Posted 5 February, 2013 by admin

Finding the Time: Mapping Pro Bono Tech for Social Good

We here at the engine room have spent considerable time trying to understand how hard tech skills can be used to further advocacy work. Working with and managing initiatives designed to bring together tools, techies, and advocates has led us to consider what might be the most successful and scalable models of engagement between social justice actors and technology developers. Every day there seems to be a new project looking for technology developer time, and a new initiative to provide technology support for social good projects. We have started exploring ways we can help make this space easier to navigate; to make resources easier to find and to provide.

Explore the mapping here.

Our first question: Who is doing what and where in the space of technology for social good? To answer this question we began by mapping the ecosystem of organizations, projects, and relationships that work to divert developer and hard tech time to social good projects.


In the mapping, we primarily looked for:

  • Private-sector actors designing initiatives to provide employees with an opportunity to spend paid time on social good projects
  • Collectives that provide working space for start-ups and host events for developing tools for social good projects
  • Not-for-profit actors working to coordinate developer time for social good projects
  • Events working to attract developers to tackle a particular problem
  • Funds supporting social good projects to pay developers to build tools
  • City and state government offices for tech innovation
  • Technology-focused social impact investors

The mapping is not complete or final – and it probably never will be. Initiatives are launching faster than anyone can keep up. The goal of this initial look is to spark a conversation and facilitate more collaboration and cross-project learning. What models are working well? Who is designing these initiatives? How can industry, government, and social justice actors work to create initiatives that will be beneficial in the short term and have long-term, positive impact as well? Is it possible to pool resources and to build partnerships between between governments, corporations, NGOs and tech spaces to promote more efficient resource delivery?

Trend Spotting: What did we find?

  • Geography: The majority of the initiatives we found are US-based, concentrated in New York City and San Francisco. A few notable exceptions: the Philippines and Kenya have active communities and collaboration infrastructure. The mapping was conducted in English, and as such excludes potentially wonderful projects the world over (If you want to help us add compelling projects in another language, please get in touch). Most of the initiatives we found are fairly young and were founded within the last 5 years.
  • Actors: NGOs and non-profits seem to be the most active players in the field, closely followed by collectives/communities/networks that hosts constructive events like hackathons and meetups. There are a good number of platforms and initiatives that pair organizations, initiatives, and professionals. (See Susannah’s recent post about matchmaking experts for a more in-depth look at this phenomenon.) Private companies were common hosts and participants of these initiatives and the public sector seems to be less involved. We also found several grantmakers that are directing funds that support ‘technology’, ‘innovation’ and ‘entrepreneurship’.
  • Services: Services include facilitation of skills, capacity building, connecting networks, specific technical services, physical workspaces, event-hosting, and grants. More interesting initiatives provide structured matching of existing resources to independent initiatives, and some also offer human resources. We found more initiatives that facilitate and encourage entrepreneurship and innovation.
  • Documentation: In general it was a challenge to find concrete stories, examples and experiences, as documentation was largely lacking from public profiles of initiatives. We had hoped to find more detailed descriptions of collaborations and more documented outcomes: What happens after a hackathon? What does the partnerships between companies and social justice actors lead to – tools, partnerships, interesting outputs? What specific initiatives follow the ‘missions’ and ‘visions’ listed on homepages? How is ‘technology’, ‘innovation’, ‘entrepreneurship’ acted out in specific projects?

Questions to the Community

As we continue mapping models that are in development, these are some of the questions we will be asking:

  • What methodologies of design and development are most effective for short term and long term goals of both the social org and the technologists?
  • What are common and interesting funding models?

We are all about open knowledge sharing and we are eager to learn more about your experiences in this space – so please do get in touch, especially if you have any experiences, knowledge, suggestions or comments that could help drive this conversation.

This post was co-written with the engine room team. Special thanks to Maria Grabowski for work on this initial mapping and post.

1 thought on “Finding the Time: Mapping Pro Bono Tech for Social Good”

John Baxter says:

Is your research available? I’m particularly interested in “More interesting initiatives provide structured matching of existing resources to independent initiatives”.

I’m setting up an ‘outreach’ program at the coworking space I am at ( – to reach out to find projects worth doing, and reach out to connect with the resources in our extended community. I’m trying to find relevant initiatives to learn from – I’m not personally aware of anything similar.

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