An increasing number of people are putting their digital skills to good use, creating new technologies that make a difference to millions of lives. Social innovators are coming up with digital solutions to health, education, environmental and social problems and we’ve pulled together a list of some of our favourite examples from the European tech community.
1. Arduino, Italy
Arduino is an open source electronics prototyping platform based on flexible, easy-to-use hardware and software, and designed to make the process of using electronics in multidisciplinary projects more accessible. In short, Arduino allows people to start making their own electronic devices, just as they might now put up their own shelves. It brings electronics within easy reach of the do-it-yourself movement and opens it up to non-specialists.
'Arduino could do for hardware what open source has already done for software: encouraging millions of people to make, create and ultimately develop new solutions to problems they're facing.’
2. Cell Slider by Cancer Research UK and Zooniverse, UK
Cell Slider is a collaboration between Cancer Research UK and citizen science experts Zooniverse. It allows people to get involved in the classification of millions of samples of cancer cells, helping scientists move more quickly towards a cure for many types of cancer. Although technology and computer algorithms can do a huge amount, certain datasets require analysis that only the human eye can accomplish with accuracy; spotting particular patterns, defects, and other anomalies. By giving up our own time, volunteers on Cell Slider can help to categorise and analyse cancer data that is then passed onto the experts.
'Cell Slider is a great example of how well designed technologies can enable a dramatic new way of addressing considerable social challenges. Through thoughtful design and networked technologies Cell Slider is enabling millions of people to help cure cancer.'
3. Fairphone, Netherlands
Fairphone is a challenge to the mobile phone industry and its consumers to find a better way to make, use and dispose of their phones. Few people have much idea that their phones rely on tiny amounts of precious metal which are often only available from mines in areas of conflict like the Congo, where miners work in dangerous conditions, digging makeshift shafts by hand.
At the other end of the process consumers upgrading their phones can dispose of their old ones, and the precious metals inside, without a second thought. Fairphone’s main aim is to make the mobile industry rethink how phones could be designed, manufactured and reused.
‘Fairphone is systematically tackling the ethical challenges of manufacturing high-end electronics, as well as collaborating closely with their customers. Their work is pointing the way to a more just, responsive and sustainable way of doing business.’
4. Guifi.net, Spain
The digital divide in Spain is growing – both within the country, between urban and rural populations, and between Spain and the rest of the EU. guifi.net is a telecommunications network that offers a way to bridge the growing gap between those who can and cannot afford to access the web. guifi.net is a peer-to-peer network where people can get access to the internet in return for sharing their access with others.
‘guifi.net is a telecommunications network that offers a way to bridge the growing gap between those who can and cannot afford to access the web: a peer-to-peer network where people can get access to the internet in return for sharing their access with others.’
5) Migam, Poland
There are 70m people in the world whose first language is sign language. About 470,000 people from that global community live in Poland, where an innovative company called Migam is using digital technology as part of a major social inclusion project to support deaf people. Migam is creating an artificial language through programming that recognises visual signs and can convert them into text or speech.
It also works in the reverse way, converting text and speech into sign language by using an animated avatar. Programmers at Migam are teaching their application to learn sign language just as a child would. They are essentially building a neural network – showing the computer signs expressed correctly many times over, as well as several times incorrectly so that it can start to become a nuanced system.
‘Migam is creating an artificial language through programming that recognises visual signs and can convert them into text or speech, which is already being used by hundreds of thousands of deaf people, and has the potential to enhance the lives of the 70m signers worldwide.’
6. 7 billion Others by GoodPlanet Foundation, France
7 billion Others brings together a richly textured portrait of people from all over the world. This video platform holds more than 6,000 interviews, subtitled in English, filmed in 84 countries by a team of film directors. Interviewees are asked the same set of 45 questions about their hopes and fears, memories and aspirations, taking them from what they learned from their parents, to how they treat their children. The project has been supported for ten years by BNP Paribas.
'Today's technology can do more than connect us to information, economic opportunity, even friends and family. It has the power to connect us to our shared humanity. 7 billion others is a great example of how digital technology can allow us to have insight into other people's lives and to find the connections between our communities.'
Nominet Trust has curated a wider dynamic list of inspiring examples of tech for good from around the world as part of the Social Tech Guide, and it is always looking for more! If you know of an inspiring social tech venture then share it with Nominet Trust at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dan Sutch is Head of Development Research and Ed Anderton is Development Researcher at Nominet Trust.