Technology for social good

As someone with a primarily engineering background, one of the most interesting subjects I learned about through this week’s lectures is entrepreneurship. While the focus of this week was on the technology behind cloud computing, Montse Medina’s summary of lessons learned in entrepreneurship were especially valuable because they highlighted the importance of skills that cannot be gained just through an understanding of technology. To paraphrase Medina, it’s critical for anyone in a start-up (or any organization for that matter) to understand the non-technical implications of their product or work [1]. This includes all aspects of the ‘business side of things’ – marketing, social impact, ethics, and of course, finance, among others.

Out of these topics, I personally find the social impact of technology the most interesting. I believe that building a business with social impact in mind is more powerful than any charitable or philanthropic effort. Money is great for enabling leaders to solve problems, but great leadership is often hard to come by. One example – education is probably one of the most worthwhile causes to support because the road to the future is paved by the minds and ideas of nascent leaders. However a quick Google search reveals several cases of severe fund mismanagement and lack of financial transparency in colleges like Georgia Piedmont [2] and even entire school systems like CSU [3] and CUNY [4]. I think this further highlights the need for strong leadership that isn’t just purely focused on the numbers (i.e. engineering and finance).

Throughout my undergraduate experience, I was exposed to a number of projects didn’t just seek to raise money or create powerful technology, but combined both in generating solutions for those in need. In an introductory course in engineering design and thinking, we prototyped an automated and modular system for growing food using renewables energy and hydroponics. Aptly named Gaia (the ‘Mother Earth’ deity in Greek mythology), it was designed as a self-sufficient nexus for food that could be used anywhere from urban slums to desert refugee camps. Other memorable ideas that my peers and mentors worked on include SociaLite, an organization that sustainably designed and built solar-powered lanterns for the impoverished [5], as well as projects for optimizing solar panel placement [6], [7] and using data science to support efforts of businesses targeting issues in “education, equality, justice, health, public safety, economic development” [8]. I was reminded of these projects thanks to Dean Paron’s presentation on Microsoft Azure (specifically the video discussing how Urban Refuge uses cloud computing to help connect refugees who are unable to effectively access aid [9]) and inspired to chase more technologies and ideas that can help society as a whole.

As the number of people on this planet grows, so does the scale of socioeconomic and sociopolitical problems, and I strongly believe that organizations built upon cloud computing and big data technology are part of the solution for these issues.

[1] Montse Medina, 7/7/18.










4 comments on “Technology for social good”

  1. Hi Howard, thanks for a very interesting article!

    I think a lot of established business nowadays are jumping on the ‘ethical bandwagon’, where they are starting to realise that they will not attract millennial talent unless they redefine their companies in terms of their impact and purpose. In most cases I believe this is not a genuine effort to do good for the community, but purely financial – more ‘impact’ and ‘purpose’ leads to better talent, heightened outcomes, more profit. It is tricky separating out the companies that genuine care about their purpose, from the companies doing it from a profit perspective, and this probably causes the increased skepticism of larger companies that also defines millennials. However, at the end of the day, maybe the justification for a social impact project is not very important, so long as it happens at all. And hence, when a new generation of workers lists ‘social impact’ as a top priority for a future workplace, it means all business are now incentivised in some way to give back to the community. And that can only be a good thing.


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  2. I really liked your point about generating solutions for those in need — PwC actually published a report that conceptualised four potential ‘worlds’ of work that will likely be dominant in the world (see: and one of the factors is collectivism versus individualism.

    However, it is not just the role of businesses to consider social good (be it at the forefront or as an afterthought in their business model). Notably, PwC presents the information in a way that reinforces the notion that entire business ecosystems which including governmental and public support can be built to bolster companies and business that take people and the environment into consideration, and still turn a profit. This is in line with what your post is saying, and is something I completely agree with!


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  3. I completely agree that technology must be used as a tool to solve issues in the society and more particularly in the fields of education and healthcare. As mentioned in the below article, cloud technology is helping many health care providers to cut costs and provide better services to its customers.
    It is also interesting to know that Google is using Machine Learning to assist pathologists in detecting cancer
    I hope that the society will benefit a lot from these new technologies.

  4. I agree with you that technology should be used to solve problems for those in need rather than to make economic benefits. I think, however, that usually social impact is referred to as a way of engaging huge amounts of customers, even without making profit. That is why companies like Youtube or AirBnb did not care about being profitable at the beginning of their foundation, because they knew that with a large customers base they could become a “unicorn” one day.


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