The Intersection of Social Impact and Tech Innovation

by Alex, AsylumConnect Secretary

On January 19, 2016, the Millennium Campus Network hosted a webinar with AsylumConnect on Socially Impactful Technology. I am the Secretary for the AsylumConnect team, which is a part of the Millennium Campus Network’s Peace Campaign. We had two fantastic speakers for the webinar, both of whom are attuned to using technology to for social justice.

    First, Sammie Rayner spoke to us about her experiences with HandUp, a public benefit corporation she co-founded. She discussed her career path and how she sought to bring market-based solutions to poverty through the use of technology. She was living in San Francisco and wanted to bring resources and compassion to people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. Her company HandUp offers people a chance to donate to people experiencing homelessness through a secure web site. People can read about specific needs and goals that homeless people post through a case manager, who will in turn manage the use of the funds raised for that person. Donors can even leave messages for the people they have helped, and the people experiencing homelessness can add updates to their stories on the site. One can also purchase gift cards from the site and give them directly to people experiencing homelessness. Rayner explained that their biggest challenge is to have people experiencing homelessness as people and not objects.

...their revenue model and social mission are seamless, one cannot happen without the other.

    Rayner gave terrific advice for organizations in a pilot stage whose target audience is a vulnerable population, much like AsylumConnect. She said that HandUp talked to a homeless people to see what their needs are and what would benefit them the most and how they would like to be represented. Once the site launched, they collected feedback from users. She also discussed her company’s decision to become a public benefit corporation rather than a non-profit organization. She explained how their revenue model and social mission are seamless, one cannot happen without the other.

Catch up on this full recording!

    Next, Robert Cheetham the founder and President/CEO of Azavea spoke to us about his experiences. Azavea is also a public benefit corporation that “provides clients access to advanced geospatial technologies through highly-crafted and easy-to-use web software, and personalized geospatial analysis services.” Cheetham spoke about how they organize their work around land, water, and people and have a focus on user experience and design. He explained that as a “B Corp” they are able to turn down work that does not fit their social mission. He also spoke of their incredible relationship with universities who give financial support, develop research methodologies, and collect data.  

Finally, Katie Sgarro, a co-founder of AsylumConnect, spoke about what our organization is working on. AsylumConnect is a volunteer initiative that will seek to provide LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. with lifesaving online informational resources. We are working towards creating the first website and mobile app to feature an online, centralized database of service providers useful to LGBTQ asylum seekers in the U.S. The AsylumConnect catalog will help persecuted LGBTQ people find basic human needs resources upon their arrival in the U.S. It is estimated that our work will benefit 300,000 LGBT asylum seekers. We are currently working on a model of the catalog focused on services in Seattle, Washington.

Katie led a great discussion with listeners Erich and Hannah on partnership versus paternalism. Social justice campaigns have to walk the line between a partnership and a paternal relationship. A partnership would avoid exploitation or objectification of the receiver, while paternalism has a power imbalance between a giver and a receiver. Finally, Katie discussed AsylumConnect’s Instagram campaign #ShadowsSpeakUp and how the Instagram account is an example of technology furthering the greater good. Instagram users can take pictures of their shadows and post with the hashtag #ShadowsSpeakUp to bring awareness to and show solidarity with the plight of LGBTQ asylum seekers.

Stay tuned for the next MCN webinar by AsylumConnect and visit to learn more about us!

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