When technologists-turned authors Afua Bruce and Amy Sample Ward first teamed up with the idea of writing a book, the would-be subject was obvious.
Both technologists, who each have a foot in the nonprofit world, wanted to offer a new way to think about tech and social impact.
“We both think really deeply about: How can we leverage technology differently?” Bruce, who is based in DC, told Technical.ly. “How can we really support the social impact sector, especially in using technology, as I always say, to extend the mission and not compete with it or replace the mission of social impact organizations?”
The result is “The Tech That Comes Next,” a new book that drops this week and covers what the industry could really look like if it was anchored around social change and impact. The book features 10 chapters that revolve around this possible future, with chapter titles like “Changing Technology and Social Impact Funding” and “Start Building Power for What’s Next”.
The text, on which Bruce and Sample Ward spent much of 2021 working, identifies five main roles that they think will play into tech’s future: social impact organizations and leaders, technologists, funders, community members and policymakers. To that end, the authors offer real-world case studies on how these groups pursue impact within the tech ecosystem.”
The examples, Bruce said, are meant to show pockets of work being done around the world to improve the industry. With such a broad range of groups, she thinks everyone should be able to identify themselves within some part of the text.
“We take some time and really examine if our values for how we think about the world are around inclusivity, are around equity and are around really [empowering] communities to do what they need to do to live and survive and to thrive,” Bruce explained, adding a grounding question: “How can each of these roles act a little different?”
How past lessons informed present advice
Bruce built a strong resume in DC’s tech world before pivoting to writing. She has previously worked as DataKind‘s chief program officer, an FBI data strategy lead and the executive director of the White House‘s National Science and Technology Council (Sample Ward is also the CEO of Portland, Oregon-based tech nonprofit NTEN).
She noted that she felt, through all of these experiences, that tech could be doing more to foster social impact.
“Working with those organizations, [I really realized] that the way that we’ve traditionally viewed technology just doesn’t work for everyone,” Bruce said. “Especially when you look at the social impact sector, there are many ways that social impact sector can use technology more.”
She also wanted to show that making this change was about more than just finding the latest tech solution to fix a problem. In the book, she said, the case studies and topics are meant to display that finding the right tech solution for social problems requires a little bit of finesse. Moreover, it’s about finding the right tool for the right problem. Tech, she said, can be used to address, enhance and advance equity-focused causes — if done correctly.
“We don’t need tech saviorism to swoop in and say, ‘You know, what you really needed was a simple database, but I have built you a giant blockchain solution instead,’ for example,” Bruce said. “That may be the answer in some cases, but it may not be. So, thinking about designing technology appropriately is another way to get to equity.”
With the book, Bruce said, she hopes to make it clear that changing the tech space is something anyone can do, whether or not they have a certain degree or experience. When making that change, she added, she hopes to make clear that designing around community matters, and that keeping communities at the center of development and deployment is crucial.
“Technology is created by humans,” Bruce said. “It doesn’t naturally exist in the world. It’s a series of intentional choices, so we can make different intentional choices if we want.”