The social impact of ICT
Information communications technology (ICT) has the power to transform society. It plays a key role in each of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, providing the infrastructure needed to achieve them. It also enables financial inclusion through m-commerce and allows people to connect with millions instantaneously.
The impact of ICT on business is particularly significant. It empowers people to share knowledge and advice instantaneously and set up an online shop or website at a low cost, dramatically lowering the barriers to starting a business. As such, it is an important enabler of change and ICT maturity is closely linked to economic growth.
Advances in technology have always been used by for-profits to increase revenue. However, government bodies and NGOs have struggled to successfully apply them for social good. An emerging type of business, the social business, is bridging the gap between the two.
Social businesses are driven by a social cause, but seek financial stability in order to further their impact.
ICT is playing a central role in the emergence and development of social businesses. These companies are driven by a social cause, but seek financial stability through profit making in order to further their impact. This combination is allowing them to effectively utilize technology for good.
The impact of ICT infrastructure on social businesses cannot be understated. It has made social impact affordable, social impact scalable, and enables new ways to connect to and engage with local communities (a key characteristic of the social business).
Starting any business can be financially challenging. But for social entrepreneurs, whose primary intent is to engage with local communities rather than to make profit, it can be particularly daunting. In the initial stages, it can also be difficult to convince investors to part with their money for a social cause.
ICT solutions have decreased set-up costs in an unprecedented way. This helps social entrepreneurs to make it through this uncertain period without major investments or losses – and advice is only the click of a button away.
ICT infrastructure allows us to connect instantaneously with millions. For social entrepreneurs, this means that their initiatives aren’t just limited to one community; they can easily reach the people they want to empower and spread their message far and wide.
Many social businesses also utilize ICT solutions to optimize processes, reduce costs and increase accuracy, enabling the business to be scaled up faster. For example, Sanergy in Nairobi, Kenya, uses radiofrequency identification sensors to alert the waste team to when a toilet needs to be emptied. SiembraViva in Medellín, Colombia, is developing solutions that will allow them to monitor harvests remotely and alert farmers to problems quickly.
To ensure lasting empowerment, social businesses work from within the community. As previously highlighted, ICT allows social entrepreneurs to continuously connect with the people they wish to empower in a direct and engaging way.
Online channels are also an incredibly powerful way to broadcast business messages. Although the presence of a social business is very much on the ground within the community, its story can be told online through webpages and social media, reaching a global audience.