The Scottish Tech Army held its first ever Tech for Good Summit on April the 28th to highlight how tech supports Scotland’s good causes.
Created in partnership with ScotlandIS, charity regulator OSCR and Scotland’s digital skills academy, CodeClan, the summit brought in speakers from across the country’s tech for good ecosystem and from further afield, including charities, business leaders, educators, SMEs, public sector, and volunteers.
The day started with an opening talk from the Scottish Tech Army’s Founding Director and CEO, Alistair Forbes.
With the Tech for Good Summit taking place on the one-year anniversary of the group’s foundation, he highlighted some of the achievements the Scottish Tech Army made in its first year. Many of these involved dealing with the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, he noted that the group was now turning its attention towards how its initiatives can help with Scotland’s economic recovery as it looks to move out of the pandemic.
“The Scottish Tech Army has transitioned from what was very much a crisis response initiative into an enduring organisation with a much broader tech for good ambition,” Forbes said.
“We aim to be the catalyst which will contribute towards making a step change in the impact and effectiveness of the application of technology for good in Scotland.”
One of the key announcements on the day was the appointment of the first four Scottish Tech Army’s Tech for Good Ambassadors, with a fifth to come. These are Vice-President of JPMorgan’s Tech for Good programme Felicity Goodman, Hymans Robertson Foundation CEO Marcella Boyle, ex-Skyscanner COO and Professor at the University of Glasgow Mark Logan, and Assistant Vice-Principal at Glasgow Caledonian University Fiona Stewart-Knight.
“We’re looking forward to the benefit of their input, their wisdom and the connections they can help us make in the tech for good ecosystem,” Forbes said.
Among the day’s highlights was the Tech for Good Summit’s Volunteers Assemble Challenge. This was a group hackathon, with six charities laying out a problem, and six teams looking at how digital tech can help address each challenge.
For example, Global Leith, a charity that matches Leith residents dealing with employment and education challenges with people to support them.
The group assigned to their problem suggested developing an online platform to match young people with local businesses who are connected to Leith. The platform would allow young people to apply for funding, and create profiles to connect with each other.
However, the group noted that the platform would need to be secure to protect the potentially vulnerable users.
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The day saw keynotes from Robertson Trust Chair Shonaig Macpherson, who discussed the digitisation in the charity sector from on a funder’s perspective, and an interview with Code for America’s Amanda Renteria.
Macpherson noted that the as the use of digital technology has increased, more and more services have to be accessed online. Around 60% of voluntary organisations were delivering their services online in 2020, she noted.
This has many benefits and downsides. For example, people without digital skills can find themselves struggling to access third-sector services. Furthermore, a digital landscape has no borders, opening up competition between charities.
She also warned that the consequences of the pandemic – unemployment, domestic abuse, among others, are not likely to reverse any time soon. This will create a once-in-a-generation mental health crisis, one that charities will be on the front line of fighting.
Renteria shared her experience with the Code for America group, a blueprint for the Scottish Tech Army’s long-term goals. With groups around the world dealing with the impacts of Covid-19, she shared some of her insights into how Code for America dealt with these challenges.
“We have done a lot of work at Code for America on trauma-informed discussions, and what we as an organisation need to do to make sure our own staff stay healthy, but also how do we help community organisations deal with what they are seeing in the pandemic.
“Part of it is being intentional about it,” she said.
Ultimately, in his closing remarks, Forbes noted that the STA and its goal of leveraging Scotland’s tech talent to solve the country’s digital challenges was enabled by the pandemic. Now, the challenge is to maintain the energy that saw it accomplish so much in its first year.