2016 has been a big year for awards ceremonies, sadly not for the right reasons. The Oscars backlash forced us to look beyond the glittering gowns and paparazzi flash bulbs to question, ‘what exactly are The Oscars here to celebrate? The boycotts, initially in response to the lack of racial diversity, soon led to criticisms for the lack of representation for multiple minority groups.
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Luckily the Oscars are not the only awards ceremony of note. There are 100’s on niche ceremonies that congratulate and celebrate people from all walks of life. One awards ceremony that wears its commitment to diversity on its sleeve, is the AbilityNet Tech4Good Awards. Mark Walker, founded the awards as a way to highlight, promote and showcase the positive contribution tech could make in improving the lives of marginalised groups.
The awards are now in their 6th year, but the origins of the awards go back as far as 1992. Mark recalls, “I worked in the volunteer sector. Almost immediately it was obvious that they didn’t use technology really at all. They saw it almost as being a bad thing.”
The opportunity that technology presented, versus the lack of awareness of its potential spurred Mark into action. “I set up a not for profit that helped charities use computers and the internet…with any sector, people don’t know quite what to do with [technology] when it’s new. The first time you see an email it looks interesting but you’ve got no idea what to do with it. You don’t know who to send it to, you don’t know how to make use of it.”
Not content with just teaching and promoting the tech that already existed, Mark was determined to stimulate innovation at the development end of the cycle. For Mark the most obvious way to do this was an awards ceremony. “What you can use an award ceremony for is to draw attention to all of the great work going on and in some ways it’s hard to do that if you don’t have something like an award ceremony. It’s sort of an easy route to highlighting and promoting and showcasing things.” After a few reincarnations, in 2011 the Tech4Good Awards was born in its current form, organised by AbilityNet and supported by BT and a variety of charities and businesses.
Entries for the 2016 awards are now being accepted, and with 60% of entrepreneurs coming from the dyslexic community, this is definitely a great award for any of our readers running a start-up that uses tech to make a difference. If you use assistive tech, have been helped by Access to Work or the DSA you may be familiar with Global Auto Correct (GAC). Fellow dyslexic Neil Cottrell, the founder of Lexable (the company behind GAC) and his team, were winners of the Tech4Good Accessibility Award 2012. Rather than just a well-deserved pat on the back of recognition, Neil recalls that the win was instrumental in helping GAC gain a foothold with larger and more established clients. “They invited us along to further events and helped to introduce us to other people. It just gave us that little bit of credibility that we needed to be able to break into some of the larger companies and get them to take us seriously. A lot has come from that.”
For anyone wishing to follow in his footsteps Neil has a few words of advice. “It doesn’t matter what kind of good it is. If you’re doing good with technology, then definitely enter. In terms of how to capture [The judges] imagination, I just think a story works really well. If you’ve got a background or reason why it all came about from the beginning, then put that into words and share that, it’s not just about the product that you’ve developed or the fundamentals of what you’re doing. The background behind it and where it all came from, that’s what captures the imagination.”
Entries can be ideas that use tech for good within a school or community or can be nation wide or international. So if you have a project that you feel could wow the judges of this year’s awards, you have until 5pm on the 6th May to enter.
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