Hacking philanthropy

Change is inevitable – whether it’s tech entrepreneurs reshaping models of corporate philanthropy, digital innovation via crowdfunding platforms or apps created by young changemakers. How is Australia embracing digital disruption, and what does it mean for philanthropy?

Digital disruption and innovation, as you may have heard Prime Minister Turnbull say, makes this an exciting time to be an Australian.

This innovation refers to changes enabled by digital technologies that occur at a pace and magnitude that disrupt established ways of value creation, social interactions, doing business and, more generally, our thinking. The same energy that brought about Airbnb created StartSomeGoodwhere the power of the crowd creates new opportunities to connect and collaborate—but this time for public not private good.

Like any change, it can be seen as both a threat and an opportunity which is why appropriate use of technology is essential.

So what does this mean for philanthropy? Perhaps the framework of digital social innovation (DSI) may help. This form of innovation is enabled by ICT tools and networks (like the internet) to develop digital solutions to address social challenges. Think mobile apps and websites.

This is emerging as a loose ‘movement’ of tech entrepreneurs and innovators or changemakers in civil society. Funded by governments, philanthropists and impact investors – the common drive IS to ‘do things differently’ and ‘think digital first’.

New philanthropists are tech-savvy, connected and want to make an impact now

Younger philanthropists are more concerned with making an impact now, not later, and are motivated to support social causes that matter to them more than tax deductions.

Since 2009 Impact Millennial has been tracking trends of this emerging generation of givers. They are changing the structures of giving through their actions via digital means. They are shaping interactions in more direct ways, not as intermediaries but by directly engaging with communities. They see themselves as social innovators or digital changemakers and harness networks to create change. Often facilitated through digital connections, they leverage the power of the crowd and peer-to-peer networks via social media to achieve a social outcome.

Australian digital social innovators lead the way with new crowdfunding platforms, such asStartSomeGood and Chuffed, providing easy access for individuals to engage and support a social cause.

Another group leveraging technology is GoodMob which is transforming traditional giving circles. Co-founded by Swinburne Philanthropy alumni Sarah Wickham and Bryony Green the goal was to provide simple digital tools for collective giving and amplifying social impact. Along with advisor Tom Dawkins from StartSomeGood they are just a few of the new tech-savvy changemakers to keep an eye on.

Hacker philanthropy

Entrepreneurial philanthropy is not new but there is an emergence of the mega rich Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs. No strangers to disruption, they’ve coined the term “Hacker Philanthropy”.Generosity_Digital-inclusion

“Hackers share certain values: an anti-establishment bias, a belief in radical transparency, a nose for sniffing out vulnerabilities in systems, a desire to “hack” complex problems using elegant technological and social solutions, and an almost religious belief in the power of data to aid in solving those problems,” according to Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster and the founding president of Facebook.

The money these new foundations have at their disposal will change the landscape the same way that the “philanthrocapitalism” of the Gates and Clinton foundations did. Perhaps the approach to ‘think digital first’ when problem solving will bring about even greater change.

In Australia a slightly different approach saw software maker Atlassian establish the Atlassian Foundationand the Pledge 1% campaign with Salesforce Foundation to encourage early-stage corporate philanthropy.

A mixed model of philanthropy, companies take the pledge to contribute 1% of annual profits, 1% of employee time, and 1% of company equity to the cause of their choice. You may remember Atlassian clinched a record-breaking $6.1 billion valuation for an Australian technology firm listing on a public sharemarket. So the innovation #ideasboom may see new entrants into the market over the next decades and hopefully the benefits of technology will be shared.

Supercharging programs

Technology has been changing the dynamics of giving for more than a decade. Consider the transformation brought about by social media in fundraising and awareness campaigns. Nonprofits that are able to respond quickly, embrace new technologies and connect with audiences are the most innovative according to the NFP Innovation Index by Australia Post and GiveEasy.

One of the top innovators in 2015 was the Movember Foundation. As Nicholas Reece, Non-Executive Director member, notes, “digital disruption is central to the Movember success. Achieving a rare feat of 2 billion dollar ideas: moustache growing and using social media as a fundraising platform.”

Technologists as philanthropists follows on from a long history of corporates as funders of grants for social change through digital innovation. The Telstra Foundation, from 2002 to 2012, invested $43 million to more than 7,000 community projects across the themes of cyber safety, Indigenous community development, health, wellbeing and social innovation.

Importantly, the issue of digital skills is on the agenda with GoDigi, a four year national partnership of Infoxchange and Australia Post aimed at improving the digital literacy of over 300,000 Australians as part of the National Year of Digital Inclusion.

It is unclear if it is the availability of funding or the need to deliver services via tools that people use everyday, like their mobile phone, that is driving this digital direction. What is clear is that the appetite for digital is growing.

According to Nesta UK challenge prizes are a tried and tested way to support and accelerate change in the world. They are also making a comeback as governments and funders look for better ways to solve problems, create value and exploit the opportunities presented by collaborative technologies.

One Australian initiative is the Samsung Adappt Big Ideas competition, which allows for 12-25 year old Australians to pitch their most innovative ideas for apps in partnership with the Foundation for Young Australians.

Another is the Optus Future Makers program which supports innovative technological ideas that help address the challenges faced by vulnerable young Australians.

Perhaps the largest prize is the Google Impact Challenge with a $500k grant won by Infoxchange in 2014. Developing Ask Izzy: The A to Z directory of homeless help was based on research that found almost 80% of people who are homeless have smart phones, the time was right to use technology to help tackle this problem.

Another way for philanthropists to get involved in digital disruption directly: join the hackers. Supporting a ‘hackathon’ competition that addresses social issues that align with your mission is a practical way to experience this new digital world. Whether broad based issues covered by Random Hacks of Kindness(RhoK) or responding to topical issues of refugees and asylum seekers’ needs at Techfugees there are plenty of opportunities. Teams of developers volunteer their coding skills over an intense weekend to create solutions to real world problems often using open data. As a sponsor you can define a problem, judge the winners or provide a prize, as ACNC did for GovHack last year with 37 entries using charity datafor a $2,000 bounty. All contributions are welcome, but it is the opportunity to collaborate and create something of meaning that motivates these teams.

So as you can see, there is a flurry of activity powered by #tech4good. However, there is a need to build a better understanding of innovation and impact at the intersection of technology and social change.

It’s timely that the DSI4AU digital social innovation project seeks to crowdmap Australia’s digital changemakers. This is my own GoDigi Mentor pledge for the National Year of Digital Inclusion and PhD research at the Melbourne Social Equity Institute.

The interest in using technology for positive social change might seem disruptive today but soon enough this will be as common as faxes once were. One thing is for sure, we all better get used to the pace of change.

 Generosity_Kelly-Hutchinson-digitalThis article originally appeared in Generosity on 7 April 2016