Technology can be unsettling. It changes at a rapid pace, and is often hard to understand, and can leave us exposed to threats we didn’t know we had to be worried about. It makes sense to be wary of technology. However, being wary of technology and being afraid of technology are very different. If we are afraid of technology we don’t engage with it, and this can mean losing out on all of the benefits it can bring. Take, for example, the washing machine. Washing machines were invented in the 1700s and became commonplace in Europe, America and Australia by the middle of the 20th century. This technology has saved human beings countless hours of manual labour, enabling people to spend their time on far more interesting activities. The washing machine saved so much time that it has been credited by several historians and economists for speeding up the movement for women’s empowerment. However, in spite these lessons from history, many organisations are missing out on their “washing machine moment” because they are not engaging with new technology.
In my experience, charity and NGO staff can quite often be guilty of technophobia. However, having worked in these organisations, I understand where the fear comes from: when your work involves protecting vulnerable people, you can’t expose them to unnecessary risks. Technological progress may have brought us the washing machine, but it also brought us asbestos…
Luckily, there are some steps that even the busiest professional can take to learn how to identify which technologies could really going to help, and which to stay away from.
Keep pace with technology (in 30 minutes a week)
One of the best ways to understand and feel more comfortable with technology is to subscribe to some easily digestible news sources. Mashable has a great email newsletter and Twitter feed, and BBC’s “Click” podcast covers a wide range of technology in 30 minutes, which you can listen to on your way to work. Et voilà, an overview of the possibilities of technology with minimal effort.
Talk with techies
We are actually quite nice when you get to know us! Seriously, there are loads of techies who are really keen to support the great work that charities and non-profits do. If you can give us the opportunity to understand you and your work, we will be able to give great recommendations and even create new products to help solve your problems. Find a Meetup group or search for us on LinkedIn and reach out.
Organise a hackathon
If you’re super inspired by technology’s potential, organise yourself a hackathon. Hackathons are two-day events where techies work directly with your staff and clients to understand your organisation and your challenges and create new technologies. Many tech-forward charities and non-profits have gone down this route, ranging from SettleIn’s awesome partners SSI and STARTTS to the Cerebral Palsy Alliance and the Red Cross.
In short, you can't afford to ignore technology. It's not as complicated as you think, and if you make the effort to understand the myriad of possibilities, you might just find something as spectacularly useful as a washing machine.