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People, passion and technology - A recipe for digital social innovation

People, passion and technology - A recipe for digital social innovation

December 04 2014

By Annika Small

A 12-year-old who has created the world’s first affordable Braille printer out of some Lego. A group of women in Bangladesh who are using technology to stop more than 8000 newborn deaths every day. A wheelchair bound Scotsman who has created a crowd-sourced website showing disabled access to public places. 

Image courtesy of Braigo                                                                                                                                                    

This year’s Nominet Trust 100 is packed with people taking action about issues that matter to them. People proving that you don’t need to wait for governments to introduce policies or big business to provide the backing but that, with some enthusiasm and access to basic technology, it is possible to make a significant social impact.

The Nominet Trust 100 (or NT100) is designed to celebrate the people who are using digital technology to change the world for the better. In seeking people who are coming up with creative answers to the big issues of our times, we were blown away by the scale of the response with hundreds of nominations from all over the world. Not surprisingly, we found some key themes emerging. None perhaps more powerful than the extent to which people are using technology to self-organise and work together to solve a significant problem.

Take Harrassmap which uses crowd-mapping to try to end the culture of impunity around sexual harassment in Egypt, a country where 83% of women, and 98% of foreign women, have experienced sexual assault. Then there’s DonorSearch in Russia which geolocates those who need blood donations, and flashes up alerts to those living close by who have the same blood type and might be able to directly donate. Another example is Lendwithcare which supports peer-to-peer lending offering small loans that will help people lift themselves out of poverty; and WildLeaks, the world’s first whistleblowing website for wildlife crimes.  These people - and their fellow winners of the 2014 Nominet Trust 100 - show that imagination, social conscience and technology can be a potent mix. 


Image courtesy of DonorSearch

The NT100 has been chosen by a steering group who didn’t always agree. Inspiring was our key criterion which created much debate. Some panellists were fired up about those people who are addressing a pressing social need while others were interested in innovations which anticipate future challenges. Some were excited by early stage concepts that are still to demonstrate their potential while others gravitated to those ventures already making a difference to millions of lives. The final list is a combination of the early experiment and the widely applied.

While there was immediate consensus that the NT100 wasn’t about innovative technologies, the panellists were interested to see how 3D printing – still a relatively new phenomenon – is increasingly being used to address big social challenges. From 3D prosthetics in South Sudan to a 3D-printed black plastic adapter that slots over a mobile phone handset to create a portable eye examination kit, it is encouraging to see that this evolving technology is so quickly being applied for social good. All the more powerful when we are seeing an explosion of organisations, such as Coderdojo and Makerfaire, spreading digital making skills across the world, enabling more people to use technology to shape their communities and their own lives in ways never before dreamt of.

Image courtesy of Peek                                                                                                                                             

The finalists of the 2014 Nominet Trust 100 are realising the original promise of the Internet: where people work consciously, creatively and collaboratively to solve problems in bold new ways. Technology is a democratic force, making knowledge, skills and power more accessible and open than ever before; making collective action more possible than ever before. We all have a lot to learn from these digital social entrepreneurs and, by offering recognition to some remarkable people and organisations, we hope to inspire others to take action too.

The NT100 does not seek to be a definitive list. Instead, we hope that it will prompt conversation and debate. If we aren’t told of hundreds of organisations and people who should have been on the list, we’ll be disappointed. What have we missed? Are there entries that you would challenge? Let us know about other imaginative ventures that are using technology to make society better so that we can build on this year’s NT100. We want to create a dynamic resource that serves to inspire and accelerate the use of digital technology as a tool for significant social change.

So which digital social innovations have inspired you?

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