These days there is no shortage of mobile applications to support good causes. They range from fundraising apps for nonprofits, to community volunteering apps, to apps for locating environmentally friendly products.
Yet for some reason the social enterprise world has not yet fully caught the mobile bug. Not to suggest that social ventures and the intermediary organizations which support them should be creating their own apps just because everyone else is, but in a field full of innovators there is surprisingly little talk about mobile app opportunities and strategies.
That trend may be about to change as a diverse range of social ventures begin to experiment with apps. Some examples include:
• Talking Mind's "My Voice" mental health services app, allows individuals to submit questions, get crisis support, and access recovery planning services.
• Beauty of Rwanda's app facilitates purchases of handcrafts made by women survivors of the Rwandan genocide.
• Benetech's "Read2Go" and "Go Read" apps enable the blind and visually impaired to read books and periodicals on a variety of phones and tablets. (full disclosure: I previously worked with Benetech on their mobile projects)
One social enterprise, Youth Radio's Youth Media International, has developed its own in-house app development program. YMI's Mobile Action Lab trains young people on how to build youth and community-oriented apps.
A number of social enterprise support tools are also now coming online. The SE Toolbox app, for example, provides a hands-on guide for setting up and running a social enterprise.
One of the most recent social enterprise-specific apps to hit the market is Social Impact. Launched in June of 2012, Social Impact uses the GPS on your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch to locate social enterprises locally. According to Social Impact creator Rolfe Larson, the app was developed "to target the growing number of individuals wanting to shop and eat responsibly right in their own neighborhoods. The idea is to help connect those consumers with social enterprises -- ultimately leading to increased business and impact for those ventures." So far the app contains a listing of over 500 social businesses located in the United States, Europe, and Asia.
As we move deeper into the mobile economy there will be even more ways for social ventures to leverage mobile tools and services to generate income and increase impact. New and improved location-based technologies like Near Field Communication (NFC) and Radio Frequency ID (RFID) tagging will simplify interactions between buyers and sellers and clients and providers.
Up and coming web-based (cross platform) apps will help streamline the app development process and make it more affordable, resulting in lower barriers to entry.
With pioneers like Larson and the organizations mentioned above (not to mention more general "mobile for good" players like Mobile Active and Applications for Good) leading the way, there is no better time for the social enterprise community to engage more deeply in discussions around mobile.
Having more social enterprise apps in and of itself is not important. But putting more opportunities in the hands of social entrepreneurs most definitely is.
p.s. If you know of other social enterprise-related apps and mobile services please share.