Blog Article

The Social Tech Guide to Economic Empowerment

The Social Tech Guide to Economic Empowerment

March 16 2015

By Ed Anderton
  • Economic Empowerment

It is indisputable that digital technology, and in particular the internet, has radically changed the global economy: within our directory you can find a seam of projects, organisations and products which have sought to inject more ‘social’ into this change.

M-pesa is a pioneer in this domain, adroitly building on an existing informal exchange of mobile airtime as currency for the unbanked to develop what is now the largest mobile-based payment system, allowing millions to participate more fully and fairly in their economies. The impact of Bitcoin has certainly been more controversial, but it has usefully challenged notions of what a currency can be, and while it has been used illicitly, it has also underwritten the likes of Bitpesa, stripping out costs built into traditional financial institutions.

Image courtesy of lendwithcare

Lack of access to finance is an issue which can both be made more visible and quantifiable, and be addressed, via the web. Kickstarter, through providing entrepreneurs with a wide, varied audience of potential investors, has (along with many other crowdfunders) established a new and vibrant source of support for innovation and creativity. Care International, an NGO with a 60-year history of working against poverty, has, in lendwithcare, connected their audience of donors and supporters to the people whose poverty they can directly and tangibly affect, through small, low-cost loans. Around £5,000,000 in loans as small as £15 have been made in 10 countries, from Rwanda to Ecuador and Vietnam.  

Wishbone and Watsi, meanwhile, use the crowdfunding mechanism to bridge the economic barrier which prevents so many from accessing education and healthcare. While the funds being given in both cases are donations, they could also be characterised as investments in a fairer, better educated and more healthy society. 

Image courtesy of Buffalogrid

Generating and sustaining employment is another area in which social tech is making a difference. Samasource employs people in developing or deprived areas to complete ‘microwork’ tasks which require basic IT skills, and with companies such as Google and Ebay on its books, has proved its ‘impact sourcing’ model works. Both Sarvajal and Buffalogrid have built technology - a drinking water ‘ATM’ and a mobile solar-powered charging station respectively - which provides an opportunity for entrepreneurs in economically marginalised areas to develop a mutually profitable franchise. Using the simple power of SMS, Soko provides a means for small-scale, artisan workers, previously at a great distance from their market, to earn a fair and sustainable return for their products.