When they aren’t solving some of the scarier challenges facing humanity, many tech-for-good (and indeed regular) founders turn their attention to Christmas – a time when societal problems are amplified during what is typically a joy-filled period. Some of the most pressing challenges are mirrored in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals framework, which calls for action by all countries to promote prosperity while protecting the planet.
Goals range from homelessness (Goal 11: Sustainable Cities) to mental health and exercise (Goal 3: Good Health), ending hunger (Goal 2: Zero Hunger) and reducing resource use (Goal 12: Sustainable production and consumption). UK-based tech companies are tackling them in a number of ways – from contactless payment terminals used for donating to charity, to apps that let local communities share spare food and retrieve lost items. Let’s take a closer look at them in action.
Christmas can be a particularly challenging time of the year, especially for the 8.4 million people in the UK who are living in food poverty. According to London-based scaleup Olio, a Tech Nation Upscale alumnus that wants to help one billion people reduce food wastage within a decade, British households are throwing away £1.2 billion worth of perfectly good food over the festive season.
Olio’s community-based app solves this by connecting people who have food they don’t want or need with neighbours living nearby who would like it. “We can’t wait for 2020 as we believe it will usher in a new decade that will finally recognise the importance of sustainability, and embrace the power of local community,” says CEO Tessa Clarke.
Also based in the capital, Wearth London is an online marketplace that aims to make it easier for consumers to shop and live in a more conscious way. In response to more than 100 million rolls of Christmas wrapping paper will be used this year in the UK alone, it’s offering a range of gift wrap options, in addition to reusable fabric gift wrap and fully-recyclable wrapping paper.
Charity and helping the homeless
According to a recent study by Shelter, homelessness in England alone has risen to 280,000, an increase of 23,000 since 2016. Among the companies tackling the epidemic is London-based Beam, which crowdfunds employment training for homeless people and supports them into stable, paid work.
“We use tech to provide homeless people with a network of people who fund their new careers while sending uplifting, supportive messages,” says CEO and founder Alex Stephany. “We’ve also introduced gift cards this Christmas, which can be purchased for friends, family or colleagues, and allocated to a homeless person crowdfunding on Beam.”
Another is Manchester-based GoodBox, which recently raised a £1m Series A on Seedrs and has installed 90 of its contactless payment points in the capital as part of the Mayor of London’s homelessness campaign. Greater Change, based in Oxford, has similarly developed a platform that lets the public give cashlessly to its homeless clients via its website, mobile app and contactless donation points. COO Jonathan Tan says that this helps to capture people’s generosity in the moment, something that has disappeared in an increasingly cashless society.
Unhoused.org launched the UK’s first online shop for homeless supplies last year allowing anyone to purchase winter clothing. After a year of development, the company recently launched the world’s first Self-Cleaning Hoodie which repels dirt, sweat and stains from its surface using innovative nanotechnology. “For each one bought, we donate one to a rough sleeper, which could be a game-changer for sustainability as it requires less access to washing facilities and thereby less water use,” says cofounder Varun Bhanot.
Aiming to help both the homeless population and the struggling high street is Alton, Hampshire-based Jisp, which lets retailers act as sponsors for local buskers who have fallen on hard times. Performers display an identity card containing an NFC chip which, when tapped by a member of the public, displays their profile in Jisp’s app. People can tap a button to make a donation, which in turn nets them a discount on a local retailer’s goods.
“Our idea supports the health of the High Street, empowers people in poverty and reassures the public that their money will be used for good purposes, therefore breaking the stigma of homelessness,” says CEO Julian Fisher. “In 2020 we will be future-proofing our idea by launching a trial with a big magazine seller.”
Also helping small businesses put purpose before profit is Work for Good, which allows SMEs to donate a portion of their sales of products and services to charity. Businesses are usually required to set up a commercial participation agreement with charities, which can pose a barrier, and Work for Good helps by integrating an agreement into its online platform.
Managing mental health
Unmind, from London, is a workplace mental health platform which empowers employees to proactively measure and manage their mental wellbeing. “During the Christmas period, cases of loneliness, isolation, and stress can be prevalent, and this, in turn, can affect people’s mental health over the festive period,” says CEO Dr Nick Taylor. “While using a digital platform is not a replacement for human connection, Unmind available for employees no matter the time of day – it won’t switch off during the festive period.”
According to Age UK more than 1.5 million older people find Christmas to be the loneliest time of the year. However, this is not just an issue at Christmas; in a typical week, 22% of over 65s – almost 2.6 million – will only have a conversation with a maximum of three people they know. Based in Tunbridge Wells, Close to Hand is an online platform that enables people to be matched up and connected with local people who can provide home help and companionship, either on a paid for or voluntary basis.
“We’re using tech to bring back good old-fashioned community spirit, allowing people to source local, flexible work with purpose,” says CEO and founder Lindsay Nathan. “It’s my intention in 2020 to scale the service and begin connecting local people throughout the UK.”
Christmas is an especially lonely time for people who are in hospital. Lifting patients’ spirits is Birmingham-based Move it or Lose it, which has developed an app called Get Up and Go that provides exercises that can be done from a bed or a chair – and progress tracked over time. Used by a carer or individual, the app is designed to keep people moving in a bid to discharge themselves and be with family when the 25th arrives.
Innovation isn’t restricted to tackling headline challenges – many early-stage and scaleup companies have identified opportunities to solve problems faced at Christmas time that wouldn’t immediately spring to mind.
Leeds-based Software Cloud is a case in point. The company has developed an incident communication platform called Klaxon, which sends notifications to dispersed teams in real-time. Director Yew Hong Woo says this comes in handy during the festive season – and not just for telling staff that they don’t have to come into work because of snow or flooding.
“Workforces on well-deserved breaks are likely to be more dispersed than any other point in the year during Christmas time – so it’s more important than ever that businesses have a clear plan to keep people in the loop if an adverse event hits,” says Yew. “Klaxon is incident agnostic – businesses use it to communicate everything from cyber and disaster recovery incidents to IT outages and planned maintenance.”
Meanwhile, London-based fintech StorkCard, which calls itself the “first debit card designed for parents” combines artificial intelligence with the power of community to help parents baby-proof their finances. This aims to help around Christmas time when the cost of gifts, food and travel can quickly get out-of-hand, and the company is taking this further in 2020 by offering joint accounts to make it easier for parents to coordinate child-related spending.
Last but not least, Bristol-based Found has made an app that employees can use to combat one of the lesser intended consequences of getting too drunk at Christmas parties. Essentially a lost property platform, workers can post their misplaced belongings in the hope that somebody finds them. Conversely, users can post items that they’ve found to reunite them with their owners. Instead of unclaimed items going to waste, Found automatically reassigns them to charity once they’ve been held for a set period of time. It’s currently exclusive to Bristol with the view of expanding into other cities in 2020.
Tech-for-good in the UK is thriving – and it has a conscience too. For more insight into this area, check out our Tech for Social Good report.
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