As the country continues to reel from the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, technology continues to be a saving grace for many Scottish companies and organisations.
Tech application can improve almost all areas of our lives, something which is particularly pertinent as we emerge from lockdown and attempt to return to normal.
But many organisations are still trying to find their feet in an increasingly technical world, and many are yet to catch up with even basic things like social media and email.
The Scottish Tech Army (STA) was conceived as a rapid response initiative looking to harness the talents of those in the Scottish tech community and looking to support people and organisations that were on the frontline of dealing with the pandemic.
In the run-up to its first birthday, the STA’s first Tech for Good Summit focuses on solutions for a sector that is lacking in digital tools – taking the best of the tech industry and using it as a force for good to make a difference in sectors that really need it.
DIGIT spoke with the STA management team, Alistair Forbes, Kirsty McIntosh, Joanna Allen and Mark Kiehlmann, about the importance of the STA and Tech for Good in a Covid world.
What is the Scottish Tech Army?
The STA says its original mission is to support people and organisations that were experiencing a huge surge in service demand during the pandemic and didn’t have the tools to operate remotely.
Forbes comments: “Our initiative was really designed to match the two up – effectively to take the skills of the people in the tech sector to help those that were on the front lines – and with the initial launch of the Tech Army on the 28th of April last year, it really did strike a chord with people both in the tech sector and in the healthcare sectors and other third sector organisations.”
After forming at the start of the pandemic with zero volunteers on board, the organisation now has over 1500 volunteers and continues to work with a very wide range of groups, currently working on or having delivered over 250 projects.
Allen says that, so far, the STA has had a positive impact supporting firms and charities over the last year: “On day one, we were one of the few organisations that were able to offer charities a helping hand.
“Overnight they had to change their ways of working, so just having somewhere they could go and say, ‘Can you help us with this?’ created a huge comfort factor, and from the initial conversations, it was a huge relief for a lot of the charities.”
Forbes says that the aim of the Tech for Good Summit is to bring together the participants in the tech for good ecosystem to “catalyse a step-change” in the level of activity and impact that can be delivered as a community.
McIntosh comments: “You have got a lot of people coming out of places like CodeClan who can’t really get onto the ladder because they don’t have any experience of the technologies that they’ve learned how to use.
“Tech for Good gives them an opportunity to do that in a safe space, and they can muck it up because they are being supported by people with more experience working alongside them.”
What is the aim of the Tech for Good Summit?
Kiehlmann says: “One of the things that we have observed is that there are many organisations that are using technology for social good, in one form or another, around Scotland, but we feel that there’s a lack of coordination amongst a lot of these efforts.
“This means that the impact that they can achieve individually is not really being aggregated and delivered at scale, in a way that we think is possible based on technology.”
Kiehlmann says that STA has now moved from crisis response into a longer-term Tech for Good organisation and hopes to play its part in unifying and consolidating the work that’s going on in the sector.
“This event is an opportunity to really mark both an evolution in our purpose and approach from what we started out to being a Tech for Good focused organisation, but also to act as a rallying cry for all the other organisations that are already active in the tech for good space, because what we’re aiming to do is to aggregate and amplify the activity that is already going on in the sector.”
Why is an event like Tech for Good so important right now?
As the world reels from not only the pandemic, but also the threat of climate change, using technology for good causes is becoming increasingly important.
The general public is also now more aware than ever about the environmental impact that companies and products have, so it is the perfect environment for Tech for Good companies to emerge and thrive in what McIntosh calls the Tech for Good ecosystem.
This ecosystem allows for a diversity of thought and experience to be combined, meaning people not only from the tech industry but also the third sector and the corporate can come together and exchange knowledge.
McIntosh says: “There is this kind of flow of information and knowledge and diverse thinking and idea generation that is a wonderful opportunity, particularly for things like the third sector, to really say it can benefit.”
Because of this, the exchange of knowledge between these different entities will continue to be important even after the pandemic begins to slow down – it is not something likely to end any time soon.
“There are a number of things that have happened as a result of the pandemic that I think are causing irreversible change,” Forbes says.
He says he believes that two things will support the sustainability of the Tech for Good movement and the growth of the movement.
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One is that so many organisations, as a result of the pandemic, have been exposed to the potential of technology. Many organisations have been forced to adapt and to respond, and the work of the STA and others have helped them to understand what technology can do for them.
“I think there’s a much greater receptivity in many sectors in organisations than would have been the case before because many of these organisations would have thought this was just out of the reach, they couldn’t access this kind of stuff,” Forbes continues.
“On the other side, both through our experience and the experience of many other organisations, we have seen people stepping up and stepping forward in a way that we have never seen at that scale before in terms of wanting to help.
“People have seen that they can make a difference, as an individual, by getting engaged and getting involved. And so, I think that is also a self-perpetuating phenomenon whereby once they’ve had that experience people are keen to do more.”
He continues: “On both sides of what we might call the supply and the demand divide, we have seen changes that I don’t think will be reversed. I do absolutely believe that it will sustain and continue to accelerate.”
Allen comments on what Tech for Good offers an incubator for innovation: “There is a freedom of thought; we don’t tell you how to do stuff, and that has allowed people to explore things that a conventional environment wouldn’t, and I think that offers something that could be pretty exciting for people as well as skill development.”
And Kiehlmann agrees: “One of the key things about the approach we take to the event is that we want it not only to be a great information exchange and for building up new connections and networks but actually to be a springboard for what we think is possible in the Tech for Good space.
“For every session, the idea is to identify amongst the people who are participating in each of those sessions, what can we do, to advance our shared objective of using technology for delivery of social good and bring everyone together in the form of this event.”
Join the conversation
There is still time to sign up for the Scottish Tech Army’s Tech for Good Summit on Wednesday the 28th of April.
Tech for Good draws together speakers, panellists and delegates from industry, the Third Sector and Public sectors, aiming to provide a springboard for a new level of activity and impact on the social, health and wellbeing of Scotland.
For more information, and to sign up, visit the Tech for Good Summit website here: https://tfgscot21.scottishtecharmy.org/