Post-college, I spent two years in the Sahara Desert as part of the Peace Corps. It’s an experience that I talk about often because it’s an experience that’s shaped who I am as a person, shaped how I see the world, and shaped what I wanted out of life. It wasn’t necessarily the ‘practical’ decision at the time, but it was absolutely the right decision for me — I felt a strong drive to make an immediate impact on the world.
It was that same deep-seated desire to impact a broader spectrum of people that led to my taking a job at Salesforce in 2008. Because, despite modern television’s effective (and hilarious) mockery of tech giants “making the world a better place,” I’ve seen the evidence that making technology more accessible to everyone — and, particularly, placing this technology in the hands of people who are trying to make a difference — actually does have an amazing impact. As head of AppExchange, the stories I hear are not only those of people turning their ideas into incredible business cases, unique solutions and new professions, but stories of ideas that forward the elevation of society as a whole. Here are three of my favorite examples.
There’s no feeling more heart-stopping than finding out your kid is sick. And when it comes to diagnosing disorders like autism, where kids can benefit greatly from an early intervention, every moment counts. But that’s not always an easy diagnosis to make (after all, every child develops at a different pace), which is the problem that the Olga Tennison Autism Research Centre (OTARC) has been working to address for the past decade.
In the early days of their research study, nurses recorded and stored their observations on paper, but OTARC quickly recognized that putting this information in the cloud could advance their project and outreach exponentially. So they implemented tools to help analyze data and maintain ongoing communications with nurses and at-risk families. Scaling these efforts was so successful that they started to think even bigger, and envisioned a mobile app called ASDetect.
ASDetect gathers input from users and syncs with their research engine, allowing parents to track observations of their own child from the age of 11-30 months and providing appropriate feedback and guidance. Better yet, the scalability of the app, built on Heroku, has allowed OTARC to offer their early detection capabilities to families who need them worldwide — including geographies where autism resources are scarce. Connecting families to the right resources locally has helped to enable earlier intervention, making a drastic impact on the lives of children with autism.
The folks at Calorie Cloud saw two serious and seemingly contradictory problems — severe malnutrition and childhood obesity — and asked themselves: What if we could balance the equation on both ends? What if calories could be ‘recycled’ from one population to the other? So they started building a solution to connect efforts to fight both global health crises.
Essentially, Calorie Cloud is an IoT platform that tracks the calories burned through two major U.S. programs designed to promote a more active lifestyle — UNICEF Kid Power and the Workplace Wellness Challenge — and matches each calorie one-to-one with funding that brings "ready-to-use therapeutic food" (RUTF) to malnourished children in developing countries. By leveraging Heroku, the Calorie Cloud team was able to quickly turn this vision into a best-in-class IoT platform, leverage the efforts of a remote team (with members scattered across the U.S. as well as Cambodia, China, and Pakistan), and scale their impact globally. At last year's Dreamforce, Calorie Cloud kicked off an Activity Challenge with attendees — resulting in 770,000 calories burned, 1,538 packets of therapeutic food donated, and the lives of 12 children saved.
One of my personal favorite stories — and a story that truly embodies the value of making technology more accessible to everyone — is that of Dog Tracker & Client Tracker, and its founder, Jenny Munoz. Jenny’s story started when her aunt asked her to build a website for her service dog business. With no prior coding experience, she taught herself HTML/CSS and built the website from scratch. Inspired by her own success, she went on to create a secure database where her aunt could login and track dogs and clients from anywhere.
Jenny’s innovative solution transformed a previously onerous paper process into a streamlined app, and other service dog organizations across the country quickly caught wind of what she had built. So, to make this technology accessible to everyone, she turned it into a packaged app available for anyone and any business. And not a moment too soon: One of her customers recently showed Dog Tracker to a representative from Assistance Dogs International, who noted that everyone should consider using a product like this to manage the full dog and client placement lifecycle.
These stories tell a broader story than business success. The more that parents understand about the disorders that impact their children, the easier it is to address these challenges earlier and head on; the more successfully we can correct the imbalance in calories that threaten the lives of millions, the better off we are as a planet; the more effective service dog organizations are, the more independent handicapped people can be. These innovations have massive effects — not just on the business bottom line but on the human bottom line.
The most exciting thing about the age we live in is that it gets easier by the day for anyone to leverage technology, including those on a mission to change the world. There has never been a better, or honestly, an easier time to utilize technology to accomplish your goals on a global scale. Think bigger, get creative, and consider how your next solution could make an impact — then find the platform and tools that can make it a reality.