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Stepping Up: Tech Entrepreneurs Helping Communities During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Stepping Up: Tech Entrepreneurs Helping Communities During the Coronavirus Pandemic main image

At the beginning of March 2020, as the UK prepared for lockdown, a group of friends – all tech workers – started a Slack chat to discuss how they could help individuals and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.

Marc Sloan was one of them. As a tech expert and founder of a start-up, he was eager to put his skills and expertise into practice at a time where many organizations were struggling to move online.

And so, on March 16, alongside colleagues from different tech start-ups, the support group code4covid was born.

Marc said: “[code4covid] was just a Slack group of friends getting together to figure out how to help people in the process.

“We were thinking about what people like us, with technical backgrounds, could be doing during the pandemic.”

From Slack group to global community

As word spread on social media, more tech volunteers became eager to participate.

“When I joined code4covid there were only 34 other people in the Slack group,” said Cristina Munteanu, who came across the project on LinkedIn.

She said: “The timing couldn’t have been better. It found me in the process of writing a piece on how I felt not enough was being done to help vulnerable community members and to offer greater support to the healthcare system during the crisis.

“As soon as I found code4covid, I dropped my article to channel the anxious energy I was feeling about the world into positive action.”

However, the first few weeks weren’t always easy. Marc says the group struggled to organize and decide which projects to take on, as the number of requests quickly became “overwhelming”.

For this reason, Marc decided to create Covid Tech Support, a virtual helpdesk where individuals and companies could request assistance.

In the following weeks, the number of volunteers in the code4covid community – both UK-based and international – reached 1,000. Through the Covid Tech Support platform, Marc and his co-founders Cinzia Ricciardone and Jules Decol were able to set up an outreach team, a matchmaking team, and a project team to delegate work more efficiently and promote the community online.

Marc said: “Tech is vital right now because we can get people back online, helping other people. And we can do it remotely, so you don’t need to be a volunteer in your local area anymore. We have people from Scotland helping charities in California. If you’ve got the right skillset it doesn’t matter where you are geographically.”

To date, code4covid has taken on over 200 projects, helping hundreds of organizations adapt to digital operations, develop their web presence and market themselves online.

Marc says he has enjoyed working with charities the most.

Aside from helping Mutual Aid groups put together new-and-improved websites, Matt and his team have worked closely with homelessness charity Crisis, setting up an online webstore and service for goods to be delivered to various shelters across London.

He said: “I liked this experience because not only were we helping an incredibly worthy cause, but a cause that has been hit very hard [by the pandemic].

“I think this sums up what this community can do within a short amount of time. We just get it done and immediately start helping people”.

Adapting for the cause

Phil Westcott is another entrepreneur who found opportunities to help charity organizations during the pandemic.

Phil is an IESE MBA graduate and the co-founder of Filament. The company boasts a team of over 35 data scientists, machine learning engineers, developers and projects managers who deliver AI-enabled solutions to businesses and organizations.

In April 2020, Phil and his team helped the in-house digital team of UK charity Versus Arthritis develop an AI chatbot to assist people with long-term health conditions to access information about Covid-19.

The chatbot was developed and made live to over 18m people within a week and a half – an incredible achievement for Filament and Versus Arthritis, and the result of a successful collaboration between the two teams.

Phil said: “The best outcomes come from close collaboration between ourselves and the experts within the client organization – they are the ones who know how best to serve their customers. We are just designing the digital element of that customer experience.

“We know how to build engaging, scalable digital experience , the chatbots, with the agility and adaptability to evolve to ever-changing customer enquiries. And it’s that adaptability that got us live within a week and a half, and will continue to improve and enhance the Versus chatbot service.”

Phil says the coronavirus pandemic has pushed charities towards digital AI solutions, which he believes will help them serve their beneficiaries with 24 hour advice and services at this most critical time.

He said: “Since the pandemic, we’ve brought more of our experience in the chatbot space into healthcare and charities. We’re not replace the human interaction, but supplementing it with an additional digital service, quick, easy and available 24/7.”

Aside from helping Versus Arthritis, Phil’s team is also supporting the government’s Covid-19 response, providing their machine learning expertise to these vital projects.

This experience has made Phil even more eager to collaborate with organizations from other industries and sectors, not only as a tech expert but also as an entrepreneur.

He said: “[My MBA] gave me the business tools to be able to turn technical opportunity into business opportunity, to make business a passion, as well as making a living.

“Entrepreneurs are the agents, the middlemen to bringing innovation across sectors and countries. We’re set for a number of difficult months ahead, but our best response requires collaboration and entrepreneurial energy. We may not be the heroic health professionals on the front line, but as business professionals, that is our mandate to play our part.”

A post-Covid future for tech

Both Marc and Phil believe tech entrepreneurs are uniquely positioned to guide teams across sectors and tackle the challenges of the new normal post-Covid.

Their collaborators are on board too.

Cristina said: “We’re now seeing the power of big tech supersedes that of local governments. [Tech providers] are able to tackle issues on a global scale much more effectively and efficiently.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. Behind tech there is great talent and creativity, which has been and will be pivotal in addressing this crisis.”

Written by Linda Mohamed

Linda is Content Writer at TopMBA, creating content about students, courses, universities and businesses. She recently graduated in Journalism & Creative Writing with Politics and International Relations, and now enjoys writing for a student audience. 

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