# The Tech4Good Context

There are many projects, activities, initiatives, and interventions that fall under the term “Tech4Good.” From making websites more accessible to those with disabilities, to providing critical government services through both smartphones and low-cost feature phones, to using maps to communicate information about local health clinics and their various capacities, all of these would fall under the category of “Tech4Good.” Despite the broad category of Tech4Good as an area of practice and academic study, there is more or less a consistent through-line in recent history that is helpful in understanding how best to make use of Tech4Good.

# A Quick History of Tech4Good

The Tech4Good story really starts in the 1990s, we begin to see examples of cybercafes and telecenters, digitization of maps and public resources, and funding for explicitly technology-focused interventions from donor and foreign aid organizations. Prior to this, there were certainly no shortage of examples of using ‘technology for social good’ — public computing in libraries, for example, or rural electrification projects. But it wasn’t until that time that we start to see a “Tech4Good” landscape that had the qualities we see now, with its explicit focus on people and doing proactive social and economic good, as not seeing technology as a magical solutions, and seeing tech interventions as part of a broader, complex ecosystem.

In the 2000s, with the growth of telecenters and the Internet and mobile phone networks and low-cost handset proliferation around the world, it came to greater prominence as both an academic discipline as well as an area of practice. This was bolstered by policymakers recognizing the value of technology as a tool in global economic development through frameworks like the Millennium Development Goals.

In academia, there were movements within the social computing, science and technology, and information science disciplines to address a new discipline of “Information and Communication Technologies for Development”, or ICT4D. This multi-disciplinary area expanded and began to also draw from the disciplines of international development, economics, data science, and communications.

It was an area of study that grew as ICTs were having an impact on patterns of communication, workforce opportunities, and economic conditions. More importantly, it was a key leveraging point for many organizations, governments, community groups, and individuals, as there was an assumption that computing and mobile technologies had the potential to address challenges in education, agriculture, government services, and more.

# IT, ICT, ICT4D, and Digital Development

There can be a confusing amount of terms relating to technology, social development, international humanitarian work, etc.

Tech4Good refers to the multidisciplinary discipline and practitioner perspective that focuses on leveraging technology for people, and is also sometimes referred to as ICT4D (Information and Communication Technologies for Development.)

ICT is an umbrella term that encompasses all sorts of uses of technology, including ‘IT’, what we think of as the more strictly defined area of computing systems, data, and computer hardware.

Tech4Good is one of the more common terms for this area now, though you’ll often see “Digital Development” referring to the same ecosystem of technologies, organizations, and initiatives. These terms may change as well, adapting with time to reflect updated approaches, inclusiveness, and impact.

I prefer the term “Tech4Good” over “Digital Development” or “ICT4D” simply because it’s a little easier for everyone to understand the terms without needing to know the academic history or how “digital” is being defined. Your mileage may vary.

# Tech4Good Today

Tech4Good’s umbrella of leveraging technology for the explicit purpose of enabling social & economic good has only grown in recent years, as both a recognition of technology’s powerful impact on so many parts of our lives continues to expand, and also as it becomes clear that without that explicit focus on “tech for good” we often see technology used as a tool for exploitation and exacerbation of a digital divide.

We are seeing more organizations now with social good and/or philanthropic missions, and the circle continues to widen. Many organizations have popped up with a focus on applying Tech4Good to the fields of machine learning and AI, to drones and remote imaging, to digital privacy and security, and more.

On the international side, the Millennium Development Goals, and now the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have been a good boost for bringing the use of technology to the forefront of conversations, as the role of mobile phones, access to digital services, and connectivity play a part in nearly all of the human development goals outlined by the SDGs.

# Tech4Good Tomorrow

As I write this in the spring of 2020, it’s clear that we’ll need strong Tech4Good lenses, methodologies, and organizations for a changing world — particularly a world now mediated more and more by digital communications.

The trend seems to be both a continued growth of an awareness and distinct use of the Tech4Good ecosystem — through academic institutions, nonprofit and international NGOs, private business, and national governments.

The challenge will be to continue to ensure that we are learning the lessons of Tech4Good histories and that we aren’t simply caught up by the latest fad or enthusiasm for a silver bullet that will solve all of society's challenges.

The successful Tech4Good initiatives will not be developed in laboratories or conference rooms. They will be designed together with the communities and individuals where they can do the most good, and at the end of the day, it will rightfully be the people given the credit — not the technology.