Technology and charities working together has positive results

  • Technology firms and charitable organisations appear to have a different ethos; however combining the two could see positive outcomes for both.

    Successful partnerships between charitable organisations and technology firms have seen positive results for both parties and more successes could be seen if more partnerships were made. With technology producers designing products that offer solutions to problems and charities providing the inspiration for new projects.

    An example of a partnership that worked well and presented results for both parties is the collaboration between the Royal London Society for the Blind (RLSB) and technology company IBM. The results of the partnership ended in the production of the Chatty Web, which is a piece of technology that makes browsing easier for blind people and also bring benefits for sighted people.

    Whilst people with visual impairments can access the internet with screen readers, RLSB's chief executive, Tom Pey, says that this is not always ideal.

    "The problem for a blind person accessing the internet is that accessibility varies from website to website and with a screen reader you have to read everything on the page. It takes four times as long if you are blind to find what you want and the results are a bit hit and miss."

    Pey says RLSB wanted something that would enhance the experience for blind people, but also for everyone else. "We sat down and thought about the old television programme Knight Rider, where the car talked to the driver," he says. "We thought if that was possible with web browsers, it would be a revolutionary change in the way the internet was accessed."Writing On Laptop

    After inviting technology brands to discuss their proposal at an event they found that IBM would work with them. After the event a prototype was developed for the product that eventually will become an inbuilt part of the internet worldwide. Whilst products that respond to voice comments already exist, Pey says that the Chatty Web will go further as it will learn "as it goes".

    Whilst IBM's petty cash is bigger than RLSB's turnover, Pey says that he found the organisations to have a lot more in common than he first thought.

    "We believe in life without limits for young blind people - so we work with people who also can't see limits and we are committed to solutions rather than problems. The culture at IBM is similar."

    Manage of the Extremem Blue internship programme that works with RSLB, Ed Moffat, urges charities to get in touch about problems their clients and members are experiencing.

    "The team working with RLSB were amazed when the charity showed them videos of how people browse the internet with a screen reader - a problem that they had previously thought of as solved still had much room for innovation.

    "By pointing us in the direction of a problem to tackle, RLSB had already helped us greatly.

    "Real world problems lead to better, more innovative projects, which in turn lead to a stimulating and challenging placement experience for our interns."

    Pey says the partnership with IBM cost the charity "nothing but time". But he advises that charities interested in developing technology must do their homework before approaching companies. "There's no point in going to a global company with a narrow problem. You need to come to them with a possible solution that can benefit them too. Otherwise, we would be kidding ourselves and be unfair on them."

    "If you want to be their partner you need to be businesslike," he adds. "Don't bring them a problem, bring a business opportunity."

    Other tech companies have also worked on projects with charities and seen positive results. In Reading, Reading Voulntary Action, Reading Council, Berkshire Community Foundation and a number of other businesses have launced a reward scheme allowing residents to earn points through volunteering which they can spend while shopping on line, travelling by bus or in the form of donotations to charities. The Reward Your World co-founder Dan Gipple says the company would be willing to work with charity partners elsewhere, including housing and volunteer associations.

    "Charities should be very careful about what they set out to do on their own," he advises. "It can be an expensive and lengthy process to prototype technology so it is useful to find ways of partnering with others."

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