This month’s reason technology will save the world: Building Tech For Good: Six Rules For Technologists

Passionate about using technology to do good? Keep reading. From financial inclusion to sustainable development, to self-driving vehicles, over the last five articles in the series “This month’s reason technology will save the world,” we’ve explored the most innovative ways that technology promises to create a positive impact for societies and for the planet.

In this series finale, we’re going to give you six rules for building and running a technology business that strives to do good. Building tech for good is a very necessary pursuit in today’s world – but it’s not a simple code to crack. Tech companies with even the best intentions can be led astray if they don’t follow these key recommendations.

Here are my top six rules for technologists looking to do good in the world.

Number 1: Make ethics a priority

It’s not news that ethics is a huge concern for users when it comes to technology advancements in areas like AI, biometrics, data gathering, and cybersecurity.

Not just for companies whose goal is doing good – ethics should be a top concern for all digital businesses. No technology is inherently good or bad, it’s all about how we wield its power and allocate agency over decision-making.

An over-reliance on technology solutions without proper safeguards can lead to unethical outcomes that put certain groups or individuals at a disadvantage. Just take examples from bias in AI image generators and facial recognition technology.

If you’re working with AI, pay close attention to algorithms that guide real-life decisions, and put guardrails on when you notice bias at play. No decision should be entirely determined by AI – humans need to constantly monitor outcomes and keep bias in check.

Ethics need to be considered in other areas too, such as inclusive UX design. Nowadays, there’s no excuse not to build accessible products and ones that are relevant to the culture they’re targeting. Check out our guide to accessible design to make sure you have this down.

Number 2: Build in privacy and security from day one

Even if regulators haven’t caught up to legislation like the EU’s GDPR where you’re located, it’s still crucial to build data privacy and security controls into your product from the outset.

Data privacy and security are a real concern for users, especially as the amount of personal data being gathered – and the chance of it being breached or hacked – is rising all the time.

Data privacy and security aren’t something that you can add to your digital product once you’ve built it. It has to be laid in the groundwork, through proper cybersecurity protocols, team training, and features like biometrics and two-factor authentication.

Number 3: Embrace transparency

Next up is transparency – a crucial component for gaining the trust of users and those you wish to impact.

Especially if your business is focused on creating a positive social or environmental impact, those who invest in it, work for you, or buy your product will expect to see where their money, time, and attention are going.

Should there come a moment where you are open to public scrutiny, having already been as transparent as possible will stand you in good stead to deal with challenges and criticism – and keep your reputation where it needs to be.

This also applies to transparency around data collection and data privacy. Consumers want to know that you’re not infringing on their personal data or leveraging it in unethical ways.

Number 4: Focus on sustainability at all levels

Whatever your business, it’s vital to build your operations, services, and/or products with sustainability in mind. This goes much further than just recycling bins in the office or a “ride your bike to work” day. While these types of initiatives contribute in small ways, it’s systemic and foundational changes that will create the real impact.

Even if your business operates entirely online, it’s important to consider the carbon emissions of digitization. Data centers account for 45% of greenhouse gas emissions in the global ICT sector. The tech industry accounts for 2-3% of all carbon emissions according to the UN. And that’s only the carbon footprint – there are also problems with electronic waste, manufacturing, mining, and water consumption when it comes to the tech sector.

If you’re thinking you don’t know where to start when it comes to making sustainable shifts, begin by conducting a sustainability audit of your entire company. This will give you a clear picture and allow you to start making gradual shifts that eventually become ingrained in your company culture. It’s helpful to hire someone whose whole job is to assess, monitor, and enact sustainable changes in your organization. Also, consider team training and incentives to shift culture and the collective mindset towards these goals.

Making changes to reduce the ecological impact of your business operations doesn’t mean sacrificing profit, either. In fact, it’s likely to do quite the opposite. The more efficient your energy usage, the lower your bills will be, and users will be happier too. Deloitte recently reported that 67% of survey participants were willing to pay up to 41% more for sustainable products.

Number 5: Engage with communities

The communities that your product or service impacts should be at the center of your design and development process. Too often, so-called philanthropists build products with the goal to help certain social groups, without actually consulting those communities themselves.

Just take the example of PlayPumps. This charity installed merry-go-rounds that doubled as water pumps in villages across African countries. The idea totally backfired, as the merry-go-rounds were too heavy to be pushed by the children, who quickly tired from them. In the end, the women of the community were the ones laboring to push them around to pump water. The new pumps were more expensive, less efficient, and more difficult to maintain than previous ones.

This is a prime example of the importance of working with the community you’re seeking to benefit and testing out ideas to assess real-life feasibility. Without proper community engagement, tech companies won’t be able to build products or offer services that create a real impact on societies.

How can you achieve this? Think about hiring a community manager, conducting focus groups, user testing, engaging with them across platforms, and most importantly – incorporating their feedback!

Number 6: Commit to constant evolution

This is not about completing one certificate or course and then hanging up your hat. Building tech solutions that create a positive impact requires consistent commitment at all levels of the company.

It’s essential to foster a culture of impact-led decisions over profit-led decisions. From day one of joining your company, employees should be educated about your mission and values and see tangible commitments from those around and above them. This also requires consistent monitoring, collaboration, improvement, and adoption of new technologies that help achieve the above goals.

If you’re embarking on a journey of using technology to create a positive impact in the world, we salute you! Innovation promises to play a vital role in helping resolve the problems we’re facing at present – but only when done right.

If you need support in envisioning, developing, or designing your product or service, we’d be happy to lend a hand. Get in touch and see how we might be able to help you achieve your do-good goals.

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