Recently, the news of Jeff Bezos donating $10 billion to fight climate change was met with media fury and a mixed public response. Whatever your stance on the Amazon CEO’s charitable gift, one unavoidable question raised by the announcement was, “What responsibility do tech entrepreneurs have in supporting social or environmental causes?”
Tech can get a bad rap. We hear about cyberbullying on social media or apps being used to secretly gather data on users, and concerns build.
As a tech mogul in the web design and mobile app industry, it took me a long time to understand the greater purpose of my work. I’ve always put people first when it comes to client relations and helping companies reach their goals, but I only recently started thinking about using my business skills and assets to put humanity first.
My eyes were opened last year after a terrifying incident in which my son’s school bus failed to arrive at the scheduled stop. My wife and I called his school, and although the transportation department confirmed a delay, we were still concerned until he arrived safely in one piece. I did some research and found out just how many school transportation systems still rely on manual check-in procedures for students and saw the devastating stories about students being left behind on school buses in extreme temperatures.
I assembled the marketing and development teams at my tech agency and launched an awareness campaign around school bus safety with a corresponding mobile app, Bus Kids Safe, that is free for schools during the first six months the app is live. The app uses GPS technology to allow parents and schools to track school buses in real time and get notifications about pick-up and drop-off times and delays.
The process of creating the app and the response I received from parents and schools was extremely impactful. As a tech entrepreneur, I realized I not only have the privilege, but the responsibility to develop products that create positive, sustainable change.
Along the way, I identified several best practices for creating digital products that address pressing social issues in the most efficient and effective way.
1. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel. Sometimes the most sustainable change is incremental change. Trying to progress too far too fast could actually be counterproductive. With my app, I took something that already existed (bus driver check-in processes) and digitized it, instead of creating something new altogether.
2. Borrow from other industries. Chances are, something that is working in one industry can be cross-applied to another industry. The solutions to some of our societal challenges may already exist and just need to be adapted to address specific problems. For example, GPS tracking of public transportation already exists — I just modified the technology for the education industry.
3. Incentivize early adoption. You may have the greatest app in the world, but it cannot create social change if you don’t have users. Focus your marketing efforts and incentive programs on getting early subscribers for your app. This can create community buy-in and organic sharing of your product. For Bus Kids Safe, I offered the technology for free to local schools during the first six months that the app was live.
I have always identified with being an innovator, but this term has taken on a whole new meaning for me this year as I consider ways I can impact my community and the world through technology.
I believe it is the responsibility of tech leaders to use their power to create something better. Let’s start innovating.