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Why Is TechSoup Investing in Apps for Good?

As usual, we are busy at TechSoup. We continue to build the capacity of individual organizations to use their technology to its fullest potential. And we continue to think about civil society and how technology can transform the field as a whole. A big part of that plays into the reasons we have decided to launch a growth capital campaign.

In my recent update on TechSoup's Growth Capital Campaign, I shared the five areas these funds will support:

  • Expand our nonprofit marketplace
  • Provide increased validation and data services
  • Develop more apps for good
  • Improve our business processes and systems
  • Continue to develop our Cooperative Technology Platform (CTP)

Over the next few weeks, I'll be providing more details regarding each of these items. Today, I'll be discussing our plan to support and develop more apps for good.

What do we mean by "develop more apps for good"?

We believe that civil society deserves more purpose-built applications. We define these as combinations of software, data, and processes that allow us to move closer to the 17 goals espoused as a part of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Here are a few examples.

Tarjimly

The Tarjimly mobile app allows the world's 3 billion multilingual speakers to remotely volunteer their language skills as translators and interpreters for the 65 million displaced people. Watch a Tarjimly demo video.

SDG 9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation

Replate

Replate matches extra food with food-insecure communities in need. The platform enables charities and hungry individuals to recover food donations from catered events based on their needs and location. Watch a Replate demo video.

SDG 2: End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture

Good Call

Good Call Arrest Hotline was designed for a fairer criminal justice system. If you or a loved one are arrested, this app will put you in touch with a free lawyer. Once connected, they'll tell you what to expect and begin handling the case. Watch a Good Call demo video.

SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries

We believe that these types of tools offer an opportunity to greatly accelerate the speed at which we can offer services. Further, we believe that civil society and the individuals and communities that it supports deserve access to best-of-breed tools that address their specific issues. We believe that these groups can be supported in the face of their constraints and that we can offer them an opportunity to collaborate with their colleagues, whether across town or the across the globe.

What is our strategy to develop these apps?

First, we need to catalyze the development of new applications. We've been doing this since the first NetSquared challenge in 2007. We've continued with efforts like ReStart Romania and the Apps for Cities work in Poland and Ukraine.

Then, we need a reliable way to feature these applications to civil society. We've got that covered, via the more than 200 websites within the TechSoup Global Network. This network spans 236 countries and territories and is available in 39 languages. Collectively, we see over 10 million visits to these sites each year.

This visibility won't guarantee that an application will be successful. But it will ensure that developers can get feedback, ask questions, and find out more quickly what is right and what is wrong about the product they have built.

Finally, there are occasions when we will decide to build the products ourselves. We've done that with the Safe Shelter Collaborative and Worker Connect. The TechSoup Global Network has also made a variety of products, including eCASS from Enclude in Ireland, Ask Izzy from Infoxchange in Australia, and Open Recycle Bot from Teplitsa in Russia.

David Spriggs

Infoxchange CEO David Spriggs shares the Ask Izzy app at the TechSoup Global Summit 2019.

So, if we are already doing these things, why do we need the money?

The answer is data. Here's why:

  1. All of these strategies require data.
  2. All of these strategies produce data.
  3. Collected, this data increases our intelligence.

Let's take a closer look into these three points.

All of these strategies require data.

I'm also the CEO of Caravan Studios, a division of TechSoup that works with communities to develop purpose-built technology projects. I'm lucky, because I have access to all the data we have at TechSoup — data gathered from decades of serving civil society organizations around the world.

What does this mean? This means when we are working on a project like the Safe Shelter Collaborative we can do research on the number of organizations that can participate in this project. This lets us understand what it will take to get to sustainability, come up with appropriate growth numbers, and estimate our impact with a greater degree of accuracy than using tools like the IRS data alone.

On top of that, my access to TechSoup makes it easy to engage an editorial team to write blog posts about our work to be shared with the nonprofits that could most benefit from this solution — like the one you are reading now.

We want to build out our ability to allow any third-party developer to be able to do similar research and gain similar exposure so that their products can be reasonably shared with those who could use them.

All of these strategies produce data.

The best of purpose-built technologies produce a metric ton of helpful data. With the Safe Shelter Collaborative, for example, we are seeing trends in people who do not receive shelter at the first place they approach.

Or take Tarjimly, the refugee translation and interpretation services app I mentioned earlier. Data gathered through this app can help us understand more which language skills might be needed from region to region. It can also help illustrate which areas are experiencing a lack in social services such as these.

We also need to think about how this data is stored and how it connects to other pieces of data. To that end, we're currently developing standards to use from a common data model to produce best practices about privacy and data ownership and licensing.

Collected, this data increases our intelligence.

This leads me to my last point and, from my perspective, the big possibility. If we are diligent about connecting this data to the things we already know about civil society, about using a common data model, and licensing and permissioning standards to undergird these purpose-built applications, we can leverage data that describes the various segments of civil society.

My colleague Eamon Stack, CEO at Enclude, talks about this a lot. His organization built eCASS, a client management system for addiction services. They've done this in close collaboration with service providers and universities to help ensure that they are collecting meaningful data. The result? Data that informs at three levels:

  • The individual client
  • The organizational
  • The community

At the individual level, a case worker and, most importantly, the client, can see services available to them and make appropriate decisions about next steps and goals. At the organizational level, a team can look at the services they offer and better understand how it is meeting the needs of their clients as a whole. They can identify places to invest and describe their impact to their stakeholders.

And finally, with enough adoption (they have 75 percent of addiction services providers in Ireland using their system), service organizations can start to see the specific ways in which these programs benefit the broader region. These findings can be used to advocate with governments and with funders and to be more strategic as a community of service providers.

Eamon Stack

Enclude CEO Eamon Stack discusses eCASS at the TechSoup Global Summit 2019.

We can achieve this vision.

We believe that civil society organizations deserve purpose-built applications that meet their specific needs. Together with developers, the philanthropic community, the private sector, and government, TechSoup is making this belief a reality. We're on our way to achieving our vision of supporting a sustainable, global civil society — and that's why we're investing in apps for good.

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Additional Resources: Impact Investing