community.

 

1. Tech for Good startups: progress, partnerships and pivots to face the pandemic.

We’ve seen examples from BGV’s portfolio of how tech for good startups are adapting to pivot, or increase their offers and drive social and environmental good under these new circumstances. Two dominant themes are emerging: digital health firms, such as DrDoctor and Hospify are scaling their services and integration rapidly to support a greater number of healthcare providers; meanwhile, other startups are focusing on providing either free or discounted content to help people through this difficult time. This is especially relevant for EdTech startups like #AskUltra and Musemio, who are helping parents educate, entertain and inspire their kids whilst schools are closed. In the USA, Techcrunch released a quick summary of some tech for good pivots and partnerships that are taking shape to fight the virus.

 

2. Resource collation: The coronavirus directories

It is easy to become overwhelmed by the inundation of coronavirus information at the moment. Equally, there is the imperative to fight the spread of disinformation wherever possible. This is why resource and information directories are so important for understanding how you can navigate this crisis. The Coronavirus Tech Handbook, curated by Newspeak House, is a crowdsourced library of tools, services and resources relating to COVID-19 response. Elsewhere, to help charities work together to cope, The Catalyst created a Collaborators resource page. To help people get online to keep in contact with their loved ones, Citizens Online compiled a Coronavirus Support resource file, and Nesta created the Unprecedented Times handbook, which shows how you can take action to support society’s efforts against COVID-19. Finally, to remain aware of how the pandemic affects different communities in different ways – and often exacerbates inequalities – here is an interesting resource file on Feminist Responses to the Pandemic, which contains insightful intersectional responses.

 

3. Solution Hacking

Hackathons are back, and they’re going online. Tens of thousands of people are taking part in events such as The Global Hack to try and find solutions to the problems posed by the pandemic. You can keep track of global coronavirus innovations through this map by Startup Blink. Elsewhere, people are directly applying their expertise to collaborative calls to action, such as the #DATA4COVID19 repository and global collaborations by cybersecurity experts to fight coronavirus-related hacking

We can also take a look at the emergence of exciting programmes, grants and challenges taking shape to support counter-coronavirus innovators. To name a handful; Mozilla Foundation’s COVID-19 Solutions Fund, Public/NHSX’s Techforce 19 programme, Islamic Development Bank’s Engage Preparedness and Response to COVID-19 Innovation Fund, and this helpful list of active COVID grant funds

 

4. Keeping the debate open

The size, speed and novelty of the situation require us to take very unusual action. Nonetheless, we must remain vigilant that our response doesn’t do harm. For example, in a recent techforgood/highlights newsletter, we took a look at the costs, benefits and nuances concerning the contact tracing that will likely be rolled out soon. Elsewhere, Foxglove released an excellent article calling for health data responsibility with respect to the coronavirus. The pandemic affects people differently along the fault lines of gender, race and socio-economic status, Michael Tefula and Francesca Warner convincingly argued that diversity must remain a central concern in how the tech community responds to the crisis. Finally, the Open COVID pledge asks innovators and inventors to make all relevant intellectual property available free of charge for use in ending the COVID-19 pandemic and minimising the impact of the disease. 

 

5. Futurescoping

Eventually, this crisis too shall pass. When the dust settles, we will be left with a very different world. If we want to get on track with tackling the (other) huge issues facing humanity, then tech for good needs to play a vital part in how society re-builds post-COVID. We will see the re-emergence of tech vs. the climate crisis, making the web a ‘better’ place, and ensuring that COVID-19 is not a Trojan Horse for problematic tech solutionism. We need to interpret the present so as to change the future, and we look forward to digging deeper into these questions in our upcoming meetup

 

Covid-screening-tool

 

We cannot forget the weight of suffering caused by this pandemic. At the same time, we can be inspired by how the tech for good community is rising to the challenges of the COVID crisis. You can join the Tech for Good London Meetup here, as well as subscribe to our weekly newsletter