App Development, Thought Leaders

What is the Positive Impact of Technology on Society?

November 12, 2021

by Michael Le

Sr Content Editor at Clutch.co

Sophia “Puff” Story is passionate about the positive impact of technology on society, championing the idea of “tech for good.” It’s her mission to build tech that saves, changes, and betters lives wherever she can.

From the Ground Up, Clutch podcast hosted by: Michael Le

For Sophia "Puff" Story of 3 Sided Cube, technology is agnostic — it can be used for better or for worse, but it all depends on the players behind it. She believes it’s the intersection between businesses and organizations that will drive the positive impact of technology on society. 

Sophia dives into five principles that have helped her company stick to its mission of delivering tech for good. She covers how they’ve built The Red Cross's Blood Donor App and spotlights a few other powerful solutions that put people over profit.

What Is the Positive Impact of Technology on Society?

  1. Tech for good is any solution that helps people
  2. You can use tech to incentivize people to do good
  3. Effective solutions provide simple answers to problems
  4. Adapting existing codebases can lead to creative solutions
  5. Diversity behind tech developers is key to progress

Tech for Good Is Any Solution That Helps People

Putting people over profits is central to Sophia’s philosophy on technology. When approached by a potential client, she asks, “Is the solution designed to have a positive impact on society or is it about something else?”

Sophia Story: Tech for good is very subjective, but to us, it's really simple. Tech for good is any project that has a positive impact on the world. I use the phrase, "Saving a life, changing a life, or making a positive difference." That really is the core of it for me. 

For us, when we get contacted predominately, the person will have a conversation with either myself or one of the commercial team, depending on what country they're coming from. We're really honest right from the very start about our mission. We're like, "Look, this might sound like a really interesting project, but your objective is about making money or it's about something else other than the actual positive social impact that we’re trying to have.” 

It's not like I have a list of criteria for what counts as tech for good. I would be lying if I said I didn't go through the moral maze at least once a day, "Is this good? Is this something that the team would get passionate about?"
 
But I think for the projects that we're chasing, it is pretty clear: they are either trying to save a life or change a life for the better, whatever it is.

It's quite a loose answer there, but I just think it's pretty clear to us. As we grow and scale, it's become easier. It was hard at first because we were saying “no” a lot more than we were used to historically. And, when you're running a business, it just feels like the wrong thing to do. 

But actually, in the longer term, it's been the right thing for us to do. The right thing for u is to focus on our mission of building tech for good to change millions of lives for the better. 

The moral maze can be hard to navigate, but it’s a crucial step to helping you understand a product’s intention. In the end, sticking to your principles can help you remain steadfast in your goals.

You Can Use Tech to Incentivize People to Do Good

Good intentions don’t always lead to effective measures. To drive change, sometimes you just need to surface the impact of an action. Sophia walks through the evolution of 3 Sided Cube’s work on The Red Cross’ Blood Donor App, looking at how they raised the show rate to blood donations from 52% to over 90%.

SS: We've done quite a few apps for the Red Cross globally, but I'd say one of my favorites is the Blood Donor App for the American Red Cross. When we came up with the concept, it wasn't easy to get a budget to be able to design and develop. It came about because, randomly, we were at the White House, and we had done a talk on some of the work we've done with the Red Cross around disaster preparedness. 

That’s when we ran into a guy called Brian Boyle — and I use his name because he's the most incredible person. He had an accident many years ago, which meant that his life was essentially saved because of blood donation. 

He was articulating the problem that the American Red Cross was facing at that point in time. They had employed third-party providers to phone people to encourage them to sign up to donate blood. But people would say “yes” on the phone and then just not show up for the appointment. The appointment show rate was around about 52% — it was quite low about seven years ago.

They were spending a lot of money encouraging people to sign up, but people weren't showing up. That money was essentially being wasted on keeping these blood drives going, so it was a very expensive exercise. 

We thought that we could come up with a solution that empowered people to book appointments as and when they wanted — but we just had to understand the motivations as to why someone would want to donate blood. 

In doing that, we discovered that actually surfacing the impact that you had when you donated blood was a huge motivator. If you donate blood, you can save up to three people's lives every time.

What happens if you created an app that allowed people to sign up to donate blood, book an appointment, manage their appointment, and then serve them reminders so that they wouldn't miss their time? And then maybe thank them after they've made a donation?
 
Coming back to the idea of surfacing the impact, the app allowed us to be able to scan a user's blood donation, track where that donation went (i.e. to what hospital), and then confirm how many people's lives the user saved as a result of their blood donation — and then track this over time!

