The best tech-for-good innovations of 2020

Girls in STEM Mentor jan Choudhury

The world faces a range of enormous challenges in the 21st century, including climate change, extreme poverty, health pandemics and many other crises. 

But while finding solutions to these issues won’t be an easy task, technological advancements and deep user understanding are providing answers. Below are some of the best tech-for-good innovations of 2020. 

Tackling loneliness 

Volunteering is not only helping millions of people in need, but is also combatting the issue of loneliness by allowing people to make new friends while doing good deeds for their communities. 

In a bid to enable more people to volunteer, 28-year-old Maria Lazer launched an app, Komorabi that pairs users with different volunteering opportunities and charities throughout their local community. It starts with the user and allows them to input their availability, the distance they can travel and their interests, before providing an activity list. 

Maria Lazer (image credit Talented Ladies Club)

She says: “The app does the google search for you. You can handpick all of your activities and add them into the app. To do an activity you have all the information on how to sign up to the charity and how to undertake it, but it is done through the charity not the app. The best thing is that you are also helping people in your community at the same time.”

Maria came up with the idea when she relocated to London and battled with loneliness. She explains: “I want to have meaning to life rather than just make money for others. I want to be fulfilled and happy. When I moved to London I missed the sense of fulfillment and friendships, so this is how the idea for the app came about. My way of getting my happy quota and passing it on.”

She also did an interview with the Talented Ladies Club , giving further insight into her app ambitions.

Clamping down on climate change 

Although climate change is continuing to accelerate, many tech companies are thinking of innovative ways to tackle this major issue. MoreTrees, for example, has developed a platform that allows everyone to plant trees in order to lower carbon emissions. 

Users can plant a tree by pressing a button, uploading a spreadsheet or automatically via an application programming interface (API). Niki Tibble, co-founder of MoreTrees, says: “We’re solving the issue that carbon offsetting isn’t easy for businesses. 

Image Credit: More Trees

“We genuinely believe people are good and want their businesses to have a positive impact on the environment, but it’s a lot easier said than done. Businesses have to actively find and initiate carbon offsetting activities or subscribe to a service that doesn’t scale up and down with their business needs. It doesn’t reflect real life.”

She explains that MoreTrees consists of an easy-to-use portal that lets users plant frees for themselves or other people, adding: “Anyone can plant a tree automatically for themselves, their business and their customers. And, the system automatically sends anyone you’re planting on behalf of a customised message and tree planting certificate. It’s flexible, scalable, transparent and simple – it’s Offsetting as a Service (if you like).

“We’ve had businesses integrate with our API in minutes – automatically planting trees for orders over £30, customer referrals and Xero invoices. And, there’s always the option to plant more trees when you want to – for example, we have businesses already sending trees instead of Christmas cards.”

Eradicating homelessness 

Image Credit: Beam

In pre-pandemic times, homelessness was a significant challenge. But it’s grown rapidly as a result of the economic problems brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. Technology company Beam is on a mission to stamp out homelessness by helping homeless people retrain and find job opportunities.

Beam has developed a crowdfunding platform that enables homeless people to raise money for training courses, commuting to work and other employment costs. More recently, it set up an Emergency Coronavirus Fund to provide financially disadvantaged Londoners with electronics, food vouchers, clothing and different types of essential goods. So far, Beam has raised over £150,000 for the scheme and issued more than 600 emergency care packages across the capital. 

Alex Stephany, CEO and founder of Beam, said: “Coronavirus has proven there’s an ever greater urgency to build technology for the vulnerable and disenfranchised. So tech for good must remain a priority for government and big tech in the year to come. 

“At Beam, we’re working to build technology that is every bit as good as Netflix and Spotify, but for the most disadvantaged people in society. We want to bring the best of startup innovation to those most in need, for free. We’re doing all we can as a small social enterprise, so now it’s time that big tech with its huge resources and reach, steps up and plays the fullest part possible in solving global social and environmental problems.”

Solving health crises 

Using 3D printing technology, academics at the University of Bath have created a laboratory-grade motorised microscope quickly and cheaply. Dr Julian Stirling, of the OpenFlexure Project, says: “The components cost about £200. The microscope is open source so it can be customised by anyone for highly specific lab work, or a super stripped down educational version can be made for about £15 of parts.”

Image Credit: Julian Stirling

Thanks to its affordability and scalability, the 3D-printed microscope is perfectly suited for use in developing parts of the world. In fact, a Tanzania-based organisation is currently building and testing the microscope so that it can be used to diagnose malaria. The organisation hopes eventually to gain medical approval for the microscope. 

Stirling says: “The microscope works really well, but designing a working microscope is the easy part. Deploying it sustainably in Africa so it can be used, maintained and relied upon is the hard part. This is why local production is so important, so much equipment donated to Africa does not function because it relies on replacement parts that are unavailable. However if something can be built in Africa it can be maintained in Africa.”

The coronavirus pandemic really has shown how tough things can get. But of course, there are many other prevailing issues affecting countries globally, and they’ll only grow over the coming years. Encouragingly, technological innovations with deep user understanding are helping to solve many of these different challenges. 

Find the details of its workings here

Blog Contributor, Nic Fearn

A huge thank you to Nic Fearn, a freelance journalist and copywriter interested in technology, digital culture and business, who put this piece together for us. He met Untapped partner, Deirdre Walters, at a Tramshed Tech event in Cardiff and it was his passion for Tech-for-good that inspired this article.

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Written by Nic Fearn