Manoj Varsani MBE Discusses Tech for Good: Using Time & Skills to go Above and Beyond

“In a time of crisis, it is easy to feel helpless – useless even – with no clear view of how to have an impact and contribute to the cause. We all hold skills that, when applied to the right situation, can prove invaluable, and entrepreneurs and start-up employees are best placed to act fast and make a difference. This action-biased drive towards ‘doing good’ is what Manoj Varsani, Founder and CEO of fintech company Hammock, promotes every single day, and urges fellow entrepreneurs and start-ups to join the movement.

The current events in Ukraine are demonstrating how the tech community can be mobilised to bring the idea of ‘tech for good’ to life in very tangible ways. Skills that were previously viewed by employers and workers as only relevant to CV’s and job descriptions are now being deployed to support greater causes.

We have recently witnessed the remarkable results that grassroot initiatives can achieve in a short time, when powered by tech. During the COVID-19 pandemic, where individuals, businesses, charities, and governments were pushed to their absolute limits, the Hammock team joined me in an effort to help the key workers. A significant pain point for countries was the supply and demand of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). For the charity Harrow Carers, the reality of the PPE crisis kicked in when we spent many hours trying to source equipment to protect our front line staff, and we succeeded only by activating our full network of connections. We quickly realised this was a national problem, not just a local one. So, we came up with a solution to support charities and organisations across the UK.

Over just one weekend, we mobilised the Hammock team to develop a website called SOS Supplies, on a mission to help source and distribute the much-needed PPE items. By the end of Sunday, we had tweeted the news of our service to influencers – and from there the service took a life of its own. After endless re-tweeting, the site was flooded with organisations signing up to source PPE. We also used our networks to recruit more volunteers (both from other start-ups and larger organisations) to help source products and spread the word.

 

 

On a personal level, charity has been a life-long commitment, as I started volunteering from the age of 20. Over the years, I have contributed my time and skills to a number of activities, from running CV workshops for young adults, to becoming chairman for two charities and a committee member for an animal charity. My primary motivation for volunteering is that I strongly believe that giving up your time is more valuable than giving up money. Making a donation is still a meaningful act, but it does not quite create the same value. Allocating time in your schedule for volunteering activates a virtuous cycle of teaching and learning with other volunteers and can ultimately have a bigger impact.

SOS Supplies is a great example of the impact time and skills can have on a cause. We didn’t donate a single penny (although we did donate some equipment, thanks to the generosity of both private donors and PPE suppliers), but we leveraged the skills and dedication of the team to become a driving force for good. Entrepreneurs and start-ups in particular are in the best place to help charities. They both understand the importance of making a big splash with little budget. And, in their day jobs, they rely on the same skills and attitudes that can make volunteering efforts successful.

Thanks to the speed of the Hammock team and volunteers, and the quick response from influencers, the SOS Supplies site was a huge success. Over 1 million pieces of PPE were shipped to more than 250 organisations, charities, etc. The rough market price of some of the PPE being distributed was around £5 million, which shows the monetary value of getting this equipment sent far and wide. This is what, in start-up terminology, “product market fit” looks like (an important lesson in itself for the Hammock team and all our volunteers).

‘Tech for good’ is an invaluable ethos, and one that I will always hold close in everything I do. It has also been hugely impactful on everyone’s mental health, by providing a distraction from the pressured situations around us. Naturally, we all felt stressed throughout the pandemic, so being able to re-focus our minds and channel our energy into helping others in the evening, instead of just giving into anxiety after our working hours were over, was a major asset.

The SOS Supplies team deployed lean start-up practices which consisted of three simple steps. Build, measure, learn – the act of testing processes, monitoring the results, and adapting as needed. The experience was truly empowering for all individuals. It helped us recognise the hidden values we hold that can be of great significance in a time of crisis. And that should never be underestimated.

Founders and employees in tech companies and start-ups have skills that are priceless within and beyond the walls of a business. All too often we see organisations that hold the power to contribute to a wider problem, but they have not yet recognised their part to play. And it doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. Even the smallest of actions can make a huge difference – all it takes is that first step. Technology has become one of the central foundations of our society – so let’s make it a good one.”