Social Impact investment — does it benefit Humans or Technology?

Photo by Alex Kotliarskyi on Unsplash

When you look at impact investment strategies over time, the focus has been on new technologies to improve the impact of human activity on the environment. This focus on technology development is nothing new and has continued for over a century, when we look at the development of society alongside the Industrial Revolutions (IR) of the past. It is based on this evolution that we now have our current economic paradigm, anchored in needing new technologies to advance the economy and recover from global, historical calamities of war by simulating growth. (How mainstream food and energy technologies driving our supply chains have their origins in war-tech, might be worth a future thought piece.) Anyway, new markets, new devices, new tools, new transaction types and digitization are not really new. Each IR has had different advancements leading to environmental and societal impacts, which are very well known in 2021 — the information is available if one searches beyond social media platforms or the 1st page of results on Google.

A Human Experience: Physical or Digital

The tracking of humans interactions and their relationship with each other, their transactions with local environments and information accessed online, is the focus of IR-4, Industry 4.0 and Internet of Things (IoT). This is measurement of a humans social experience in their environment and it is here now. Transformed into data, digitized into information based on the owner of the technology and communicated to clients or customers.

Does this result in smarter people? Does this lead to positive social impact?

I’m working with this idea of, ‘where’s the live social experience?’. This experience is obviously one made by humans and their environment. It’s the human activities, the interactions with each other, and their interactions with technology that lead to impact on humans. Our ability to measure and show the outcomes of each IR with resulting technologies of the past is easier, now with IR-4 we know the data is being generated to demonstrate live human activity as it happens.

Technology for Good?

The desire for Social Impact is reflected by the industry as it continues to grow significantly over the last decade.

‘[Social Impact Investment] In the UK has grown six-fold, increasing from £830 million in 2011 to £5.1 billion in 2019, according to figures released by Big Society Capital, the UK’s leading social impact investor’.

Is investment in social impact focused on using this data to bring benefit to community? How is social impact investment bringing direct human value?

Now the question here is what value does that impact investment bring. This takes me back to when I worked in Kolkata, India. There, I was part of an offshoring project undertaken by a company-wide IT transformation project of an energy retailer in Perth, Western Australian. My department already had technology which was functioning all using data and software to organise for customer management, billing and improve overall business performance.

The benefits of technology being implemented would enhance the work of mobilizing cross-cultural teams to execute technical processes online and internationally. All designed to bring human value to the team members working and taking roles in my teams, by removing redundant activities, old process and move to online processes. The technology, clearly brought benefit through improved productivity and performance in the workplace. Leading to improvements, staff reductions, efficiencies of services and experiences for customers serviced by this company. Each step of these areas measured with data and offers a way to talk social impact. There is data that’s produced through each of these interactions, yet the human value was measured in economic value only.

Social Impact: Invest in Technology or Humans?

Now when I think about the billion dollars of investment that’s happening in social impact. I wonder what measures are used to help us understand the real value that’s brought to the humans experiencing technology and this digital transition of IR-4. Data is available in the technologies we use everyday. Social Impact is argued as being super complex to report data. Used as justification investing in digital applications to offer community voting tools, sharing economy platforms, education and digital learning technologies. Does technology selected for social impact include sharing data about servicing customers and clients, educating students, training young professionals, in order to create healthy conditions for employees or the residents?

I can hear the pitch line now:

’10 Billion people on earth in 2040 is a problem, with your million Euro investment, this X community (insert vulnerable demographic) will have an enhanced life because they now have ‘technology’ and our social impact app will use the data to train our AI to offer future products to X community

However, there is no conversation about why does Social Impact require such large investment in technology to generate data for training AI’s to bring better lives to people.

We have 7.8 billion people on the Earth as of the 18th of June 2021, we might as well learn how we can use Social Investment to train the billions of people to transform their impact on each other and earth.

We already have evidence and data of the impact past IR’s have had on populations, their health and their environments. More importantly the impact on quality of work, life and access to basic human rights to resources. We are living, breathing, eating humans that interact with the places we work and live to survive or thrive. So why do we agree that the 10 billion people are the problem? And we continue to train the AI machine to save the people from their waste and invest in a future based on IR4 technology.

What if we could invest billions in training people to adapt in 2021 to find meaningful work and not invest AI machines? Why not invest in the most precious resource of all, us, Our Humanity?

Collective social impact is happening and we can learn to see behavior as data along with technology, perhaps that will be a future blog. However here is a pasts piece on how we learn behavior: