Social impact technology and platforms have been the fastest growing category of social business in recent years, according to a report by Global Impact Investing Network
The time could never be better – from a global pandemic, to natural disasters becoming a regularity, to social unrest domestically, we are in a truly unique time where technology has a lot of power. It’s what we do with that power that is most important.
As the Co-CEO of a real-time captioning application that directly aids the deaf and hard of hearing community, I am fully immersed in the world of innovators leveraging technology to create a positive social impact. According to a survey conducted earlier this year by The Hearing Journal, one of the top barriers that clinicians face is that 39% perceive their patients did not have a need or interest in new technologies to aid in their daily life. To go even further, 42% of clinicians were not even familiar with the newest technologies.
I’m painting the picture of a divide between how fast assistance technologies are developing, yet awareness and adoption is lagging. While that report aligns to the deaf and hard of hearing community, it speaks to the broader need to do more to teach the benefits of technology creation and adoption for positive social impact across all use cases and verticals. To start the conversation, I’ve developed 5 things you need to know to successfully create technology that makes a positive social impact:
1. As an entrepreneur, look for areas where technology is evolving rapidly but applications geared towards social causes may not be keeping pace. For example, when InnoCaption publicly launched its service in 2016 and entered the captioned telephone market, we were the only provider to offer a mobile app solution across Android and iOS devices. All of our competitors at the time were primarily focused on landline devices, even though a majority of the US population already owned a smartphone by then.
2. To create new technology solutions, seek out expertise from outside industries or different geographies. In developing InnoCaption’s initial technology base, I drew from my network in the South Korean mobile telecom industry because the mobile communications infrastructure there had been deployed earlier than the United States. I was then able to leverage the expertise of engineers who had patented technology, which became useful for developing our real-time captioning solution.
3. Understand people’s challenges at a personal level. Much of my time in the early years of launching our service was spent meeting with users, understanding their frustrations and how we could better address them, and even visiting those that I could in person to help troubleshoot their devices. These personal interactions helped me build a full understanding of the challenges that our users faced and to this day I still stay in touch with many of our early users who have provided us with invaluable feedback over the years on how to improve our service.
4. Find people who are also passionate about your cause. Joe Duarte, my co-CEO and early angel investor, was a perfect business partner for me because of his personal passion for providing accessible telecommunications to the deaf and hard of hearing community. This meant that he not only contributed financial capital for our business, he also helped craft our corporate culture of advocacy and putting the needs of our user community first and foremost.
5. Keep a close eye on bigger technology trends to best position yourself for industry shifts in the future. My company’s initial pivot from developing wireless carrier embedded software to an independent mobile app was a critical move that was guided by seeing longer term consumer trends that were only beginning to emerge at the time. Our early research into automated speech recognition technology was also integral in building up our understanding of this new technology, allowing us to quickly integrate it into our service as soon as we felt it was appropriate to do so.
About the Author
Joseph Lee is the Co-CEO at InnoCaption, a company he founded in early 2007 after reading that approximately 10% of the U.S. population had some form of hearing loss. After serving in the Korean military as a First Lieutenant, Joseph immigrated to the US in 1989 while working for Samsung, where he gained his expertise in mobile phone and telecommunications. Since 2007, Joseph has been using this extensive knowledge to lead InnoCaption by serving the deaf and hard of hearing community. He’s seen first-hand the kind of impact InnoCaption has on others and says there is no more rewarding a career as one where growing a business successfully means improving the quality of life for others.
Featured image: ©Soleg