Bruce-Rothberg

Bruce Rothberg

Senior Campaigns and Public Affairs Officer

Charities Aid Foundation

Government must work with charities to achieve their five principles for technology

16 January 2020

Yesterday, Baroness Morgan of Cotes set out the five principles that she sees as critically important to make the “digital revolution” work for everyone. The speech was made at Tech Talent Charter, a non-profit organisation that promotes diversity in the technology industry.

The five principles state the Government will be:

  1. “unashamedly pro-technology” and support the sector throughout the development and adoption of new innovations
  2. ensuring that benefits are spread fairly, with investment in education and infrastructure promoting diversity and social mobility nationally
  3. supporting growth through regulation that recognises technology is “neither the cause nor solution to all ills” but a tool to harness
  4. helping users become “confident and informed” by ensuring that “anyone can feel safe” online
  5. committed to “a free and open internet” by opposing attempts to bring it under authoritarian control and acting as “a global champion for human rights online”
Baroness Morgan also talked about how technology has both a positive economic impact and “broader social benefits”.  In order to achieve the ambitions outlined in her speech, civil society must be a key part of the debate. Through our Future:Good programme we have sought to better understand these trends and their influence on the work of charities.

Baroness Morgan of Cotes official portrait

The Baronness Morgan of Cotes, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport

Charities and technology

CAF has identified three key impacts of technology on civil society. It is likely to:

  • Create innovative new opportunities to deliver social and environmental good
  • Change the operating environment in which organisations work
  • Create new problems that affect the communities that charities serve

This model is supported by our recent survey of sector leaders for our Charity Landscape publication. It found that nearly three quarters believe that technology will change the nature of the problems that they have to address. But while 59% said that they use new technology and social media successfully, only 29% agree that charities generally are using it effectively to increase giving.

That is why we too want to see empowered users, responsible corporate behaviour and regulators that “promote good and protect from harm”. But this will only be achieved if the announced regulatory reviews include representation from charities. Charities often speak on behalf of  the most marginalised in society, so it is vital that we are able to share our insight. Given that vulnerable charity beneficiaries are in most need of help with cyber security, it is charities that have the right expertise in understanding the “online harms” referenced by Baroness Morgan.

Societal benefits

Baroness Morgan’s assertion that innovation can help those that “feel like they have not felt the benefits” of societal change in recent years is another clear area where charities can help deliver. One way to address this is by using technology to implement the recommendations in our place-based giving work, which are designed to encourage partnerships that make local philanthropy more strategic, and will drive investment and help build civic pride. With ideas like this, civil society can be an important partner as the Government tries to “deliver opportunity across the entire nation”.

Similarly,  linking these five principles to wider ambitions to “heal divisions rather than exacerbate them” is another area of expertise for charities. As we have explored in this blog, we can “can promote a bridging of values and foster collaboration” because good causes bring people together, even when they agree on little else. Our research found that 88% of people think it is important to help others, so we would urge the Government not to overlook charities when they seek to create unity – either online or on the high street.

Digital freedoms

Baroness Morgan’s commitment to digital fairness, is good news, and we need to ensure that technology opens, rather than closes the opportunities for charities to advocate on behalf of those they serve. Britain’s attitude to civil society is influential worldwide, so we have an opportunity to send a positive signal to countries around the world.

Supporting for “fundamental freedoms” online should also mean supporting the well established wider freedom of charities to advocate for policy changes that achieve their charitable mission.

Conclusion

We believe that the Government can help ensure that charities and their beneficiaries are able to enjoy the benefits of the digital revolution. We need their support to help charities develop the required skills to both embrace innovation and to speak up on behalf of those who may be adversely affected by technological change
 

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