January 06 2016By Guest
With thanks to Simon Miller, Communications & Reputation, O2 and 2015 NT100 Judging Partner, for writing this guest blog post.
Digital technology is sometimes described as a democratiser of access to opportunity – an enabler that allows innovators to pursue their ambitions with a speed and effectiveness that was not possible in the analogue world. When viewed from this perspective, the first thing many people think of is the impact of digital technology on business.
My father-in-law graduated from university in 1957, went straight in to a public sector business, worked there for 33 years, never worked anywhere else and retired with a thumping pension in his mid-50s. The economic crash of 2008 removed this job path for many people. Never mind getting a job for life – getting a job at all was impossible for many. Faced with this new norm, people have increasingly adopted a DIY approach to their careers, using digital technology to help them become entrepreneurs and to set up their own businesses.
What the NT100 emphatically shows us is that it’s not just the business world that has been revolutionised by digital technology, but also the world of social enterprise. People with a passion to change the world for the better – to tackle social problems, help communities, improve the life chances of the vulnerable – have been liberated by digital technology, allowing their innovation and creativity to deliver practical new tools to build a better, safer and more sustainable world.
In recent years we have seen a convergence of start-up business culture and social enterprise. In 2013 the Government’s Social Incubator Fund and Telefonica co-invested in the creation of Wayra UnLtd – an expansion of Telefonica’s Wayra accelerator in to the social enterprise space. The initiative proved such a success that Wayra now sees social enterprises as vital to its future work and is committed to ensuring they are permanently and well represented among its start-ups.
In October, Wayra hosted a hackathon for Techfugees - one of the stars of the 2015 NT100 – to address the challenges facing refugees and to work on tech solutions and products to support refugees and aid agencies. More than 700 digital makers came together on the day with a mission to give displaced people a voice, dignity and support.
At O2 we were pleased to see that almost half of the NT100 use mobile technology, with most of them operating in the developing world. This, of course, mirrors the trend to mobile connectivity that we are seeing everywhere else and that will be increasingly vital to the economic and social development of the global community.
The diversity and consistent quality in the 2015 NT100 make it tricky to pick out favourites, but three projects particularly caught my eye; CardioPad, a medical tablet to better the chances of Cameroonians with heart problems; Kgolagano, connecting patients in rural Africa with specialists remotely via TV white space; and SNIFFPHONE, a device that screens a user’s breath to detect life-threatening diseases. Without doubt, digital technology has a huge role to play in disease diagnosis and management and has led Wayra to establish Velocity Health - a partnership with MSD to reimagine healthcare through the acceleration of digital start-ups.
It was great to see the likes of 7 Cups of Tea and Hashtag Charity represent digital technology as a supporter of social action in the 2015 NT100. This application of digital technology for social change is particularly important to us with our own O2 Think Big programme funding youth social action projects. We’re proud to celebrate and recognise young people who make the best use of technology in sharing, enabling and delivering social action.
We’ve also developed the Gro app in partnership with Do-it to help young people articulate the skills they have gained through social action to prospective employers. Who knows if either of these initiatives will make it on to next year’s NT100? One thing is for sure, if they do, the innovation, high quality and diversity of the 2015 NT100 indicate that they will be in very good company.
Congratulations to everyone featured in the 2015 NT100. Anyone who doubts the desire of people to make a better and fairer world and the power of technology to help them achieve that ambition should look through the NT100. They will find within it much cause for optimism, encouragement and celebration.