Shazeeye's Blog Thoughts on User Experience, Technology and Business

30Jul/110

Using technology to bring social change

On July 19th I went for a symposium on social change. The panel included Ossama Hassanein, an angel investor and mentor to Arab entrepreneurs, Craig Newmark, Founder and CEO of Craigslist, Sam Bernie, Sr. Director of Engineering at Kiva, Megan Trotter, Program Manager at Tenderloin Technology Lab at St. Anthony Foundation, Jake Levitas, Research Director at Gray Area Foundation For The Arts and Ed Bice, moderator of the panel and founder of Meedan, a non-profit social technology company which aims to increase cross-language interaction on the web.

The event was hosted at St. Anthony's Foundation, a nonprofit that serves a million meals every year to the needy and also acts as a clinic, counseling center and much more. Each panel member spoke of various initiatives they are spearheading to spread social change or the the use of technology to initiate solutions that make sense for the community. Some of those initiatives are listed below.

Craig Newmark founded Craig Connects to support 100+ non profits do good for the community. Though there are many areas the organization focuses on Craig spoke about his work to support military families and veterans. He mentioned that the biggest challenge with social change is that people doing good aren't good at talking about it so that they can get more funding, PR, etc. so he is working hard at addressing this issue especially in sifting the effective and deserving nonprofits from the others.

Sam Bernie who worked at the Grameen Foundation before joining Kiva said that social change is about empowering people at the grass roots level. People such as you and I Provide loans to  entrepreneurs on Kiva primarily because of the moving stories that help establish a meaningful connection between the lender and the entrepreneur. He hopes to create a deeper connection between the lender and borrower through technology. For example, Kiva may add a feature to track multiple loans for a person over time so that lenders can follow the borrower on his or her journey. Sam also states that the divide between access and capital should be narrowed. For example, he helped roll out a web based social initiative in Lebanon but people never used technology there so changes had to be made to best help them.

Ossama Hassanein is connecting Arab entrepreneurs with American Venture Capitalists to help navigate Arab countries through poverty. He has helped finance more than 100,000 companies in his career.

Megan Trotter teaches people to use technology - computers, social media, basic editing software, etc. She states that social change can only come about through education. We can all use technology and resources to solve hunger, poverty, etc. but human contact is essential in facilitating these programs to success. Her classes educate 100 people every day to learn technology at the St. Anthony's Foundation.

Jake Levitas works with technology and government to implement change. His hack-a-thons help organize programmers to build applications to solve social problems. He hosts one every weekend during summer and connects people with the government through this program. His projects include mayoral candidates and he believes that challenges such as these hack-a-thons help sieve through the noise and get people to act more than talk aimlessly. For example, he states how technology helped people find loved ones during the Haiti earthquake.

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