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Supporting Digital Social Innovation

Supporting Digital Social Innovation

December 11 2014

By Charlotte Knight

With thanks to NT100 steering group member Nick O'Donohoe for writing this blog post.

It is not every day that I get the chance to sit in a room with some of the leading social tech innovators, discussing everything from digital gaming to self-driving cars. But this year, as one of Nominet Trust 100’s Steering Group, I spent a whole day reviewing the submissions vying to make the list of 100 of the world's most inspiring examples of social innovation, where digital technologies have been used to tackle a significant social challenge.

All of the innovations were incredibly exciting. But what I was really looking for were projects where the social purpose was clearly defined, and where tech innovation was being used to make a real difference to the most vulnerable in our society. From the projects long-listed, I was particularly inspired by the enormous potential of the ideas being developed in the areas of health and education, from Jerry the Bear which supports children with type 1 diabetes, to MinecraftEdu which uses the popular online game to improve engagement in the classroom.

To realise this potential, these projects need access to finance. There are already some great organisations providing the grants and incubator support needed in the early stages of project development, including the Nominet Trust, Big Venture Challenge, Bethnal Green Ventures and Wayra.  And there are clearly some of these ventures that can access traditional growth capital. But it is also clear that there is real value in having pools of capital that focus on the social impact of these ‘tech for good’ initiatives.

Image courtesy of Jerry the Bear

At Big Society Capital we have already supported a few funds in this space, including Nesta Impact Investments which has provided investment to one of the projects on this year’s Nominet Trust 100 list, the Casserole Club. But with so much potential, more dedicated pools of capital, where investors understand and care about finance, technology and social impact, are clearly needed.  This will ensure that tech social entrepreneurs will be able to go to investors who are motivated by the social impact and will therefore be willing to take more risk, or ask for lower rates of return, to enable that social value to be created.  I would also like to see even more corporates, who understand the role of technology, supporting these ‘tech for good’ enterprises through social investment.

2.5 billion gigabytes of data are created every day and now 93% of adults in the UK own a mobile phone. The opportunity to harness these tech developments for social impact is immense, and the Nominet Trust 100 has reminded me just how important it is that we ensure the social investment is there to support it.

Nick O’Donohoe is Chief Executive of Big Society Capital, a financial institution with a social mission, set up to build the social investment market in the UK, so that charities and social enterprises can access appropriate repayable finance to enable them to grow, become more sustainable and increase their impact on society.

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