Masdar News

Technology for Good

03 Feb 2019
Under the theme ‘Industry Convergence: Accelerating Sustainable Development’, Abu Dhabi
Sustainability Week (ADSW) 2019 gathered to explore how industries are responding to the digital
transformation underway in the global economy, which in turn is giving rise to new opportunities to
address global sustainability challenges. With this in mind, Masdar has produced the Future of
Sustainability whitepaper report – in partnership with The National – based on information provided by
students, individuals, companies and governmental organisations actively driving sustainability-related
innovation across the planet.

TECHNOLOGY FOR GOOD encompasses the idea that tech boasts vast potential to do good for society,
and can enhance people’s living conditions. The term was first coined in the 1990s when web
developers joined forces with everyday people at events, often on weekends, where they worked
together to hack solutions to social challenges, seeding hundreds of ideas and prototypes. Today, tech
for good covers a community of people, projects, organisations and funders promoting the role of
technology to improve social, environmental and economic outcomes – and it’s bigger than ever.
Companies use something called the Triple Helix of social innovation to enhance tech-for-good’s value.
According to the Nominet Trust paper, The Triple Helix of Social Tech Innovation, the word ‘triple’ covers
the types of value (economic, social and user) that social-tech ventures need to articulate, develop and
evidence in order to blossom into successful, sustainable social ventures operating at scale. The word
‘helix’, meanwhile, describes the way these values converge at different stages of the venture’s
development, pointing to the ever-changing nature of the ways in which these values are shared and
showcased as time progresses. There are now numerous accelerator programmes for social-tech
startups, as well as funding for charities and organisations that want to use their tech to benefit power,
water, people, and the earth. The tech-for-good ecosystem has grown into a bustling marketplace of
needs, problems and solutions and, far from being static, as it progresses it will change. That is why
many active developers, researchers, scientists and engineers stress the importance of continually
asking ‘what is tech for good?’ as this will help society ensure that the field remains inclusive and
continues connecting people and projects.
In 2018, AbilityNet’s Tech4Good Awards revealed the Water Watcher, developed by four home-
educated students, Alex Lynch (16), Elye Cuthbertson (14), Atticus Ticheli (12), and Saul Cuthbertson (9).
Looking to offer an easy, inexpensive solution to running taps and water wastage, the device was part of
an engineering competition, with the students inspired to find a solution to a problem that one of the
team was experiencing. Being dyslexic and encountering memory lapses, one of the boys behind the
design forgot to turn the tap off once, flooding a friend’s bathroom. A small device that fits on any tap,
the Water Watcher is activated by the vibrations of the water, using a timer and alarm system to alert
the user if the tap is left on too long. Using a BBC Micro:bit with an accelerometer to sense vibration, a
battery pack, a simple speaker and a silicone coin purse (to protect it from water), the device doesn’t
need plumbing and can be strapped onto any sized faucet. The device’s potential to save water and
prevent flooding has been recognised by organisations such as Thames Water, WaterWise and the
Alzheimer’s Society, with a company interested in taking the Water Watcher into production.


A 2018 Business Tech article reported on a South African buy-to-lease solar startup that recently
received a $500,000 seed investment from Alphabit, a multi-million dollar hedge fund. The Cape-Town
based business, Sun Exchange, announced a partnership with the UN Development Programme to pilot
blockchain-based finance for solar in Moldova in May 2018, and a partnership with Leonardo DiCaprio-
backed Powerhive in July 2018, with the latter facilitating funding for “six fully operational solar projects
in South Africa through its solar micro-leasing platform” according to the article. “The projects power
organisations such as schools, small businesses, wildlife protection parks and non-profits,” the article
continues. “The company is currently running a crowd-sale for its seventh project, which will solar
power Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg, South Africa. By leveraging the borderless, decentralised
nature of cryptocurrency, Sun Exchange enables practically anyone, anywhere in the world, to buy into
their solar projects and receive a stream of monetised sunshine from the power generated by the
projects.” The article adds that “Sun Exchange also recently introduced SUNEX, its own digital rewards
token, which can be earned to get discounts on the Sun Exchange marketplace and can be staked into a
ground-breaking solar project insurance fund”.
In a 2018 article, Felicia Jackson, author and founding editor of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, says
that local data is key to future sustainable development, with our focus needing to “urgently shift
towards providing investors with the information they need to commit sufficient funds and create
conditions within which local markets can grow to rise to the challenge” of climate change, keeping the
United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in mind.
“First and foremost,” Jackson writes, “this means providing stable, reliable, standardised and
comparable data to guide investment decisions. Second, it means taking a more holistic approach to
how we assess the impact of business decisions, looking across the pillars of action to achieve the SDGs
and accelerating domestic ownership of knowledge and entrepreneurial growth in local markets.
Evidence, knowledge and local understanding are critical to achieving this.”
Jackson adds, “Recognition of the systemic impact of our economic choices is also vital. That means
building knowledge of investment and performance in energy and climate change, water, agriculture,
electrification and mobility, biotech, as well as facilitative technologies from the Internet of Things (IoT)
to Artificial Intelligence (AI). The only way to really do this effectively over time is at a local level, where
people have a visceral understanding of how the world around them is changing. We cannot succeed at
this without finding new ways to access, analyse and assess the data underlying financial decisions and
their impact.”
“At SOAS University of London, we are developing a project that aims to transform that situation, with
the launch of the non-profit Climate and Sustainable Finance Data Initiative,” Jackson, who is a teaching
fellow at the university, writes in her article. “This initiative is intended to be a global network, owned
and operated by research centres in member countries around the world (from Burkina Faso to
A standardised database will be shared between members, ensuring the robust and methodical
collection of data in domestic markets. The initiative will provide up-to-date tracking of the developing
stock of private and public actors’ commitments in sustainable and climate finance. The database will
include both quantitative and qualitative data, providing researchers around the world with a wealth of

original data to research and analyse. The Climate and Sustainable Finance Database will enable
researchers, practitioners and others with an interest to see not only how much public and private
money is flowing to and from developing and transition economies, but also understand both positive
and negative impacts, enabling factors, and barriers.
“This information can, in turn, be used to accelerate further flows of finance and enhance the
effectiveness of existing investment,” Jackson writes. “Critically, the initiative will provide database and
research training as well as digital learning on climate and sustainable finance to centres in the
developing world. The long-term goal is for domestic research groups to become centres of climate and
sustainability entrepreneurship, sharing financial and business models which work for specific markets.”
Masdar Staff