If you’re struggling with an intractable social problem, your first thought probably wouldn’t be to turn to someone who writes computer code.
Yet, “coders” are making significant contributions every day, in the U.S. and around the world, in solving social issues.
While coding began in earnest in the 1960s with an almost exclusive focus on business and scientific applications, today’s generation of coders are some of the first in history who can use their skills for social good, ranging from helping people in developing nations obtain healthcare to extending the reach of non-profits.
Coding: Unlocking Inner Creativity
At its heart, coding is a profoundly creative process, unlike any other form of creative endeavor.
Sculptors require stone, a hammer and chisel; painters need canvas, paint and brushes. Yet coding begins as a creative thought within the human mind. It grows into a bundle of digital instructions that come alive to solve a problem. Coding gives us solutions that connect human needs with benefactors, helping organizations and other people.
With support from President Obama, Mark Zuckerberg, Yahoo’s CEO Marissa Mayer, Ashton Kutcher and other notables, coding has moved from the halls of academia and the cubicles of the business world to schools, libraries and even the playground. In fact, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki once said:
From phones to cars to medicine, technology touches every part of our lives. If you can create technology, you can change the world.
And that’s what the movement one might call “social coders” is all about: unlocking your inner creativity to change the world.
Coding For Social Good
On the verge of this movement, there are several organizations that are bringing coders together to develop solutions addressing social issues.
JP Morgan Chase sponsors a “Code for Good” challenge that runs over a weekend. Students and staff experts work together to develop software that solves challenges faced by non-profits, bringing them resources they could not afford on the open market. Their “Force for Good” initiative brings their skilled technologists together with social organizations that grapple with difficult challenges, such as supporting Operation Homefront, which helps military veterans find homes once they return state-side.
Benetech, a company that’s uniquely both high-tech and non-profit, shines its focus on developing technology for social good with emphasis on human rights, global literacy, the environment and that all-encompassing category: social good.
Their SocialCoding4Good platform joins software developers seeking volunteer opportunities with humanitarian, free open source projects. Their Martus software addresses human rights, giving witnesses to human rights abuses the secure tools they need to document and convey witness testimonies to authorities. The Muradi package gives conservationists the tools they need to plan, implement and monitor conservation projects.
Yet another social coding organization, Random Hacks of Kindness brings together “developers, geeks and tech-savvy do-gooders around the world, working to develop software solutions that respond to the challenges facing humanity today.”
And at Coding Dojo, we recently announced a $250,000 Social Innovation Fund and scholarship program to provide financial assistance to students who learn to code to impact the greater good and inspire change. Our students have already opted to create a range of applications benefiting the greater good, ranging from an Uber ride-sharing service for low-income and elderly individuals to an iOS keyboard app for the blind.
How do we go about inspiring action, especially at an early age?
As the U.S. STEM educational curriculum takes hold in our public schools with its focus on science, technology, engineering and math, a continual stream of new languages and programs have appeared to introduce children to coding.
- Blockly is Google project that intends to encourage tomorrow’s coders; it leads kids through drag-and-drop creation of computer games, and eventually, into high level language programming.
- The University of California at Berkeley, in concert with the National Science Foundation, released Snap!, a graphical programming language that teaches coding principles to novice coders.
- Scratch, a visual programming language, lets children create games, music and videos while they learn programming concepts.
Additionally, the non-profit, Code.org, based in Seattle, dedicates its work toward expanding participation in coding by women, minority students and anyone “ages 4 to 104.” In 2014 it engaged tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries with its Hour of Code, an introduction that demystifies coding and shows that anyone can learn to code.
Unlocking students’ creativity and potential at an early age through programming is the first step in inspiring action. The next step is finding ways to incorporate cause-related learning and projects into K-12 through higher education. This is crucial, especially for women who tend to be drawn to careers that make a difference.
With growing social consciousness throughout the world—among corporations, educators, non-profits and individuals—coding for social good is a wildly welcome trend that may translate the tsunami of technological change into real social advancement for people everywhere.