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How 4 Philly founders and nonprofit leaders use tech for impact

Reps from Communally, Free Library of Philadelphia, MilkCrate and Sixty-Six Wards talked B Corps, voting analysis and apps for access at Philly Tech Week's annual "Framing Social Impact" panel.

PTW19's "Framing Social Impact" panel at the Free Library of Philadelphia. (Photo by Alyssa Biederman)
Did you know? Pennsylvania has $1.8 billion worth of benefits left unclaimed at the end of each year.

That’s why social impact company Communally is working to give low-income people access to these benefits through technology.

At this Philly Tech Week’s iteration of the annual social impact panel “Framing Philly’s Social Impact Scene: Where Business, Nonprofit, and Philly Meet,” four panelists from the business and nonprofit sectors told stories about how they use tech to improve access and efficiency.

Mo Manklang, communications director at the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives and the panel’s moderator, said she looks forward to this panel each year because nonprofits and businesses can learn from each other.

“There’s a lot to learn,” she said. “The nonprofits are oriented around their service and doing good which is very important, but not thinking about what they can learn from the business side of things. On the flip side, businesses can be all about chasing the dollar, so I think it’s important for them to be exposed to the nonprofit work, too.”

Here’s what the panelists shared:

Communally

This Philly-based B Corp is building tech that will help community orgs reach low-income residents and help them out of poverty.

“We always say the only thing you need to use our [technology] is a computer and internet access,” said Mary Whalen, the director of strategic initiatives at Communally. (There’s still a large swath of low-income Americans who lack even those, though.) “That’s why we really support the community organizations. We reach people where they work, play and pray.”

Communally has launched four apps that can help with poverty: the Benefit Bank, which streamlines benefits eligibility screening and applications and tax filing; Crisis to Choice, which tracks the services and benefits clients are using; Disaster Volunteerism and Assistance Service, which tracks volunteer hours; and Work Requirement Management, which helps clients keep benefits after they receive them.

The Free Library of Philadelphia

The Free Library offers social services from English classes to business-building resources, but is taking extra steps to ensure all Philadelphians have the ability to use the new tech.

“Tech is ever-evolving,” said Andre Bracy, a programmer analyst at the Free Library. “There are challenges to that. Not everyone wants to have access to it, and some want to but can’t have access to it. We have to do a better job of putting technology in their hands.”

The library system is beginning to combat this disconnect between technology and communities by hiring library assistants to teach technology to anyone who needs help with their computer or tech skills. The tech assistance is only in 17 of the Free Library’s 54 locations, but this is something Bracy said he wants to expand.

MilkCrate

MilkCrate is another B Corp hoping to support community orgs through new technology: The company builds apps for clients that help to track their outreach.

“I got my start in the nonprofit world, and I accidentally built a company that’s all about helping nonprofits,” Morgan Berman, the CEO of MilkCrate. “These programs often struggle with engaging with participants and sharing content with them and tracking the real action they’re taking that leads to the organization achieving their mission.”

MilkCrate has built apps for organizations such as Committee of Seventy, Concilio and the Free Library.

Sixty-Six Wards

Jonathan Tannen is the founder of Sixty-Six Wards, what he calls the “FiveThirtyEight of Philadelphia.” There, he uses voting and political data to analyze political trends in Philadelphia.

“In the aftermath of the 2016 election I was trying to figure out what I can do to make a difference,” he said. “I started writing up analyses of turnout in Philadelphia politics.”

He used his background in statistics and quantitative social science to make political information more accessible to the masses in Philadelphia.

Companies: MilkCrate / Free Library of Philadelphia

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