My company, Wonderloop, was announced recently as "The Social App of South by Southwest (SXSW) +Social Good" which is an incredible honor, however, I know a lot of people will ask how can a mobile application have large scale social impact?
When it comes to consumer technology many people usually say, "Another app? Why can´t tech companies actually come up with something truly world changing and not just another social app?" My theory is that it is not easy and often times impossible to predict if a technology company will have large social impact. This is why we need to think deeper about the social impact that technology can have, not only when the company becomes successful and well known. Then it all becomes so obvious what the social impact is, but what about the earlier stages?
When Facebook launched in 2004, it was a simple website with a handful of users who were mostly college students and had the ability to add photos and text. That was it. If pitched to investors at that point few, if any, would have thought, "This is going to change the world as we know it." Not even the founders had imagined the huge impact they would have in the initial phase of the website. Sometimes it is "just a website," and sometimes it turns into one of the biggest companies in the world with a service used by over 1 billion people worldwide.
Facebook did not only stimulate $227 billion in global economic output and 4.5 million jobs in 2014, but Facebook also impacts individual lives every day. Even Snapchat is changing the infrastructure of communication by almost completely replacing texting for the younger generation. It is literally changing the way they communicate. Now one can even "snap" money directly to friends.
How can we take it even further? How can we change the way we give to others through new mobile technology? Inspired by watching Oprah Winfrey on TV alone at the age of 14 in Norway, I wanted to scale her visions of connecting people and giving to others.
Wonderloop is still at an early stage and we might be "just an app" with video profiles, but we already have people reporting that they have made new connections that have changed the way they work and who they work with. Some people have even moved to other countries because of the connections they have made on our app, and also found amazing new opportunities! But how do you scale it, so that it can have that type of impact for everyone? That is when you turn to Silicon Valley -- the hub of knowledge for scaling technology companies. And that is what I did. I packed up my bags, left my small town in Norway and headed to California!
Silicon Valley is where you learn that there are two kinds of tech companies and founders: those who prioritize social impact in their work and products and those founders who have profit as their motive and want to exit as fast as possible to start on another company.
The tech world has a big culture divide. The top technology companies in the world all think about social impact and focus on it, but in the start-up world, it is very different and social impact is more of a "luxury" at times and not something that is always at the forefront in strategic plans. So when we were approached for an official partnership by the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and +SocialGood termed as SXgood, to showcase how technology can be utilized effectively to spread social good at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2015 we were eager to be a part of it.
SXgood's emphasis on the strong connections between technology and social good by partnering with UN Foundation at SXSW is a very strong signal to the tech world that technology for social good has not only come to stay, but is more current than ever. Will the attendants of SXSW Interactive, Film and Music show up, or will we be the same group of people who have always been more interested in the social good aspect of our work -- social impact investing and philanthropy -- that are meeting for just another meet-up? I really do hope it is the former!