by Divina Paredes

Tech for good as BAU

Apr 04, 2019
CareersDigital TransformationIT Leadership

Using technology for social and community good is becoming business as usual for a growing number of ICT leaders.

These ICT leaders were recognised at the recent CIO50 awards for best ICT-enabled programme that helps solve a community or social issue.

There were five finalists in all, from which the judgeschose a winner and two highly commended entries.

They are:

  • Winner: Zeal with the support of the Vodafone NZ Foundation

  • Highly commended: Thankyou Payroll and Te Tira Toi Whakangao in association with NZTE and Datacom

  • Finalists: Dream Lab in association with the Vodafone NZ Foundation and ClearPoint for Eat My Lunch Project

Zeal with Vodafone NZ Foundation: Winner

Zeal volunteers

Globally, the rate of suicide has fallen by 38 per cent from its peak in 1994. As a result, over four million lives have been saved.

The number of suicides in Aotearoa has increased every year for the past four years and we now have almost two people committing suicide every day, with the highest rate of youth suicide in the OECD, says Lani Evans, head of the Vodafone New Zealand foundation.

Lani Evans, head of the Vodafone NZ Foundation, and Elliot Taylor, manager of Zeal and director of online crisis intervention

“We need new approaches to solving the mental health crises for our Rangatahi and we need to take services to our young people, not expect them to come to services during a moment of vulnerability,” she says.

The Vodafone New Zealand Foundation partnered with Zeal to create “Live For Tomorrow” an online crisis intervention and a world-first response to young people disclosing mental health crisis online.

The project has positive outcomes as evidenced by two independent reviews by the Clinical Advisory Services Aotearoa.

Evans says the Vodafone Foundation intends to support Zeal in every aspect of this work.

“For us, it’s the perfect partnership – bringing together the technical skills and resources of Vodafone, the social purpose of the Vodafone Foundation, and the youth and mental health expertise of Zeal,” says Evans, who received the award together with Andrew Sutherland, online crisis intervention manager at Zeal.

Lani Evans, manager Vodafone New Zealand Foundation and Andrew Sutherland, online crisis intervention manager of Zeal receive the award for best ICT-enabled community programme

“This intervention has already helped many young people struggling with mental wellness in New Zealand and around the world,” she says.

“We hope to be able to scale this model internationally and use it as an ongoing tool for suicide prevention and support, across multiple social media platforms.”

ThankyouPayroll: Highly commended award

ThankyouPayroll provides a free payroll intermediary service to small businesses and charities across New Zealand.

The free service takes away the complexities of payroll calculations and compliance with Inland Revenue PAYE filing, enabling growth in the business/organisation ecosystem by freeing up their time and money.

“We are disrupting a very traditional sector (payroll and taxes) to be an example that any business can put purpose and profit side by side,” says Christina Bellis, CEO of ThankyouPayroll.

“We’re a social enterprise providing a free and essential service while also championing other social and environmental objectives like carbon neutrality and sustainability, and being a leader in the future of philanthropy.”

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We are disrupting a very traditional sector to be an example that any business can put purpose and profit side by sideChristina Bellis, ThankYou Payroll

She says the organisation also has holistic policies for employees including providing mental health and family violence leave.

“We donate 25c per person, per pay (up to $1.25), to community organisations through the Thankyou Charitable Trust,” she explains.

“Every new customer using Thankyou Payroll means increased donations and more impact. Our business model includes dividend payments to shareholders who’ve invested in growing our social enterprise. We continue to improve our environmental strategy, taking responsibility for our footprint.”

“Our business model was strong from the start,” she states.

She says their software is designed to make giving easy, and with transparency. “The shareholders get regular updates on business activities, which include donations, environmental activities, and new initiatives – and shareholders are also encouraged to share their thoughts and ideas.”

ThankYou payroll is now the fastest growing payroll intermediary, onboarding on average 150 employers monthly, she says. “We believe this is due to both our affordability, and our value driven business model.”

Christina Bellis, CEO of ThankYou Payroll, receives the highly commended award for best ICT-enabled community programme

Hack Tairawhiti: Highly commended award

Last year, Datacom helped Te Tira Toi Whakangao (T3W) and NZ Trade and Enterprise to facilitate New Zealand’s first hackathon for M?ori tech entrepreneurs.

T3W is a group of global M?ori tech companies and M?ori sector investors collaborating to jumpstart tech venturing ecosystems in regional M?ori communities.

Hack Tair?whiti aimed to unlock the Gisborne region’s potential. Essentially it was about fostering indigenous innovators to act locally and expand globally, explain Barry Soutar, executive director, T3W, and project lead T3W at Callaghan Innovation; and Kerry Topp associate director, transformation and innovation at Datacom.

Kerry Topp of Datacom and Barry Soutar of Te Tira Toi Whakanga receive the highly commended award for best ICT-enabled community programme

We’ve seen some amazing initiatives come out of 48 hours’ worth of hustling. We’ve learnt to never underestimate what can be achieved in an extremely short period of time Kerry Topp, Datacom and Barry Soutar, Te Tira Toi Whakanga

The two-day hackathon in Gisborne brought together eight M?ori tech exporters and the country’s top talent – designers, developers, creatives, entrepreneurs and business leaders – to help solve a range of business challenges.

