Tech for good | Tech trends

Five ways smartwatches can do social good

With today’s Apple Watch event, two record breaking kickstarters by the Pebble Smartwatch, and a host of Android options, smartwatches look set to hit the mainstream this year.

By Reason Digital · March 9, 2015

One YouGov poll predicted that as many of 6 million of us in the UK will own some kind of wearable device by the end of the year.

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how mass smartwatch adoption might create opportunities for social innovation. So here’s five ways smart watches can do some social good…

Replace charity wristbands

Charity awareness wristbands have exploded in popularity since 2004, with 80 million sold by Livestrong alone. They’re now more popular than charity pin badges.

Production costs, shipping expense and retailer cuts mean that a charity benefits little financially from their sale, but they do have an awareness raising effect, and can often act as a ‘gateway donation’, getting people on a charity’s books to be exposed to more valuable calls to act.

Smartwatches could mean you can raise awareness of your favourite charity through a branded watch face on your wrist, spending the £2 you’d spend on a wristband on the watch face in the App/Play store instead. It’d cost you the same, but delivers more funds to the charity.

The conscience on your wrist

Imagine your smart watch as the little angel on your shoulder, well… wrist.

Your smartwatch could gently vibrate when near a social issue, such as a soup kitchen, anti-homeless people spikes on a building, a charity shop, etc.

Not only would it raise awareness of an issue, but it can prompt you to act. This could be there and then – like popping into the charity shop – or virtually such as signing up to a newsletter or signing a petition with a tap.

illustration of smartwatch with a petition prompt

Distributed marathons

Marathons take a lot of organising. They’re expensive to run and enter, and they have a pretty big carbon footprint to boot. They’re also a massively important source of charity funds, with many runners tapping friends and family for sponsorship for their chosen charity as part of their marathon participation.

What if we didn’t have to get everyone to the same place, get them a t-shirt and an entry number? What if we could all participate in a private marathon up and down the country, together?

Smartwatches could enable this. They know our location and activity levels, and they’re connected to the web so they can communicate this back to a central database of participants.

You’d get to know who finished, in what place, share encouragement with others, and raise sponsorship money exactly like a marathon, but without being in the same place.

illustration of smartwatch showing a low heart rate

Saving the lives of the vulnerable

Sensors are a big part of the value of wearables, with Apple’s iWatch containing both a pedometer and heart rate monitor.

Imagine if these sensors could be used to monitor the condition, or even location of the vulnerable. From dramatic and sudden problems like heart failure, to more nuanced ones like petit mal seizures, or low blood sugar.

The smartwatch can broadcast a distress signal to the emergency services, family or social worker. It could even give instructions to the wearer of how to deal with the problem whilst help arrives.

Logging impact

Charities live or die by their ability to track and evidence the impact they’re having on the world – that’s just the reality of asking for funds from the government, funding bodies and public.

Equipping volunteers with a smartwatch could give them a one tap way to record what they’re doing and report it back to the charity in real time. Every meningitis sign and symptom card they deliver, every homeless person they speak to, every malaria pill they distribute.

What’s more, many of the world’s most pressing problems aren’t one of resources, but ones of data. Eradicating malaria or polio is technically achievable, for example. But distributing the vaccines to the last few percent of people on earth that need them to do reduce incidence of the diseases enough for them to die out, like smallpox did, is tricky. Quickly and effectively tracking drug and vaccine distribution is key to winning this fight.

Bonus idea: inspiring charity workers

Logging impact is important, but so is sharing that impact with charity workers, volunteers and donors. This inspires a shared sense of progress towards a goal, building the momentum of action.

What if the impact of a charity, or the amount of funds raised for one, could be broadcast to charity worker’s wrists.

What if the head of fundraising could see today’s donation total instead of the time? Or the volunteer manager the number of logged volunteering hours this week?

Could it inspire them to work harder for change?

illustration of smartwatch showing money raised

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