Two years ago, I sat sobbing my heart out on the TransPennine Express from Liverpool to Leeds. I’d just visited a youth centre in one of the most deprived parts of the city, one of several across the UK that I was helping to get some local business support for.
I was shocked not only by the poverty in the surrounding streets, but the tales of gang violence, despair, hunger, abuse – of young people the same age as my own daughters falling through the net of our society.
One teenager was rescued from homelessness and sexual exploitation by the centre as a trusted first port of call before accessing social care; another from gang and drug violence through support and mentoring at the centre. Both given lifelines.
So why my tears? Frustration, as well as empathy. The centre was facing a huge shortfall in funding due to local authority and other central government cuts, and at risk of closure. Sadly, it isn’t the only charity or cause to face such a black hole. Last year’s NCVO report estimates the sector will face a £4.6 billion gap by 2018/2019. This is not just about government cuts to contracts and grants, but tepid growth in donations from the public, and the impact of inflation.
So, what can be done to alleviate these huge problems our communities face? To support people at grass roots in communities that really need our help?
Truth is, we can ALL do lots. But we need to pull together here and work as a team. Individuals, small businesses, large corporates, schools, community groups, public sector, charities… and so on. And not just give a bit of money. Give our time, share our skills, mentor, pass on gifts and items. Muck in – in meaningful, targeted ways. But where to start?
One solution is the use of accessible technology to harness that power of purpose within us all. This is why I have spent the last 18 months building a ‘Tech for Good’ platform – one that everyone in society can easily join.
I started my journey along this road by volunteering my own skills for free to local good causes – training courses in LinkedIn. I found my own lifeline through doing that, gaining real self esteem through a difficult time in my life. My network then started to ask me to help them volunteer too, and before I knew it, I was brokering all sorts of giving.
The key thing I noticed was that once a volunteer gave a bit of time to a cause, they generally then started to give money, or bring their networks in to help, to fundraise, and give other stuff. I dreamt of a technology platform that would bring all that under one roof to facilitate what I was currently doing, patchily, by phone and email.
Through my network and my now business partner, we used existing secure FinTech (or Financial Technology) to build the Investors in Community platform, the only one of its kind. We are brand new and just launching, but already have FTSE 100 companies as founder members, as well as local councils, small businesses, good causes and individuals – right across the country. We’ve even invented a ‘currency’ called Community Credits to incentivise giving.
The Head of Communities at one of the country’s largest city councils today described our ‘Tech for Good’ platform as an ENABLER. It doesn’t solve the problems by itself, but allows an easy way for everyone to find projects that matter, give, see and measure the impact.
I found such joy though purpose, and I used my tears after the youth centre visit to drive me on to do this. One of my favourite quotes is from Helen Keller:
“Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
Imagine how powerful a sense of shared purpose could be. Technology has now made this possible. There’s people out there that really need our help.