We are living in an increasingly digital economy, and the UK’s world class tech sector is taking advantage of the opportunities it provides.
Recent statistics published by Tech Nation showed that our inward AI investment stood at over 1 billion pounds last year, more than Germany, France, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland combined. However, we need to ensure that all sections of our society are fully equipped with the tools they need to participate.
As part of our engagement around the Civil Society Strategy, we found that charities are struggling to tap into the power of technology relative to other sectors, and that this is a key barrier to growing the Tech for Good movement in this country.
For example, the Charity Digital Skills Report (2019) found that 52% of charities don’t have a digital strategy and 67% want to use digital to increase their impact. However, there are some excellent examples of organisations that have leveraged digital to transform the way they work.
Last month, through their partnership with Missing People, it was announced that Royal Mail postmen and women will start to receive images of high risk missing people on their handheld digital devices for the first time, as part of a major update to their alert systems. The images will give the postmen and women the best possible chance of recognising vulnerable missing people in our communities, helping to reunite them with their families. This is just one example of how digital has helped a charitable organisation to widen its impact.
We must continue to encourage projects like this to bring further digital transformation in our social sector. Our technology and civil society sectors are, at their core, all about shaking up established conventions and solving problems; and there are so many social issues where technology can play a part.
So I am delighted that the Centre for Acceleration of Social Technology (CAST) has officially launched The Catalyst this week, supported by a £1.6 million grant from DCMS.
This network will seek to establish a hub of support for charities, helping them access trusted digital skills and expertise, develop strong digital understanding among leadership and develop new products and services for their stakeholders.
CAST has a proven record of providing best practice digital and design standards across the social sector and an extensive network of partners.
The Catalyst will expand on this even further, building a central network for charities to grow their digital awareness and skills.
This support is part of a wider package that my department has delivered to support the growth of the Tech for Good sector in the UK. In January, at the Doteveryone ‘Responsible Technology’ Conference, I announced that DCMS is investing £1 million to run a Tech to Connect Challenge. The Challenge will be delivered by Nesta, and is aimed at tackling social isolation through the use of technology.
This is a call to action for one of the most insidious public health challenges of our time and we strongly believe technology could help to solve it. Social isolation is being looked at in a broad context here too; people can be isolated due to a myriad of reasons – from a significant illness or a long term health condition to disability, bereavement, or a challenging life transition to a new place or role.
This £1 million prize will be split equally between business support from Nesta Challenges, and a pool of money for cash prizes and grant funding to successful applicants.
Applications for Tech to Connect are now open until the 7th August and The Challenge is open to charities, social enterprises and social tech ventures. The funding will help finalists develop early stage tech ideas, create working prototypes and plan for its implementation.
Since the publication of the Civil Society Strategy, my department has also provided a £1 million grant to 13 organisations up and down the country through our Digital Leadership Fund. The aim of the Fund was to increase the impact and availability of existing digital leadership training programmes open to civil society organisations.
Digital training was delivered throughout February and March this year; it was available for free, removing some of the financial barriers that can inhibit charity leaders from attending. This is another way in which the government is demonstrating its commitment to building a digitally confident civil society.
CAST’s Catalyst will be the glue that binds all of these programmes together, fostering a strong network for our social sector organisations to access the resources they need to further boost their digital confidence.
The UK is a pioneer in digital innovation. We are home to many organisations who are using technology to address social issues, and it is of vital importance that we continue to support the growth of our Tech for Good network.
I’d like to encourage all charities and social sector organisations to connect with The Catalyst to continue the conversation around how digital transformation can help charities achieve their mission.
In this country, we are blessed with a pioneering tech sector and thriving civil society, and there are so many benefits when the two intersect.
It is only with their skills, experience, and expertise that we will create an effective and democratic Tech for Good movement that uses digital to create a healthier society, as well as a healthier economy.