Riding the tiger of technological change

Rhodri Davies

Philanthropy support organizations have a vital role in ensuring that disruptive technology leads to change for the better

Technology is opening up new opportunities to empower marginalized and disenfranchised communities around the world, and new ways of addressing social and environmental challenges. On the other hand, recent news stories have highlighted the subversion of the democratic process by organizations harvesting vast amounts of data and using it to influence elections. Likewise, there is growing concern that an algorithmic decision process now governing many aspects of our lives can develop biases and thus adversely affect certain groups. How can support organizations help philanthropy and civil society to accentuate the positive elements of these developments and offset the negative ones?

The impact of the coming wave of technological disruption will be felt by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in three main domains: offering new ways to deliver missions, transforming organizational structures and operations, and creating new problems to address.

The first impact can already be seen in the many great examples of ‘tech for good’ around the world. When it comes to the second, let’s take one example, that of blockchain technology. Blockchain makes decentralization possible, which could benefit CSOs by helping them to reduce the cost and complexity of operating across geographic borders, but it could also pose a threat to traditional institutions if new forms of giving which don’t require intermediaries (such as direct cash transfers) are made possible at an unprecedented scale.

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