Unlocking philanthropic approach to NGOs’ harnessing tech for good

On 5 June 2024, the Tech For Good Institute engaged in the APAC Digital Transformation Summit, organised by InfoXChange with support from Google.org and the Asian Development Bank (ADB). The panel discussion provided a platform to delve into how philanthropic leaders can enable the region to leverage digital technologies for maximum impact.
From left to right: David Spriggs, Chief Executive Officer, Infoxchange; Dr. Ming Tan, Founding Executive Director, Tech For Good Institute; Gaurav Mehta, Founder and CEO, Dharma Life; Jeanette Lai, Associate Programme Director, COMO Foundation

In these recent years, Southeast Asia has emerged as a dynamic hub of digital innovation. This transformative wave has not only unlocked new opportunities for economic growth and development, but also has catalysed significant shifts in societal norms and behaviours. However, amid the region’s digital transformation, notable challenges persist, underscoring the imperative for social and business model innovation aimed at fostering responsible progress.

Against this backdrop of opportunities and challenges, the role of philanthropic leaders in fostering the effective use of digital technologies become increasingly paramount. By leveraging their infrastructure, networks, fundings and resources, philanthropic organisations have potential to drive positive change and empower communities, especially NGOs to harness the full potential of digital innovation.

 

Moderator and panellists:

 

Key takeaways:

Collaboration between NGOs and funding partners can unleash tech for social good in the region

NGOs, with their deep-rooted understanding of communities and beneficiaries, serve as invaluable compasses for funders, directing investments towards initiatives with tangible impacts. Their role extends beyond mere guidance, as they also facilitate real-time feedback on project effectiveness, which enables funders to adapt their strategies effectively in response to evolving community needs, thus ensuring relevance and effectiveness. In fostering collaboration with funders, participants underscore the importance of inclusivity and shared vision. NGOs and funding partners should align their directions and future interests to forge meaningful partnerships that go beyond mere financial support. Such alignment fosters a symbiotic relationship wherein both parties complement each other’s expertise and skills, amplifying the impact of their joint efforts.

 

NGOs should prioritise community needs, employee development, and effective technology use for sustainable impact in response to technological advancements

In order to articulate technology, especially AI, NGOs should not rush into the procurement of technology. Instead, they are advised to begin with a well-crafted problem statement tailored to their target audience. This approach requires confidence in their inherent value – rooted in knowledge, empathy and a deep understanding of both the cause and the community they serve.

Yet, despite these notable intentions, many NGOs are grappling with the challenge of high turnover rates, particularly among their technical staff. In response, participants advocate for the implementation of development programs for bolstering staff’s core skills, as well as providing financial incentives. Additionally, fostering a supportive organisational cultural program emerges as a critical strategy to mitigate this issue effectively. Through these efforts, NGOs can not only retain their technical talents but also cultivate a conducive to long-term success and impact.

 

To attract funding, NGOs should prioritise intention, process and be outcome-driven

When evaluating NGOs, funders typically favour projects with well-defined plans and a specific emphasis on leveraging technology, highlighting the importance of embracing digital innovation. For instance, funders are inclined to invest in talented individuals capable of forming strong teams that deliver exceptional results—a principle encapsulated in the “3Ps” framework: Purpose, People, and Process.

In navigating their journey, NGOs are advised against working in isolation. Instead, they should seek ambitious partners who embrace collaboration, align with their core theory of change, and demonstrate receptiveness to feedback. Moreover, NGOs should integrate their beneficiaries into the design process, as this can serve as a distinctive selling point, attracting funding and ensuring that projects are finely tuned to the needs of the communities they aim to serve.

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Mouna Aouri

Programme Fellow

Mouna Aouri is an Institute Fellow at the Tech For Good Institute. As a social entrepreneur, impact investor, and engineer, her experience spans over two decades in the MENA region, South East Asia, and Japan. She is founder of Woomentum, a Singapore-based platform dedicated to supporting women entrepreneurs in APAC through skill development and access to growth capital through strategic collaborations with corporate entities, investors and government partners.

Dr Ming Tan

Founding Executive Director

Dr Ming Tan is founding Executive Director for the Tech for Good Institute, a non-profit founded to catalyse research and collaboration on social, economic and policy trends accelerated by the digital economy in Southeast Asia. She is concurrently a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Governance and Sustainability at the National University of Singapore and Advisor to the Founder of the COMO Group, a Singaporean portfolio of lifestyle companies operating in 15 countries worldwide.  Her research interests lie at the intersection of technology, business and society, including sustainability and innovation.

 

Ming was previously Managing Director of IPOS International, part of the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore, which supports Singapore’s future growth as a global innovation hub for intellectual property creation, commercialisation and management. Prior to joining the public sector, she was Head of Stewardship of the COMO Group and the founding Executive Director of COMO Foundation, a grantmaker focused on gender equity that has served over 47 million women and girls since 2003.

 

As a company director, she lends brand and strategic guidance to several companies within the COMO Group. Ming also serves as a Council Member of the Council for Board Diversity, on the boards of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC), and on the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

In the non-profit, educational and government spheres, Ming is a director of COMO Foundation and Singapore Network Information Centre (SGNIC) and chairs the Asia Advisory board for Swiss hospitality business and management school EHL. She also serves on  the Council for Board Diversity and the Digital and Technology Advisory Panel for Esplanade–Theatres on the Bay, Singapore’s national performing arts centre.

 

Ming was educated in Singapore, the United States, and England. She obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Stanford University and her doctorate from Oxford.