The world is going through a major shift, with people increasingly seeking purpose and meaning in their work. One trend that has emerged in recent years is the rise of the "tech for good" sector, which has attracted a diverse range of people, from seasoned professionals to recent graduates, who are passionate about using their skills to create positive change.
I recently spoke to three individuals who have left global organisations to work in the tech for good space. These individuals come from different backgrounds and have unique stories to share about their transition into this sector. Through these conversations, I wanted to understand their motivations, as well as learn about the successes, challenges and rewards of life at these start-ups as they work to create a better future for all.
After two and a half years at Oracle, Carolina Portela Duarte joined Google, where she spent eight years. She’s now Chief Sales & Marketing Officer at Citibeats, a start-up providing data insights through AI, based in Barcelona. She explains: “When I joined Google, it was because the main value was ‘Don’t be evil’. It’s important to use technology in a responsible, ethical way, and Citibeats gave me an opportunity to change lives and make a positive impact on society. As a mother, I’m conscious that I want to create a better world, and this is my way of doing it.”
Lise Pape had studied human biology for her bachelor’s degree before moving into advertising and later joining JP Morgan in 2008. Following a stint at the Danish embassy in London, she decided she wanted to pursue her original calling. Knowing that she wanted to work “for good” and help others directly, she took a course in innovation design engineering with a view to helping people with mobility problems before founding Walk With Path in Copenhagen in 2014.
Like Lise, Mitchell O’Gorman wanted to return to the social enterprise work he’d done early in his career. Having carved out a career in media, notably for INM and Kantar, he was approached by xWave Technologies in 2020: “I believe media plays a really important role in a functioning society, but I just felt that I was one step removed from being able to really deliver impactful social good.
“I always had in my head that I was going to go back and do something to deliver meaningful social good. That's why, honestly, I jumped at the opportunity when I was approached by these radiologists to lead this organisation.”
For Carolina, the culture in the tech for good space is really important: “We’re not working for ourselves, we’re working for people – this is very inspiring. My colleagues and I all share the same beliefs and values. It’s easier to fit in – if you work at a corporation, there might be people who don’t share those characteristics.”
Lise, meanwhile, enjoys the speed at which you can work, and compares life at a start-up to operating a small speedboat as opposed to a big tanker. She continues “Everyone will see the direct impact of their work. You hear how people who use the products have achieved things in their daily life. These testimonials help to drive us – even when it’s hard.”
And what about the challenges? Lise confesses that, while it’s great to have a direct impact, the consequence is that she feels a greater responsibility. Then there’s the issues surrounding healthtech in general: “We do a lot of clinical work. You can spend six months working on an application for funding. I know it’s in the nature of the game, but it’s frustrating.”
For Mitchell and Carolina, working in tech for good means trying to change people’s outlook, which isn’t always easy. Mitchell understands why customers can be resistant: “It's hard for people to change their existing system. Just because you come out with a new digital system that is five times better, it doesn't mean that they're going to adopt it. They're already super busy! There's just that natural human resistance to change.”
Carolina expands on this: “When pitching, you’re speaking to people who might be attached to their old solution. I understand that they are decision-makers whose choices affect millions. We need to help them to help these people by informing them and letting them know that the tool will empower them.
“We need to educate society about sustainability and AI in general. That’s what we’re trying to do – promote the ethical AI community. One challenge is finding the right, non-techie, language. If clients, investors and partners cannot understand your language, you will not connect.”
When it comes to working in tech for good, all three people I spoke to welcome the chance to connect with those who benefit directly from their work, as well as others with similar motivation.
Carolina explains the benefits of this: “What I really enjoy is having the opportunity to work with great people. It makes life easier because every day I’m working on something that will help others. All of us are working together to make this a better world.”
Mitchell continues: “You get to a point in your life where you think that there’s not much else you can learn and, all of a sudden, you're thrust into this new industry. Learning from really inspirational people has probably been the most rewarding part of the job to date. They're really amazing people who go into this for the same reason - to deliver really positive outcomes for patients and society.”
For Lise, it’s about closing the gap between the company and its customers: “High up on the list is getting feedback from users and hearing how we’ve made a difference. We enjoy those wins we have as a team when things go well.”
As well as feeling good about rave reviews, Lise benefits from this feedback she gets: “Collaboration with users is important. We try to have a continuous dialogue with people about their situation, but we need people you can trust to be brutally honest. This matters in tech for good because you’re developing something that works clinically, but it has no benefit if people don’t use it.”
All three people I spoke to are at companies that were named in the Top 100 of the Super Connect for Good 2022 competition. This initiative, formed by Hays and Empact Ventures, aims to reward the start-ups making positive societal change worldwide. It also connects these companies with one another, enabling them to work together for greater impact. Why is forming partnerships and connections so important in tech for good?
Mitchell’s outlook is surprising, but very refreshing: “Start-ups can suffer from being a little bit too closed off. You can understand why they do it - they think somebody's going to steal their idea. However, if you're focused on delivering better patient outcomes and somebody does steal your idea, then your mission will be complete, even if it's not you who's completing it.”
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together!”, says Carolina, “I know it sounds cheesy, but it’s true.”
As Mitchell explained earlier, he enjoys seeing the fruits of his labour: “It's not always going to be easy. So it depends on how highly delivering social positive social change rank within your criteria for joining a company. If it's not there, then don't go for it. Leave those jobs available for the people who do care.
“You get to try your hand at lots of different things and, yes, sometimes you're working long hours, but it's also incredibly rewarding. Getting in early and really influencing the direction and ultimate impact of the organisation is incredibly thrilling.”
Lise’s advice is to find the right fit: “It’s important that you feel aligned with the company’s mission and that it motivates you. If you’re passionate about the mission, you’ll be really happy.”
Carolina gives a final call to arms: “Go for it! We need more people accounting for a better world and a better future!”
Global Head of Hays Technology
James Milligan is the Global Head of Hays Technology, having joined in 2000. In his role, he is responsible for the strategic development of Hays' technology businesses globally.