Impact Technology: Top 5 Takeaways from Phone2Action’s Good Tech Summit

On June 15, WDCEP joined more than 500 industry leaders at Phone2Action’s Good Tech Summit. This interdisciplinary event showcased how technology has the extraordinary power to make the world a better place. With DC as a rising leader in building an innovative and inclusive city for tomorrow, we were thrilled to take part in the conversation on impact, tech and smart cities.

Here are our top 5 takeaways from Good Tech Summit:

Innovation can drive social good

Although technology may be disruptive, the summit’s speakers were clear, tech is not inherently good nor bad. Tech can, however, catalyze social action and positively impact the way we live, when leveraged intentionally. This sentiment was underscored by Phone2Action’s co-founder Jeb Ory (@jebory) who emphasized tech as an embodiment of those who use it and the need to celebrate it as a tool to create a better world.

Sarah Springer (@RYOT), Senior Producer at RYOT, and John Goodwin (@patagonia), Creative Brand Director at Patagonia, both shared unique ways their respective companies have innovated for social good. Sarah showcased a video of underserved youth in an empty gallery space in the US experiencing the Louvre through virtual reality. John spoke of Patagonia’s ‘Utah Bears Ears’ initiative. Patagonia, working with Google, used virtual reality and 360 video to capture the magnificence of Utah’s Bears Ears National Monument to help protect the natural site. This technology inspired over 800,000 people to take action, showing the power of innovation. From mountain tops to school classrooms, tech as the ability to educate and drive social change.

New technology must be feasible to succeed

While tech for social good may seem like a straightforward concept, real innovation is equal parts great idea and reality. For the latest technology to succeed, it can’t just add value or solve a problem, it must also be legally, logistically, and socially feasible. In both Patagonia and RYOT’s cases the technology, laws and culture were aligned to make their concepts thrive.

This alignment was also on display by Starship Technologies and Postmates. Starship Technologies, the company behind the robots delivering Postmates food throughout DC, worked with WDCEP and Postmates to deliver items via robots to Steve Wozniak during his keynote address. These robots signify this balance of idea and reality, in action.

Starship and Postmates had the idea to make food delivery by robots a reality in and had to take into consideration both the infrastructure of DC as well as the legislation to make it a reality. DC, a Forbes Top 5 Smart City, updated legislation in the span of a few short months that changed the autonomous vehicle laws to make this innovation possible allowing DC to be the first pilot city for Starship in the US.

Failure is a part of change

Change doesn’t happen when people shy away from big ideas. Instead, change occurs when people are willing to risk all that they know and embrace failure. This is a reality often adopted with both social causes and technology. Those who prevail are able to fail and fail hard. With slogans such as “Fail Harder” appearing around its headquarters, Facebook is one company that actively promotes this mindset. The motto “Fail Harder” is deeply ingrained in Facebook’s culture, as was explained by Michelle Klein (@mklein_NYC), Director of Marketing for Facebook North America. People wanting to change the world for the better must have grit and a risk-seeking attitude but also the ability to pick themselves up after a failure and try again. The same attitude is needed for tech and innovation. Taking this motto to heart, Klein encouraged the audience to challenging what we know to make social change through tech possible, as it’s a key ingredient in creating a more connected world.

Inclusive technology must be intentionally designed.

Around the world clear digital divides exist, so social tech means creating technology for inclusivity. For social good innovation to work, we need to address both access and infrastructure. For instance, over 4 billion people lack internet access. Imagine what could be made possible if the world was truly connected.

Since designers of new technology have the ability to pinpoint a target audience, they should take the opportunity to serve underserved areas. Reaching underserved areas with new technology will allow more people to become game changers and positively impact their communities. In addition to developing inclusive technology, there needs to be a focus on creating an inclusive tech workplace.

Archana Vemulapalli (@dccto), Chief Technology Officer for the District of Columbia, shared how DC is solving social problems for all people in the District. DC’s wifi, for example, is open and unmonitored. An intentional choice to promote access across all 8 wards. It serves 15 million people, more than 10 times that of other major cities like NYC, and enables innovation among all District residents. “We want DC to be the inclusive innovation capital of the world” said Vemulapalli.  

Cities are testing grounds for social tech innovation

During the smart cities panel, Martin O’Malley (@MartinOMalley), Former Governor of Maryland, Dan Tangherlini (@DanTangherlini), Former GSA Administrator & Founder of 18F and Beth Blauer (@biblauer), Executive Director, Center for Government Excellence, Johns Hopkins University discussed how at any point in time, cities of all sizes can face diverse challenges ranging from water quality to transportation. Creating a tech enabled city brings to light issues around inclusion, health, privacy and overall questions related to social good. With the world’s urban population growing, cities will experience pressure on infrastructure but also have a critical mass of people who are embracing and open to innovation as a solution. This means that people can and must innovate quickly and address the needs of all types of residents to resolve and prevent a wide spectrum of potential problems.

Overall, the Good Tech Summit showed that new technology has the ability, across all sectors, to impact people in positive ways. Technology can bring about social change when it is feasible and inclusive. Additionally, the world can be made a better place when risk takers move forward with bold, new ideas. After attending this Summit, we know that innovators in DC will continue to make this city smarter than ever before.