Why I’ve Launched Tech Matters

by | April 2, 2020 | Tech for Good

We’re excited to launch Tech Matters, our new nonprofit tech social enterprise, dedicated to unleashing the power of technology to meet today’s most pressing social needs. You might say we’re a bit of an anomaly in Silicon Valley: a tech organization that’s fully committed to not making profits.

Tech Matters exists to create large scale systems change by pairing the vision and knowledge of systems technologists with the commitment of leading social good coalitions. Together we will develop and share best practices, open standards and open technology solutions for the benefit of hundreds of organizations and millions of people worldwide.

If you missed them, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to read my first blogs: Systems Change Needs Systems Technologists, explaining the role of senior entrepreneurial tech talent to effectively address and catalyze systems change efforts. The second post answered the next logical question: What Does a System Technologist Actually Do?

Tech Matters is a direct extension of the work I’ve done for more than 30 years, including founding and leading Benetech, the pioneering software for good nonprofit. At Benetech, we learned how to deliver purpose-built tech tools into the hands of people who create large-scale social change. Another part of my experience as Benetech CEO was responding to requests for help from social entrepreneurs, donors and tech companies on applying technology to social needs.

The increasing demand for this kind of help, and the compelling discussions I was having around big ideas where tech could change the world, led me to launch Tech Matters. Like many senior social entrepreneurs, I saw a place to play an important field-building role, helping develop more systems technologists all over the world.  I realized that community leaders are looking to technologists to help them dream bigger about what is possible when you unleash the power of a community with the help of technology. Tech Matters exists to help these dreams become reality.

What sets Tech Matters apart is our atypical working model – neither traditional consulting, nor a typical nonprofit approach:

  • Unlike most tech consultants, we begin by truly understanding the social good perspective, and then consider the right tech for the job;
  • Unlike most nonprofits, we actively partner with other organizations, businesses, competitors and the communities being served to help solve a social problem through open data standards and open technology.

At Tech Matters, we offer value by identifying and translating the needs and opportunities among disadvantaged communities, social change leaders, and Silicon Valley tech innovators. We’re experts in technology with a passion for social justice, and a commitment to further positive social change. We listen to understand the market failures and social issues that need to be addressed, and then serve as a steward and partner to help social sector innovators apply systems-changing tech to realize and scale solutions. We see our work as a combination of anti-consulting, tech-for-good strategists, and sustainability support.

Anti-consulting: A portion of our strategic tech advice requires talking organizations out of adopting the wrong or unneeded technology. Our team isn’t afraid to evaluate a problem and determine that tech isn’t the best solution – in fact, many social problems can’t be solved with technology. Our mission-first approach means we won’t just throw tech at a problem in an attempt to make it better.

Tech-for-good Strategists:  Tech Matters starts with the actual communities to be served, to fully understand their challenges and opportunities. Only then are we able to effectively consider how technology can make a difference. Our deep experience and understanding of both the nonprofit and tech fields means that we can identify inefficiencies, help build bridges and effectively evaluate existing technology and/or determine what new tech is worth developing.

This could mean building roadmaps, developing tech infrastructure and tools, connecting users across industries or geographical borders, and/or helping to drive policy change. Our solutions are designed to generate data that can be analyzed and aggregated to improve management, better understand trends and impact policy. In this way, Tech Matters delivers solutions that maximize impact across an ecosystem.

Our collaborative approach is key to our working model. Through our vast network within the social and tech sectors, we help organizations see what is possible if the infrastructure were shared, standards were open, and technology made it easier and cheaper to scale impact.

Sustainability Support: In order to create lasting systems change, we are committed to helping our engagements become sustainable, both organizationally and financially. By supporting the people, processes and data to understand the effectiveness of our solutions, we drive lasting success. We take a long-term view, knowing that it can take years to reach impact at scale.

Tech Matters got to work in January 2019, thanks to generous support from Schmidt Futures, Working Capital, the Peery Foundation and the Hitz Family Foundation. Instead of announcing ourselves at that time, we felt it was important to roll up our sleeves and show what can be done when we combine the strengths of visionary social sector leaders and systems technologists.

By early 2020, we were already supporting three field-changing, tech-for-good initiatives:

  • Child Helpline International: this global network of child helplines understood that improving their tech infrastructure and sharing best practices could bring incredible benefits, but they didn’t have the experience to do it. Tech Matters is working with 175 helplines (in 145 countries!) through the creation of a shared technology platform, enabling them to more effectively serve kids in crisis, both by increasing the number of kids served and reducing costs.
  • For the 1000 Landscapes for 1 Billion People project, we’re developing tools that let communities chart their own futures in the face of immense climate challenges. These tech applications enable communities in ecosystems around the world to gain access to the knowledge needed to plan the future of their region, and find the needed capital (business investment, philanthropy and government funding) to carry it out. It’s an incredibly important and ambitious goal.
  • For Working Capital, we’re helping them imagine tech tools to root out unethical labor practices in the global supply chain. Part of the work involves digging into different technology issues, and another piece is brainstorming how to really transform this field. We’re hoping this work will inspire someone to launch a new social enterprise to help eliminate forced labor and other unethical practices in the production of products we buy every day.

Field-Changing Work to Support Field-Changing Leaders

What does this all mean? At Tech Matters, we strongly believe that field-changing leaders deserve field-changing tech for good support. We believe that deploying the right tech can accelerate the success of people working on humanity’s most important issues. Social sector organizations need better tech than that provided by a weekend hackathon or an application that was obsolete in industry a decade ago. They deserve modern tools, created by dedicated technologists who understand their needs and that of the communities they serve, and who are driven by the same values of achieving social good.

The future of large scale positive social change will be about matching innovative social good visionaries with systems technologists. We can’t have change without social innovations, but in this era we can’t have scale without technology. Tech Matters is here to bridge the two.

Whether you’re a social entrepreneur, a foundation leader, a social good investor, or a tech company, we speak your language.  Let’s talk about how we can collaborate to power systems change for social good.  You can contact us – and suggest topics for an upcoming blog – through our contact page.


1 Comment

  1. Steven Chau

    I love what you are trying to achieve and the approach you are taking. Technology can indeed be a very powerful tool, but at the same time it can be over glorified and unnecessary due to wanting to sell products for quick profits.

    I recently started a business myself specifically trying to help non-profits and small businesses implement tech solutions. I love the stance you have on looking at the social good perspective and will take this into account when discussing with future clients.

    Thank you for starting Tech Matters and looking forward to what you guys accomplish!


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