Strengthening Your Good Intentions

March 7, 2017

One of the biggest challenges with working in the social impact space is that everyone has good intentions. We all mean well, but are our ideas the best solution to a problem? Do we always have all the answers?

We can be so eager to help that we forget to step outside of our own purview to recognize that we may not always authentically understand the perspective or the needs of our beneficiaries. And when the beneficiaries of our work are human beings, the gravity of poorly executed good intentions grows exponentially.

When reading through a Springwise newsletter, I came across two innovations that made me pause: 1) Virtual Rehab and 2) Card reader jackets for the homeless. Both ideas integrate the use of technology into suggested solutions. For example, Virtual Rehab uses virtual reality as a psychological and professional rehabilitation tool for those who are incarcerated. On the other hand, a Netherlands-based company has created jackets with built-in card readers so people can “swipe” a homeless person on the street to make an immediate donation into his or her account.

While certainly innovative, these projects made me thoughtful about the intersection of ethics and impact. I think my misgivings regarding these projects are rooted in the productization of their beneficiaries. It seems as if incarcerated individuals are being treated with video games and the homeless population is being reduced to a grocery store transaction.

This might be an unfair reduction, so I’d love to be wrong (and I do have to admire the ingenuity demonstrated by the creators of both projects). However, I think the dynamism of social impact work is rooted in our human connection. When we lose sight of the fact that it is our very humanity that propels our reach, we can forget to honor the dignity of those we serve.
Good intentions are strengthened when technology and innovation are also paired with compassion. Are we hitting all those marks? Answering that question is exactly what keeps us humble, nimble, and always on our toes.