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How Technology and Engineers Can Impact Social Change

At the OpenAir 2015 conference, the panel discussion “How Tech Can Reach Underserved Communities” explored how technology can create positive social change—and how engineers in particular can make a difference.

Romano said she had been working with a Google.org group focused on crisis response and reaching people before, during, and after a natural disaster. For example, the team developed data feeds that would provide warnings about impending local floods or hurricanes in relevant search results for Google users.

Scott said Airbnb started a Disaster Response Tool three years ago in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. “We were inspired by a host (in the area where the storm hit) who started opening up her home to people who had been displaced. We wanted to build something to support what she was doing and enable the rest of our host community to participate as well.”

Scott: “The Disaster Response Tool was built as a side project. But now we can activate the tool within minutes for a specific location or area that has been hit by a natural disaster. Hosts can list their space for free and we wave all of our fees and create a way for displaced people in that area to find a place to stay.”

Garey: “Watsi is entirely a social impact organization. We let people directly fund healthcare for people all around the world, and 100 percent of donations go to the patient. Technology seemed to be the answer we needed to focus on. We saw people using technology like Airbnb to bust open narrow channels to allow person-to-person interaction and create new ways to solve a problem. So we decided to do the same thing to tackle healthcare in a new way.”

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