(Photo by Alyssa Biederman)
Did you know? Pennsylvania has $1.8 billion worth of benefits left unclaimed at the end of each year. But, social impact company Communally is giving low-income people access to these benefits through technology.
At this year’s Philly Tech Week social impact panel, “Framing Philly’s Social Impact Scene: Where Business, Nonprofit, and Philly Meet” — which took place May 6 at the Parkway branch of the Free Library of Philadelphia — four panelists from the business and nonprofit sectors told stories about how they use tech to improve access, efficiency and civic engagement.
This Philly-based B-corporation is building tech that will help community organizations reach low-income people and help them out of poverty.
“We always say the only thing you need to use our [technology] is a computer and internet access,” said Mary Whalen, the director of strategic initiatives at Communally. “That’s why we really support the community organizations. We reach people where they work, play and pray.”
Communally has launched four apps that can help with poverty: the Benefit Bank, which streamlines benefits eligibility screening and applications and tax filing, Crisis to Choice, which tracks the services and benefits clients are using, Disaster Volunteerism and Assistance Service that tracks volunteer hours, and Work Requirement Management, which helps clients keep benefits after they receive them.
The Free Library of Philadelphia
The Free Library offers social services from English classes to business-building resources, but is taking extra steps to ensure all Philadelphians have the ability to use the new tech.
“Tech is ever-evolving,” said Andre Bracy, a programmer analyst at the Free Library. “There are challenges to that. Not everyone wants to have access to it, and some want to but can’t have access to it. We have to do a better job of putting technology in their hands.”
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The Library is beginning to combat this disconnect between technology and communities by hiring library assistants to teach technology to anyone who needs help with their computer or tech skills. The tech assistance is only in 17 of the Free Library’s 54 locations, but this is something Bracy wants to expand.
MilkCrate is another B-corp hoping to support community organizations through revolutionary technology. The company builds apps for clients that help to track their outreach.
“I got my start in the nonprofit world, and I accidentally built a company that’s all about helping nonprofits,” Morgan Berman, the CEO of MilkCrate. “These programs often struggle with engaging with participants and sharing content with them and tracking the real action they’re taking that leads to the organization achieving their mission.”
MilkCrate has built apps for organizations like Committee of Seventy, Concilio and the Free Library.
Jonathan Tannen is the founder of Sixty-Six Wards, what he calls the “538 of Philadelphia.” There, he uses voting and political data to analyze political trends in Philadelphia.
“In the aftermath of the 2016 election I was trying to figure out what I can do to make a difference,” he said. “I started writing up analyses of turnout and Philadelphia politics.”
He used his background in statistics and quantitative social science to make political information more accessible to the masses in Philadelphia.
Gauging the panel’s impact
Hannah Vaughn works for a tech nonprofit, and said that Communally’s approach is something she can implement in her own work.
“Their community partner approach is helpful to learn,” she said. “A lot of things sparked in my head.”
Graeme Stone wants to get more involved in service technology. After attending the panel, he said he expected it to cover more broad topics, but appreciated the panelists’ “impressive” dedication to their work.
“I learned that Philadelphia is a very service-oriented city,” he said. “The panelists really care about their citizens and they take their jobs seriously and are heavily in it. But, I wish they touched more on the problems facing the city. If it grows, the problems will grow as well.”
Mo Manklang, the communications director at the U.S. Federation for Worker Cooperatives and the panel’s moderator, said she looks forward to this panel each year because nonprofits and businesses can learn from each other.
“There’s a lot to learn,” she said. “The nonprofits are oriented around their service and doing good which is very important, but not thinking about what they can learn from the business side of things. On the flip side, businesses can be all about chasing the dollar, so I think it’s important for them to be exposed to the nonprofit work too.”-30-
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