The extent of goodwill that the tech industry has extended to San Francisco has been a matter of heated debate for the past year, and it was refreshing to sit in a room and hear people in that industry talk about ways they are helping people. The Bold Italic and General Assembly's Tuesday night tech panel, All Together Now, wasn't focused on questioning if tech was coming to the aid of homeless people, victims of domestic violence, and neighborhood community groups – it spotlighted how San Franciscans are using technology to aid these groups in new ways. A couple highlights from the night:
* Marnie Webb, CEO of Caravan Studios, which uses app technology to get domestic violence victims into shelters and school-age kids meals during the summer, discussed the importance of shifting public attitudes about civic issues. Looking at Twitter, she said, you find insensitive remarks about homeless people – tweets from people who see them as intolerable because "those people are between them and their dinner," not because there's something inherently broken in letting people fall through the cracks. We have to first understand prevailing attitudes before we can work to shift them.
* Moderator Josh Constine from TechCrunch made his pro-development agenda very clear as a way to resolve some of the city's woes (it became the theme of many of his questions) but he's also working on a wider span of issues through a site called Techdoescare.com. TechDoesCare sends out occasional emails containing "big ideas" on the ways tech is working on civic issues and opportunities to get involved.
* There was a lot of talk about whether the non-profit model was broken and whether philanthropy was a tired word with younger generations. Webb argued that foundations are still important because, unlike most individual donors, they're in it for the long term, and that's a valuable resource. How can we help individuals develop a similar kind of commitment to helping causes important to them?
* Where do you put your money and resources? If you're feeling overwhelmed with where to start, The Tipping Point does due diligence on the 15,000+ Bay Area human service organizations, to see which ones have had the most impact. There are more than 1.3 million people in the Bay Area too poor to meet their basic needs, and The Tipping Point helps you help them.
*On a similar note, Bright Funds, whose co-founder Rutul Dave was another panelist, also helps vet the most effective nonprofits working towards specific issues. He had a great quote about shifting the way newcomers see their relationship to San Francisco – comparing moving here to "dating a supermodel," something some people think will last a year and don't expect a long commitment. In order to get transient workers more involved in the city, we need a culture shift showing newbies how important it is to get involved. "When you see this as a place you belong, you get more involved," he said.
*If your interest in helping San Franciscans extends beyond donations, ReAllocate sounded like a great organization. Executive Director Kyle Stewart explained how his group encourages people to put their skills to work for non-profits.
*And Neighborland's Dan Parham similarly merges real world action with online results. If you're invested in your 'hood, or want to make changes around an area Neighborland is spotlighting (such as UN Plaza right now), the organization tries to find sustainable, responsible ways for the city to move forward. "How will we grow?" he asked of the future of SF. "Will we grow in a sustainable way, in an equitable way?"
Good questions, and while Parham admits there are no perfect solutions, it's inspiring to hear the ways these groups are trying to merge tech and civic issues to hack away at the answers.