Toby Norman

MCN Conference Delegate | Undergraduate University: Harvard University, BA CEO of Simprints

"There are two reasons why I have committed my life to social impact work.

The first is the random lottery of birth. I had access to incredible privilege and opportunity purely by chance. Had I been born in a different part of the world to different circumstances, my access to health, education, work, and security right now would be fundamentally different. That’s the inequality and injustice that social impact careers can fight.

The second reason is the people. Social impact work is hard. You often face huge obstacles with limited resources, and there are plenty of days where the frustration seems overwhelming. But I’m incredibly lucky to work with an amazing group of people. They are what keep me going and the reason I come to work every morning. In the uncertain early days when I was deciding between job offers at McKinsey & BCG versus continuing with this absurd start-up idea, it was thinking about my team that made that decision for me.

At Simprints, the nonprofit tech company I started, we partner with leading nonprofits and governments to make sure their work is truly reaching the poorest of the poor. We leverage technology to help us do that, specifically using biometrics coupled with mobile health, education, or aid platforms. Our work means that a health worker in the poorest slum in Bangladesh can access a child’s vaccine records at the touch of a fingertip or an aid worker can prove that emergency relief is reaching real beneficiaries. For example, our projects with BRAC in Bangladesh are [currently connecting] 22,000 mothers and kids with better health services and improving health surveillance for 50,000 patients with Possible and the Ministry of Health in Nepal. Simprints has been recognized by UNICEF + TechCrunch’s “Best Tech: Changing Children’s Lives for Good Award” and covered in BloombergThe EconomistThe Wall Street Journal, and the World Economic Forum. Our goal over the next five years is to radically disrupt the inaccurate way we currently track and deliver progress towards the SDGs and, instead, build a world where every person—not guesswork—actually counts in the fight against poverty.

While studying biology and anthropology as an undergrad was useful, the real value of my time at Harvard was what I did outside of the classroom; working with MCN was a huge part of that journey. I learned about the key challenges in global health & development, met students who shared my passion, and got inspired by leading thinkers in this field. Starting a student group that eventually became part of the MCN community also taught be a huge amount about leadership, a set of skills I use every day now as the CEO of a tech company.

Through MCN, I learned the power of strategic networking [and recognized] that organizations can share resources and skills to maximize their respective social impact. I’d strongly encourage students thinking about a career in this space to get engaged and leverage what [he or she] learns through conversations, talks, and conferences to actually take action. If you choose to work in the social impact sector, you’ll likely screw up frequently—I did, and still do—but you’ll also start learning the problem solving skills needed to take on these global challenges."

Toby is the CEO of Simprints, a nonprofit tech startup that develops hardware and open-source software in order to integrate safe, simple identification into existing mobile tools in developing countries. He was recently named a 2017 Schwab Foundation Social Entrepreneur of the Year; and in 2016, he was listed among the Forbes Europe 30 under 30 Social Entrepreneurs.

*The "quotes" above have been edited for concision and clarity.