Our favourite uses of technology for social good


Today the Nominet Trust, the UK’s leading social tech funder announces a shortlist of 100 best uses of technology for social good. Here Amy O’Donnell, ICT in Programme Lead, explains what it has been like for Oxfam to be involved and shares her favourite, development and humanitarian relevant, uses of tech.

The Nominet Trust 100 celebrates the people and organisations who are using digital technology to change the world for the better. Each year, it brings together 100 of the world’s most inspiring examples of social innovation, where digital technologies have been used to tackle a significant social challenge.

This year Oxfam was part of the judging panel which involved getting together a group of us representing different specialism areas from monitoring and evaluation, technology, innovation, gender and livelihoods. Looking at different uses of technology for good took us out of our comfort zones, challenged our understanding of successful uses of technology and opened our eyes to the potential of some really cutting edge applications.

We couldn’t vote for ourselves, but we’re delighted to announce that an Oxfam project from Somalia, delivered in partnership with UNICEF and local partner Hijra was recognised in the top 100. This mobile phone based health promotion project in Somalia set out to improve awareness of polio prevention and control, as well as provide items to support safe hygiene practice.

Technology relevant to international development and humanitarianism

Here are a few of the short listed tools which we found most inspiring:

Technology can be a powerful catalyst for change and we have to snap up opportunities to influence the rapidly changing future

We are operating in a more volatile world with more conflicts and fragility meaning that the reality for new mums isn’t always a hospital bed. So a highlight for us was reading about MOM: a portable inflatable incubator for babies born in conflict zones. The WHO estimates that 75% of premature babies could be saved with access to incubation. It was the cost savings and rugged nature of MOM that really demonstrated its huge life saving potential.

Humanitarian Open Street Map’s accurate mapping system used for field workers in the Ebola crisis in West Africa was another highlight for us. Clear maps can be a game changer especially in containment contexts by allowing humanitarians to be responsive on the basis of real time data. In complement to this, connectivity is vital, so we were also impressed with Vodafone’s technology in a backpack to provide communications support in the
aftermath of a natural disaster.

Emerging trends

In the judging process, a few threads we noticed in terms of challenges were about relevance and affordability when it comes to access to technology for the most marginalised, and inclusion of women. Linked to this are questions around scalability and business models to ensure these approaches can be sustainable and realistic. A few times we flagged concerns about privacy which often goes hand-in-hand with uses of data. At Oxfam we’ve recently developed a data policy to help
us deal with this issue responsibly.

Technology is undoubtedly having a disruptive effect on the way different actors can challenge power imbalances, use data to back up claims with evidence, and harness the power of real time information. While there are risks and challenges, technology can be a powerful catalyst for change and we have to snap up opportunities to influence the rapidly changing future. The judging process has been a great opportunity for a subset of staff across Oxfam to step out of their day jobs and consider the potential of technology.

The NT100 plays a fundamental role in celebrating and recognising the role of technology for social good, not just for profit, to encourage development and enhance debate so different actors can come together to exploit technology’s transformational potential.

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Photo: Women read SMS about Polio prevention, Somalia, 2014. Credit: Ahmed Farah/Hijra

Author: Amy O Donnell
Archive blog. Originally posted on Oxfam Policy & Practice.