The hackathon was led by T3W and NZTE and delivered by Datacom using its HackAssist service.

“The goal was to address the issue of a ‘disconnection in the ecosystem’, with a lack of support and access to soft and hard capital for budding tech companies, particularly in the regions which are disconnected from economic growth engines such as the tech sector,” according to Soutar and Topp.

“Hackathons bring together people, ideas and technology which we see as a really useful way to leverage technology in order to attack an issue head on,” they add. “A key lesson is to never overlook the power of creative thinking and giving people an opportunity and space to think outside the box.

“We’ve seen some amazing initiatives come out of 48 hours’ worth of hustling. We’ve learnt to never underestimate what can be achieved in an extremely short period of time.”

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Since the hackathon, participating group Straker Translations, have subsequently opened an office in Gisborne, and up to20 staff have commenced relocation from Auckland.

This is a great step towards T3W’s goal of connecting 30 to 40 tech hubs across New Zealand, note Soutar and Topp.

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From this event it is estimated that $14 million in value has been generated through staff relocation to Gisborne and IP on the prototypes created during the hackathon.

The second Hack Tair?whiti will be held in Gisborne in May.

Datacom’s Kerry Topp concludes: “Hackathons are not only great for businesses to solve thorny problems, but they help people experience what the future of work looks like – kaupapa or purpose-orientated, mission-based, diverse individuals forming creative teams working together to achieve outcomes within a set timeframe.

“Last year we saw some real regional economic growth coming out of Hack Tair?whiti, so I’m hugely looking forward to what the 2019 event will create.”

The two other finalists are Clearpoint for Eat My Lunch Project and DreamLab with The Vodafone NZ Foundation.

Clearpoint for Eat My Lunch Project: Finalist

Eat My Lunch is a social enterprise founded by Lisa King and Michael Meredith, which aims to ensure no child in New Zealand would go to school hungry.

The concept is based around a ‘Buy One, Give One’. For every lunch that is bought, a lunch will be given to a child who would otherwise go without.

Eat My Lunch began providing its service out of a residential villa in Auckland with a very light digital footprint. Once the enterprise launched and the wider community heard about this program, the concept grew quickly.

Like most small enterprises, they started with a simple online ordering website, but as the business started to grow and exceed its operating expectations, a more adaptable and scalable digital solution was required.

With more customers ordering lunches, more schools and numbers of children could be taken on as part of the program. A robust solution was needed that could grow with them, and that could streamline their processes to save time and money, says Cristy Spencer, head of marketing at ClearPoint.

Cristy Spencer

The first task for ClearPoint was to assess the existing system and see whether it could be adjusted to manage the changes required to keep the business moving forward – reduced turnaround times, ability to accommodate new products, order management and integration capabilities. It was not possible to continue working with the current software they had in place, which meant ClearPoint would need to develop a new service solution, explains Spencer.

The first action was to make them safe, so ClearPoint ported all their existing online systems to Amazon Web Services. Then a new online solution was designed to enable Eat My Lunch to manage its own web content, products/pricing, subscription management and payments.

An open source ‘out-of-the-box’ product was implemented using WordPress with WooCommerce integration. It was then customised to suit their exact requirements.

Designing and assembling solutions within these principles requires an understanding of the domain and the constraints that the business operates within, explains Spencer.

ClearPoint’s goal, says Spencer, was to utilise mainstream, widely adopted platform technology for specific areas of the business and then integrate and automate these solutions to provide a seamless powerful workflow for Eat My Lunch.

The result is that the day-to-day solutions can be managed directly by the Eat My Lunch operations team, with ClearPoint providing additional technical support only as needed. The solutions have helped Eat My Lunch scale, offer additional products and move into new geographies, says Spencer.

Vodafone DreamLab: Finalist

Through the tireless efforts of cancer researchers and rapid advances in technology, we now have so much information and genomic data that researchers don’t have enough computing power to run their analyses, notes Lani Evans, head of the Vodafone New Zealand foundation.

Supercomputers are incredibly expensive, require regular upgrades and have a finite capacity, she adds.

At the same time, smartphones today use processors powerful enough to run 3D games, augmented reality and loads of other high-powered features.

Thus, the Vodafone DreamLab harnesses this processing power, creating a virtual supercomputer and using it to crunch complex cancer research calculations.

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We hope to be able to scale this model internationally and use it as an ongoing tool for suicide prevention and support, across multiple social media platforms Lani Evans, The Vodafone NZ Foundation on working with Zeal

The result is the DreamLab app which crowdsources the computing power of smartphones.

DreamLab has created the first “smartphone supercomputer”, and every time 100,000 users pool their phones, processing capabilities researchers would be able to crunch data approximately 3,000 times faster than the current rate.

With five million users, the speed would increase to 150,000 times the current rate that researchers can process the data, which would otherwise be limited by the huge computing power and expense required to analyse the information.

Users download the free app and while they’re asleep, overnight, the app downloads a part of the research puzzle, does some complex mathematics and genomic folding and sends the answer back to the Garvan Institute. This is an evergreen technology that’s making a significant difference to the rate and cost of cancer research at the Garvan Institute.

To date, says Evans, Kiwis have donated 50,000,000 calculations to cancer research.

“This analysis has led researchers to uncover a new way of looking at mutations in cancer.”

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