Technology can transform lives and society for the better

GUEST BLOG: In this contributed post, Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director, Vodafone UK, talks about how technology can be used for social good

We are living in an age of change. There is political and economic uncertainty as we go through one of the greatest constitutional changes in memory; an aging population; rapidly increasing urbanisation and more.

At the same time, technology is bringing sweeping change to long-standing industries – changing business models, customer expectations and the job market. Much of this change has been enormously positive: connectivity and technology are helping to level the playing field and enabling plucky entrepreneurs to compete with much larger businesses.

As we enter a new era of communications and technology – with the rapid development of the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G, artificial intelligence (AI) and more – the possibilities for innovation are truly endless.

The power of technology to drive positive change

Here at Vodafone, I’m delighted that we have some great examples of technology delivering real social good.

The Vodafone Foundation is a charity that invests in the communities where we operate. It focuses on projects across the world where communications technology can deliver real benefits, in areas such as health and education.

The DreamLab app, launched in the UK the foundation in 2018, is a fantastic example of social innovation in action. The app works by using the collective power of people’s smartphones when they are not in use to help speed up cancer research. We’re working with Imperial College, London to help them analyse huge datasets using an algorithm they have created. The aim is to uncover new uses for existing approved drugs and drug combinations. Researchers believe that this could speed up access to effective drugs and enable truly personalised treatments for patients.

We must foster technology for social good

There is enormous potential to develop solutions for social benefit using technology. If someone has an idea, there are many avenues and resources available to help build the technical element. In the past, you had to have a computer science degree or developer skills to do this; today, technology is much more accessible to everyone. Technology can help us address our most challenging and pressing social needs in areas such as health, education or inequality.

However, we need to make the process for bringing such ideas to market easier. Industry and investment bodies can play a big role here. It’s one of the reasons we teamed up with Social Tech Trust, a leading charity in the technology for social good space, to launch our new social innovation award programme – Vodafone Techstarter.

We launched it in September 2018 to help UK social tech ventures scale their ideas. We’re offering not only funding but also access to industry expertise in areas such as technology or commercial development. Support like this is particularly valuable to ventures who are developing prototypes; it’s an area where there is a gap in support and where larger companies can help.

On 7 February 2019, we celebrated some of the most incredible social tech companies in the UK. I was honoured to announce our Techstarter winners: Code 4000, Full Fact, The Children’s Society and Wayfindr in the not-for-profit category; and Alice SI, Blakbear, Lettus Grow and Walk With Path in the for-profit category. I’m really looking forward to seeing what these amazing small businesses will be able to achieve.

Why the UK can lead in social technology

The UK is one of the greatest places in the world to develop technology ideas. We have some of the best research and education institutions, amazing networks of truly innovative people and real entrepreneurial spirit. We have a great history of innovation in this country and we’re pragmatic – we recognise the challenges we face and know we need to think differently to address them.

We all have a role to play

We are seeing more and more companies embracing their social responsibility. I think, and hope, we’re going to see greater collaboration and sharing of ideas across industry, government, charity, research and education. This can only be a good thing.

No one organisation has the answer, but working collectively and collaboratively has the potential to be hugely transformational.

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