Last week, some of the Wildfire team helped launch the 2016 NT100 – an annual celebration of the 100 most inspiring social innovations using digital technology to drive social change around the world.
Having spent almost the entirety of my career doing PR for businesses that operate for profit it was refreshing to meet so many passionate people putting technology to good use whilst striving to make the world a better place.
The projects within this year’s NT100 have wide-ranging goals from those created to democratise access to quality education and healthcare, to those connecting minority communities and evoking empathy.
At the launch event in London I was lucky enough to meet lots of the people and companies included within the 2016 NT100. Here are just five that particularly captured my imagination:
1. With one in three people aged 65 or over falling each year in the UK, Lise Pape’s company Walk With Path is creating an innovative range of products to help the elderly stay upright. Inspired by her father’s 10-year battle with Parkinson’s disease she has created Path Finder – a special shoe that provides visual cues for the wearer to follow to help with the foot movement and gait. Path Finder is specially designed for Parkinson’s patients who suffer from Freezing of Gait (FoG), where they feel as if their feet suddenly become glued to the floor. Visual cues have been found to break FoG.
2. I also met Graham Pruss, one of the founders of WeCount.org, an online sharing network and app he set up in Seattle, USA to help deal with the city’s extreme homelessness problem. WeCount allows local residents to respond to individual homeless people’s specific needs/requests and provide basic items like clothing, personal hygiene items and blankets through drop off points within the city. Only launched in June, representatives from 10 cities in the US have already approached WeCount to see if the model can be adapted to their own communities. Graham’s hope is that WeCount can one day be found in other cities like London and that he can also expand the platform to help those living on the streets to find transitional housing.
3. Particularly impressive were the musical instruments that severely disabled children can play with their eyes, courtesy of South-West Open Youth Orchestra (SWOYO), the UK’s only disabled-led regional youth orchestra, and OpenUp Music.
4. Swiss company MMOS (Massively Multiplayer Online Science) was in attendance demoing the really cool stuff it is doing with gamification techniques to help solve real scientific conundrums. The company’s first effort Project Discovery, connected a popular space fantasy game EVE Online with Swedish scientists working on Human Protein Atlas (HPA) – a project that catalogues proteins and the genes that encode them to better understand how proteins interact with a range of diseases.World of Warcraft gamers alone have collectively spent an estimated six million cumulative years playing the game to date, so it looks like MMOS will translate these endless hours of recreational labour into tackling real-world problems.
5. Finally I met language therapist Dr Celia Woolf, who is helping the UK’s 400,000 aphasia sufferers to recover their communication skills, through the virtual environment EVA Park. Aphasia is a language impairment that affects a person’s ability to express and understand written and spoken language, which can leave them socially isolated. In EVA Park each user has a personalised avatar that roams within the multi-user online world, where they can practise functional and social conversations, from ordering a drink in a virtual bar, to having a meeting in a virtual conference room — all in a safe environment under the supervision of a speech therapist.
One of the challenges with launching an initiative like the NT100 is shining enough of the spotlight on each of the 100 companies – each one as deserving as the next. For every five you mention there’s another 95 you can’t.
From bullying to dementia and VR to blockchain the NT100 really does have it all so please take some time during these last few days before the Christmas break to check out the video and peruse http://socialtech.org.uk/nominet-trust-100/2016 to be inspired.
NT100 aims to motivate those with the influence and resources to accelerate the adoption of tech for social good and brings together entrepreneurs, innovators, NGOs, charities, technologists and others to share knowledge, experiences and skills to introduce social change on a global scale. With the right tech tools and motivation anyone has the raw potential to stand up to the world’s most pressing social challenges. Does this sound like a good new year’s resolution to anyone?
Photo credit: SWOYO