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Euroviews. European startups need to start working with NGOs for free

People socialising at a startup, illustration
People socialising at a startup, illustration Copyright Euronews
Copyright Euronews
By Jacek Siadkowski, CEO, Co-founder, Tech To The Rescue Foundation
Published on
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The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent in any way the editorial position of Euronews.

In a world that is waking up to the difference between, for example, genuinely sustainable initiatives from companies and green-washing, it is not enough to just say you believe in tech for good — you have to do it, Jacek Siadkowski writes.

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As a European startup founder, it is easy to say you believe in tech for good.

It is good PR. It gives you a warm fuzzy feeling. It might even convince some people that you’re not in it for the money. But what do those words actually mean?

As words, they mean very little.

I know times are tough. I know fundraising right now isn’t easy. You might be facing down-rounds and bridge-rounds. VCs that were once on speed dial may no longer be returning your calls. 

But I’m here to tell you that actually investing in tech for good makes sense.

NGOs have the know-how, startups have the means

The 2023 UK Charity Digital Skills report found that 49% of British charities are unable to afford the technology required to meet their digital needs. 

A staggering 92% of NGO employees worldwide said they lacked the digital skills to do their work. 

Across Europe, NGOs that are doing valuable, essential work to fix the existential problems we all face are wrestling with antiquated software and hardware, fighting with one hand tied behind their backs.

Since the advent of generative AI, much of the talk has been how it can help us work smarter, invest better, write better. Far less has been said on the way it could help NGOs fix issues like the refugee crisis or climate change.
The OpenAI logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen displaying output from ChatGPT, March 2023
The OpenAI logo is seen on a mobile phone in front of a computer screen displaying output from ChatGPT, March 2023AP Photo/Michael Dwyer

Since the advent of generative AI, much of the talk has been how it can help us work smarter, invest better, write better. Far less has been said on the way it could help NGOs fix issues like the refugee crisis or climate change. 

Few NGOs have the time or the money to invest in their very own large-language model or AI-powered tools to help them do their jobs.

And yet, European startups have the tech, the people, and often the investment to help them.

But can it work in practice? Yes, it can

In 2023, Polish non-profit Success Written in Lipstick Foundation (Fundacja Sukcescu Pisanego Szminka) wanted to launch a website in the run-up to the elections that would link female voters to candidates that represented their interests. 

The non-profit wanted to boost the number of female voters in Poland’s elections, a demographic that has historically been underrepresented.

We were able to link the SPS Foundation with Speednet, a leading Polish software development agency. It was a natural match: a trusted non-profit with a clear goal, and a socially-orientated tech company. 

The effort engaged over 500 influencers and the website was visited 80,000 times during the election campaigns; 12.6 million people were reached via social media.

Providing easy access to information ahead of the poll undoubtedly helped move the needle on what proved to be a seismic political shift with the election of Donald Tusk as prime minister.
Poland's main opposition leader Donald Tusk speaks to supporters during an election rally in Pruszkow, October 2023
Poland's main opposition leader Donald Tusk speaks to supporters during an election rally in Pruszkow, October 2023AP Photo/Petr David Josek

And it worked: 75% of women cast a vote in the 2023 parliamentary elections, outnumbering male voters for the first time. SPS would not take solo credit for that, of course, but providing easy access to information ahead of the poll undoubtedly helped move the needle on what proved to be a seismic political shift with the election of Donald Tusk as prime minister.

Another partnership was with Latin American non-profit The Lily Project, which provides sexual health education to rural teenagers in order to prevent cervical cancer, the leading cause of death among young women in Nicaragua. 

Founded in 2015, the project’s work was hit hard by the 2018 crisis in Nicaragua that brought President Daniel Ortega to power and saw a crackdown on NGOs, particularly those that worked for women’s welfare and reproductive rights.

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The Lily Project was paired with Cloud Primero, a software development company in the Netherlands, which built an app, Chava App, for the NGO pro bono. The app provides total anonymity for users and can function on limited bandwidth and less high-tech mobile devices, a key consideration in rural Nicaragua. It has already saved lives.

Good for business, good for PR — good for everyone

What do founders say about these partnerships? Firstly, it has been rewarding for their staff, who have relished the opportunity to work on projects that are changing things in the countries and communities in which they live. 

At a time when staff retention is a challenge, these kind of partnerships enable startups to hold onto good employees — and hire new ones.

Secondly, it has been good for their business. We work with 1,500 NGOs, but there are hundreds of thousands more, all trying to fix a range of challenging issues, from voter representation to sexual health to food waste and sustainable transport. Startups that partner with NGOs learn from this experience and improve their own products and offerings.

Thirdly, it is genuinely good PR — as it should be. In a world that is waking up to the difference between, for example, genuinely sustainable initiatives from companies and green-washing, it is not enough to just say you believe in tech for good — you have to do it.

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And finally, it is the right thing to do. So founders, put your money — and your resources — where your mouth is. It could be the best money you never spent.

Jacek Siadkowski is the CEO and co-founder of the Tech To The Rescue Foundation, a fast-growing movement of tech companies and leaders engaging in impact projects pro-bono to tackle the world’s most pressing problems through technology.

At Euronews, we believe all views matter. Contact us at view@euronews.com to send pitches or submissions and be part of the conversation.

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