Telecom as a Tech4Good Enabler
The sustainability team has a commercial lens to it because it has to have value. To have longevity it has to be able to fund itself. We're selling things that have a positive impact - it's profit with purpose.
Ian CaveneyHead of Tech For Good, BT
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My Thoughts on the Conversation
One of the core themes in this interview is that for any initiative to take up roots and grow in an organisation, it needs to deliver to the core growth metrics of that organisation. With many, if not most, companies today being revenue and/or profit driven successful initiatives are those that drive revenue and profit.
This is actually one of the factors behind my choice of words when defining "Tech With Purpose" - in my observations, the "for good" suffix can often imply a non-profit, charitable work, voluntary or best-effort activity. My belief is that, whilst these are important aspects of Tech For Good, for widespread attention it needed to be more, hence Tech With Purpose.
In this video, Ian talks about the need to build a business case around sustainability, and Tech4Good more generally, and how that is crucial to drive it through the business and have it appear as a headline programme that gets reported to shareholders. Without a commercial element, Ian suggests it Tech4Good initiatives might struggle to find momentum in large organisations like BT.
Having spent most of my career working in the telecom sector, I naturally see the opportunity for telecom to have a positive impact on societies. However, anecdotally, when asking friends, family, colleagues (and random people as I meet them) who they think the leaders are in Tech4Good or Sustainability projects, telecom operators never appear. This is strange, because as Ian says in the video, BT has sponsored the Tech4Good awards for a decade now.
However, this might actually reflect one of the issues telecom operators suffer today, and that is that consumers are so focused on the shiny devices and the apps, they rarely associate the value they get is enabled by their operator. That is, until the operator suffers a problem, then they realise how critical the network is.
In this discussion, Ian talks about how telecom is an enabler of Tech For Good, in several senses. In a physical sense, they provide connectivity and capability that makes things possible. For example, there's a service called Be My Eyes that helps visually impaired people 'see' the world around them by enlisting the support of volunteers in real-time through an app - without a mobile connection, this would be entirely useless.
Beyond the connectivity and capability, telecom operators like BT are investing in companies, supporting them financially and with technical and marketing expertise to help them realise their potential, as Ian says "telecom can accelerate and create opportunities".
Talking about the UN Sustainable Development Goals, Ian commented that in his opinion, the most pressing of all of them has to be SDG 13 - Climate Action. His reasoning is simple, if we don't solve that, then none of the others will make much of a difference. This is a point echoed in my "save humanity" vision (watch my video here).
With all this said, Ian passionately believes that organisations shouldn't think of sustainability as a nice to have, a 'for good' activity and especially not something that has to be paid lip-service to. In fact he sees sustainability as an existential question, one that will be a crucial determining factor of any business's future.
Watch the video for more insights from Ian, and do leave a comment to let me know what you think. Indeed, I'd love to hear of other leaders you think I should invite to the interviews.
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