Technology has changed the world as we know it. And with emerging technologies – such as the Internet of Things (IoT), 5G and artificial intelligence (AI) – we are only at the beginning of discovering what technology can – and will – do for people and businesses across the UK.

It is only through innovation that we will achieve a truly digital and connected future. And by focusing on how technology can make a positive social impact, we can ensure that everyone enjoys the benefits of this future.

Why we need innovation

There is a need for change. Healthcare must transform to meet the needs of an ageing population; housing and transport infrastructure needs to be upgraded to serve a growing population; our urban centres are under increasing pressure to be sustainable and safe; our education sector will need to deliver the skills that are required in a digital age.

At the same time, our businesses must be able to compete on the international stage to drive the economy and demonstrate our value to the world.

A pioneering spirit and innovation is the only answer. It will help individuals achieve great things, companies build profitable businesses and the country to solve some of the biggest challenges it faces.

But we must create the right environment for innovation to take place. This means being open to new ways of doing things. This might include: exploring how we educate children and giving them the digital skills they need; being more open to collaborating and sharing with other businesses and organisations to solve difficult challenges; or thinking about how we identify and invest in the very best ideas across the length and breadth of the UK.

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Technology for social good

It’s clear that technology can transform the world for the better. There are already some fantastic examples of organisations using one of the most powerful emerging technologies, AI, to create pioneering solutions to pressing problems.

For example, we know that AI will have a huge impact on healthcare. It’s already making its mark in diagnosis, where it has demonstrated it can analyse cancer scans for malignant tumours faster and more accurately than humans. This enables doctors to focus on caring for the patients that need it and on developing the appropriate treatment plans.

AI’s ability to analyse vast data sets also make it a game-changer for healthcare research. DreamLab is an incredible project. It involves using the computing power of people’s smartphones while they’re asleep to crunch data for cancer research. AI taps into the crowdsourced computing power to analyse billions of combinations of cancer drugs and identify the best combinations to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of cancer treatment.

Beyond AI, another interesting example comes from RefAid, a mobile app that makes it far easier for refugees, migrants, and people in precarious situations to access vital services near them. It provides a simple interface for people to contact trusted organisations that can help them deal with urgent issues.

Vodafone Techstarter

And here at Vodafone, we recently launched a new initiative – Vodafone Techstarter –  in partnership with the Vodafone Foundation, our charitable arm; and Social Tech Trust, the UK’s leading dedicated supporter of socially motivated tech ventures. Vodafone Techstarter aims to uncover and develop ideas that harness the power of technology, connectivity and innovation to improve health, education, environmental protection or social mobility.

Vodafone Techstarter Awards: Meet the startups using tech for good

In addition to sharing a prize fund of £300,000, the winners, who will be announced on 7 February, will benefit from access to industry and technology expertise from Vodafone and the Social Tech Trust. This will enable them to take their innovations from prototype to market readiness. It includes coaching, commercial development support, mentorship, investment and partnership advice, with additional bespoke elements depending on their requirements.

We hope the programme will demonstrate that if you bring together the agility, creativity and drive of a start-up with the innovation and expertise of a large tech organisation – as well as the knowledge of a specialist charity – you can truly pioneer new ideas and solutions.

Fostering innovation is good for business

Having a focus on technology for social good isn’t just about doing the right thing or addressing societal challenges. It is also about driving innovation and creating stronger businesses. Customers increasingly want to buy from businesses they trust and who are actively making a positive impact on the societies in which they operate.

So what can businesses do to nurture this sort of innovation? First, they must actively encourage people to develop digital skillsets. Whether that’s employees or wider society, to harness these emerging technologies for good, people need to understand how they work and how to implement them.

They should also look beyond their own walls to create a bigger impact. Collaborating with other private organisations, the public sector, or NGOs can give them to access new expertise and resources. It can also help scale their efforts, tapping into the power of working together.

A better future with better businesses

I believe technology, when brought to bear on social issues, is one of the most powerful ways we can effect positive change in people’s lives and across society.

Now is the time for businesses to commit to a better, more responsible future.

Read more: 30 startups to watch in 2019: Are these the tech giants of tomorrow?