Defining Tech for Good in the COVID-19 Era

May 6, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a new era of urgent innovation. While the utility and application of technology is continuously evolving, its goals remain constant: to solve real-world problems, fulfill human needs, and present new opportunity for innovation and growth.  At this juncture, the global community must come together to invest, create, and utilize technology’s resources, talent, and capabilities to save lives and bring about greater equity and access.

With this in mind, Digital Empowers hosted #COVIDTechChat, a Twitter chat in partnership with the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation (ITIF) and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) to engage a broad audience on the topic of Defining Tech for Good in the COVID-19 Era. The goal of the #COVIDTechChat was to have a discussion between innovators, founders, researchers, and businesses on the physical and virtual frontlines around the world to collectively share data, collaboration opportunities, research, expertise, and challenges at hand.

Driving this conversation were Digital Empowers’ campaign director, Alexa Miller, ITIF’s tech expert Daniel Castro, and TCS business leaders, Asnand Ganesan and Anupam Singhal. Through a series of six questions, they highlighted the innovators and collectives at the helm of local and global response efforts, brought awareness to emerging and historic inequities, such as the digital divide, and challenged those following the #COVIDTechChat to ask questions and “@mention” others to join the conversation.

#COVID19 has created the largest virtual community of all time, and #COVIDTechChat was a prime example of that.

Key Takeaways

  • COVID-19 response will be remembered as the time when the strongest leadership and innovation had come from the ground up.
  • Bridging the digital divide for all Americans is more critical than ever as access to home computers and affordable, high-speed broadband connectivity are essential for emergency services and telehealth; e-commerce and business development; remote learning/working; civic participation; and access to public health and safety information.
  • The global community’s ability to overcome the pandemic will not simply be a result of technological advancement, but the ethos of crowdsourced, collaborative efforts that allow innovation to flourish.

#COVIDTechChat Highlights:

In a span of 45 minutes, #COVIDTechChat generated 472 tweets and engaged with a wide range of organizations, including International Medical Corps, Center for International Private Enterprise, Discovery Education, and Games for Change, highlighting tech programs and solutions driving the global COVID-19 response. Through the participants’ combined followings, the accolades and examples of local to multinational cross-sector collaborations, data, and opportunities for the public to join in the response effort had an estimated reach of over 4 million Twitter accounts.

The participants addressed several issues related to the pandemic, including how technology is helping local communities navigate the impacts of COVID-19—from remanufacturing medical equipment and PPEs and sharing datasets; bridging the digital divide through expanded access to broadband, home computers, and remote learning tools; becoming responsible consumers of data; and understanding the ethical balance and trade-offs between public health and digital civil rights.

        

     

The #COVIDTechChat was prefaced with the thought that oftentimes, we think about technology as a product and forget about the capabilities it represents. The COVID-19 pandemic has led many to reconsider the technical assets and skills they have at their disposal, and how they can be used for the common good.

But what this conversation also brought to light it is that technology, regardless of its capabilities, cannot win a war against a pandemic. Technology does, however, become a powerful weapon when leveraged by an army—of startups, academic and medical researchers, technologists, business leaders, and policymakers—who bring unique a combination of skills and perspectives, a shared vision and resources, and most importantly, guided by altruistic motivation and trust.