By showing people the value-add of their actions, you can motivate people to do good in their communities.

Effective Solutions Provide Simple Answers to Problems

When thinking about the positive impact of technology on society, some of the most impressive solutions have also been the simplest. Sophia describes two apps that have recently caught her attention for their streamlined answers to complex problems.

Michael Le: Are there any apps that you feel embody tech for good or that you're obsessed with how they work?

SS: One app I feel quite passionate about is actually is an old app called Be My Eyes. It's an app that helps people essentially lend their eyes to the visually impaired to be able to do everyday tasks. 

I love to volunteer, but time is really precious. I've got two kids and a husband, so I don’t have much of it, but I do have pockets of time. Rather than sit on my phone on social media, it might be that I want to lend five minutes here or 15 minutes here. 

With Be My Eyes, you can log on to the app and essentially complete tasks by helping someone make sure they've got the right shoes. It might range from simple day-to-day tasks to much bigger tasks such as helping someone cook a meal.

I particularly love that app because it's such a simple concept, but it's been brilliantly executed.

The other app I’m focused on is from a Nigerian startup called Ubenwa. Essentially, they use artificial intelligence (AI) to examine newborn baby cries for birth asphyxia. By literally recording 30-seconds’ worth of your baby crying, you could diagnose a potentially life-threatening condition, which then you could seek medical advice for. It's amazing!

They've built this algorithm that has thousands and thousands of newborn baby cries so they know what to look out for specifically. It's super smart, super clever, but also super, super simple. 

Simple answers can be game-changing when it comes to tackling large issues. Try thinking about problems in terms of the intended outcome or reframing the issue.

Adapting Existing Codebases Can Lead to Creative Solutions

Not every solution needs to be custom-made. For Sophia, the answer to a problem can be as easy as repurposing existing technology to suit your needs.

ML: The Nigerian app for scanning baby cries reminds me of a software solution that was originally intended for profit. It scanned the shape of baked goods. People found that by training that software to look at specific shapes, they could apply it to identify the early stages of cancer.

It seems like you can take technology that's out there, reimagine it, and then apply it creatively to a use case to drive social change. 

SS: This is what's amazing! People have been developing for years and years. There are lots of existing code bases that can be tailored or tweaked to be able to have a more positive impact. 

There are some not-for-profits looking to repurpose existing software to have a positive social impact. Like I said, the technology is agnostic. It completes a task. But if you can repurpose it to do something good, then why not? 

A lot of the time there is a huge argument for not creating something bespoke from scratch. Leaning on existing technology that can be repurposed can be an option to save time and money for most projects. 

It's going to be cheaper, and it's going to be faster because you're not building anything from scratch. Also, it’s proven to work doing one task, so it should, in theory, work doing the same task for a different sector or slightly different task. 

Leveraging existing tech can help save your project money, time, and effort — and it’s often already a proven concept.

Diversity Behind Tech Developers Is Key to Progress

Creativity comes from having diverse perspectives at the table, which is why Sophia believes it’s important to push for diverse voices behind tech. 

ML: What is something you're looking forward to in the tech space or that you hope changes so that we can continue to drive sustainable social change?

SS: For me, it's not actually the tech itself; it's actually the diversity of the people within the tech world. This is something that I've been a huge advocate of because I am a woman in the tech space and I've been in the tech space for quite a while. 

I really want to encourage other people into understanding that the tech space is a great space to be in. You can achieve incredible things no matter who you are — whatever you identify as, it doesn't matter. 

Over the past few years, I have definitely seen improvement, but not enough and not quick enough. This is going to take years to address, but I'm raising my girls to know that this is very much a viable career option for them.

It's about the diversity of the people within the tech space. The more diverse that can be, the more creative and the more exciting some of the solutions and some of the impact we're going to achieve will be.

You can’t think about the positive impact of technology on society without ensuring that people are empowered to raise pertinent questions and build appropriate solutions in the first place.

How to Find Sophia

See what Sophia’s up to at 3 Sided Cube to learn more about app development, tech for good, and the positive impact of technology on society.

Looking for more business tips from a range of industry leaders? Follow our podcast From the Ground Up to check out our other episodes.

About From the Ground Up

From the Ground Up is audio diaries of entrepreneurs with inspiring stories who have conquered prejudice, stigmas, and stereotypes while building their businesses. It is not the improbable success stories of Fortune 500 leaders but rather someone who could potentially be living next door to you.

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