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Digitalisation
How social entrepreneurs can cut through the hype and utilise the best fit emerging technologies

Leveraging technological disruption and innovation to scale social impact

Leveraging technological disruption and innovation to scale social impact
Why entrepreneurs must embrace technology AND business ideas with a purpose

Everyone starts a business with purpose. Everyone invests in a start-up for the ride. We just learn to plaster the business case and the financial returns as the headline and sweep the essence under the rug. It’s lost along the way. Skype was built to disrupt. The money that came out of it was secondary. Entrepreneurs are driven by creation. Tech companies grow to become part of our lives and change the status quo within a few years. Think about Facebook, which grew to be the way we stay in touch in six years; WhatsApp became the way we make international calls in six; Uber became the way we get around in four, disrupting the taxi industry, and Netflix disrupted content from TV, movies, and the way we rent within nine years. The list goes on. They become known brands and shape our lives. Technology growth is fast and has become the driving force of every company for them to stay competitive – from automation to artificial intelligence (AI). Technology can also be used as a foundation to grow social impact, with just a little thought. And tying the two together means you can get double bottom line returns. People think that social impact and tech are the antithesis of each other, but it's the synergy that's powerful.

Technology is an advantage. People, companies, and governments fight over the latest tech to move ahead. It means we don’t have to spend months to cross the country; instead, we can do it in hours and, in special planes, it can be done in minutes. It means you can get a message in a second instead of days. These examples probably don’t disturb you because it’s part of what you’re used to. What brings skepticism and fear in people is what they don’t understand. It could stem from fear that if groups of people gain, then, individually, one would lose something. That’s not true, and it doesn’t have to be so black and white. There’s constantly a recycling of old for new. Being open to new things – being curious – is the human advantage. Blockchain is disrupting the entire foundation of how our financial systems are run. AI is disrupting modern work. Virtual reality is advancing the way we learn. And all of these for the better. Each saves time, money, resources, and gives more people access to tools they didn’t have before.

´People think that social impact and tech are the antithesis of each other, but it's the synergy that's powerful.´

Yao Huang

As I said, purpose requires thought – just an extra thought. It’s the why you’re doing something. And not just for more or to break. I encourage you to be curious for improving and helping. Shifting to impact isn’t hard – just focus on a purpose besides making more money. And again, helping others doesn’t mean you don’t make money – it’s not mutually exclusive. It just requires a little thought and consideration on why you, as the decision-maker, are building, growing, and implementing your “it.” It’s about bringing empathy to business. And no, it’s not a weakness. It’s actually a superpower – not everyone can think like this. At least not yet. It’s as cool as the concept of money-making-money while you sleep. You can structure an idea or a business to make impact while you sleep. You can use a technology to help advance people, communities, and create more for others, which is a double benefit: doing good and making money. And if you want to take it another step further, see if you can take a portion of profits to create ripple effects as well. Microfinance is an example – you make money while lending someone money to build a business that creates jobs, feeds their family, and fuels them with pride in something they created.

Yao Huang at BCtA Annual Forum 2018
What if we harness the power of tech development to further something more meaningful? Yao Huang at the BCtA Annual Forum 2018. Photo Credit: GIZ/Carolina Zishiri

Doing nothing didn’t hurt so much until now. There is a speed of advancement happening now that is allowing groups to leapfrog, leaving those with old tech behind. The pace of innovation and adoption is accelerating. And with this, we see that fear of change and action lead to death. Amazon has been running fast for over 10 years, taking out traditional retail, one sector at a time. That’s how stubborn entire sectors are to change. Wall Street even knows this, as stocks for entire categories drop by mere announcements that Amazon is entering grocery and healthcare. They are dying a slow death by standing still for decades. Closing your eyes doesn’t make things go away. For most of what’s happening in innovation, you can foresee the next steps. You don’t even need to be that good of a chess player to do so. The problem is not being willing to move, because it’s easier to stand still. Embracing technology requires basic vision with a passion to move. To move fast and inspire others to move, you need purpose. No one is going to move to make you two more piles of money. And that’s so boring. That second Ferrari doesn’t do anything. I promise, you won’t be happier or more famous.

It’s not size. It’s growth. It’s spreading a good thing. What if we put energy into spreading technology to help improve mental health; to teach inclusion, understanding, and the value of diversity; to improve health and wellness? Can you now use that simple chess to see the next set of benefits that it leads to? What if we harness the power of tech development to further something more meaningful? What if we put a little more thought to including something that benefits others into the thing we sell?  These are choices. And if you are in a position of action, they can become realities. It’s not just that we should harness tech for good – we must – because it has the power to destroy and separate, as much as it has the power to connect.


This blog was first published on 3blmedia.com.

Learn more about this year's Business Call to Action 8th Annual Forum, Technological Disruption in the World of Inclusive Business.

Yao Huang

Yao is the Founder and Managing Partner of The Hatchery, an organization instrumental in developing the New York technology ecosystem.

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