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A few weeks ago, Microsoft and Reason Digital, a business that uses technology to overcome societal issues, teamed up with charities across Manchester to think digital.

What technologies can make the workplace more accessible? How does Microsoft help charities in the modern world? How do you even start to solve some of the monumental problems facing small and medium-sized charities today?

Matt Haworth, co-founder and director of Reason Digital, and Microsoft’s Eve Joseph and Harry Morgan sat down with a dozen charity leaders, as well as beneficiaries of those charities to have a crack at answering those questions.

Innovating the experience

A rare sunny Manchester morning saw Matt open the morning with a brief about why developing digital skills are important – improving experiences for beneficiaries, employees, volunteers, and contributing to the overall success of today’s modern charities.

Age UK provided a touching case study on innovating new technology to tackle the challenge of chronic loneliness. Chronic loneliness affects elderly people who don’t necessarily have friends and family to stay in touch with, and has been shown to be as harmful as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. As a charity connecting elderly people with a volunteer over the phone, Age UK makes a huge difference to its beneficiaries quality of life.

However, the charity faced the problem of connecting a massive group of elderly people with a growing fleet of volunteers, with a focus on safety and care for their beneficiaries. By using cloud technologies, it was able to streamline the way volunteers could join, get background-checked, and matched with an appropriate partner based on a combination of interests and other factors. Age UK continues to grow and mature its digital strategy in innovative ways, such as the use of AI to safeguard the conversations between a volunteer and beneficiary by scanning for alarming phrases and keywords.

The magic button

After a quick lunch (and a surprise fire alarm!), Matt introduced helpful ‘unblocking’ exercises that let the charities and their young beneficiaries brainstorm – and solve – some of their own problems.

The first saw charity leaders imagine a magic button, the capability of which charity leaders must decide. Would the magic button instantly end world hunger? Melvin from mental health charity MHIST designed his magic button to “Make you feel normal, whatever that might mean for you.” In the cold light of social media we often feel like our own lives, with all its blemishes, are somehow different from the norm of society, or in some cases worse. We witnessed how Melvin is striving to democratise self-appreciation.

Of course, the only problem with the magic button is just that – it’s magic. The point of the exercise, Matt reminded us, is to enable you to envision the aims of the service you’re providing. Then, you can use technology to fill in the blanks.

Using cutting-edge technology

Another exercise saw everyone use a collection of flashcards depicting cutting-edge technology like virtual reality, cloud and blockchain. Using these as a launch-pad, charities and beneficiaries worked together to pitch services that could transform the lives and well-being of those receiving them. One team, for instance, envisioned a virtual reality job interview that helps develop the skills of those who find interviews an insurmountable barrier to society.

Technology is rapidly changing. Being fluent in digital skills is more important than ever for charities to deliver the services their beneficiaries need. From all of us at Microsoft and Reason Digital, we encourage you to see what’s out there. When the future is now, anyone can change a life.


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Develop your digital skills

About the author

Peter RonshaugenPeter Ronshaugen is an Associate Consultant Intern in the UK. He works with Microsoft Services to leverage cloud technologies for both customers and charities. Being early in career, Peter is passionate about making cloud tech accessible for people that don’t necessarily have a high level of technical confidence.


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