Why social good should be part of the CIO’s remit

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The role of the CIO has changed dramatically over the past decade, and that’s only been accelerated by the events of the last 18 months. By responding to the pandemic and supporting business continuity, IT has earned the trust of the boardroom and built a case for continuing transformation. Adobe’s 2021 Digital Trend Report shows IT willingly expanding its responsibilities to include everything from new digital technologies to customer privacy and digital usability and being more prepared than ever for collaboration.

It’s only natural that this change extends beyond the core business of the company, into company ethics, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and a wider trend of ‘tech for social good.’ After all, the same technology know-how that came to the rescue during the pandemic can also help organizations meet their social and environmental responsibilities and have a positive impact on the wider community. This not only improves the image of the brand, but also employee recruitment, engagement and retention. Being good in society can be good for business too.

There is much good CIOs can do internally, for example, presenting a more empathic model of leadership, which considers the workloads and stresses of employees, or continuing the transformation of the workplace to support a better work-life balance. They can focus on technology ethics, privacy issues, responsible supply chains and diversity and inclusion. Outside their teams, CIOs can harness technology to new sustainable business models and working practices, or even co-create new products and services that drive a more ethical business. They can also resist more ethically-dubious use cases for technology.

CIOs need to be aware of what Irina Raicu, Director of the Internet Ethics program at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, calls “ethics-washing” as a replacement for regulation. Yet Raicu believes it vital that ethical analysis and development become second nature within business, and that organizations start thinking and talking about tech ethics.

‘The more you can think ahead, the better you can begin to operationalize tech ethics’ she says, ‘so employees know you’re not just giving the topic lip-service.’

Many IT leaders are already taking the opportunity to promote social good. Last year, Asda CIO Anna Barsby used her experience and connections to distribute some 7,000 Dell laptops to UK schools, for students schooling from home during the lockdown. Nominet CTO, Simon McCalla, has worked with the Prince’s Trust to help young entrepreneurs start a digital business, and with youth-led creative network, Livity, to provide digital skills and paid-for work experience to young people. Led by CDO Caroline Bellamy, Ordnance Survey founded the Geovation accelerator to help start-ups use location data to solve real-world problems. It has already helped 72 GeoTech and PropTech businesses create 189 new jobs and raise £19.5 million in investment funding.

Social good initiatives are also flourishing within some of the world’s biggest technology companies at a global scale. Adobe is looking to achieve carbon-free and waste-free growth, and enable more sustainable design, marketing and business processes, both for itself and its worldwide customer base. It’s developing an ecosystem that supports ethical policies, partnerships and commitments.

Microsoft actively supports inclusivity across its communities, and has helped over 30 million learners globally as part of its global skills initiative. It’s donated or discounted over $1.9 billion worth of technology and services to non-profit organizations and is working with leading eco-organizations on an ambitious ‘Planetary Computer’. This connects trillions of environmental data points with machine learning to deliver real-time, actionable insights into climate change, diverse ecosystems, water supplies and more. As well, Microsoft recently announced Microsoft Cloud for Sustainability initiative gives enterprises cloud-based tools with which to measure, understand and control carbon emissions and track their progress towards sustainability.

CIOs have never been in a better place to get involved in these conversations and drive real progress forward. Click here to find out what CIOs are doing to create more diversity in their teams.