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Rousing an equitable digital economy through social good initiatives

More than 90 percent of American children have an online history by age two. At five years old, over half regularly use a computer. In 2017, there were 33 million voice-operated devices in circulation, and demand continues to grow.

Each digital stride made in the name of efficiency and value weaves technology a stitch deeper in the social fabric. Already inextricable from most people’s daily lives, the rate of advancement in artificial intelligence and other transformative tools is further integrating technology with society’s most fundamental functions.

Modernization is re-architecting the commercial market, which means it’s also reshaping the world as we know it. As a participant in that wave of innovation, Accenture Technology is taking responsibility for its impact through programs that leverage tech for social good.

“We’ve been known as a company around innovation, but since our early days we’ve had this very tight coupling [of] corporate citizenship with philanthropy,” said Annette Rippert (pictured), senior managing director, North America, at Accenture.

Rippert spoke with Rebecca Knight (@knightrm), host of theCUBE, SiliconANGLE Media’s mobile livestreaming studio, during the AWS Executive Summit in Las Vegas. (* Disclosure below.)

This week, theCUBE spotlights Annette Rippert in our Women in Tech feature.

Tech’s social responsibility

Disruption has become an aspirational buzzword for businesses looking to differentiate in an industry constantly hungry for the next big thing. For Accenture, disruption goals aren’t limited to technology. Last year, the company published Accenture Technology Vision 2018, a report that explored the cultural impact of sensitive data and technology through the lens of building trust with the communities that use it.

Data vulnerability is only one piece of the corporate responsibility conversation, and Accenture is taking accountability beyond generating awareness through an active role in improving social good. “We strive to be able to conquer not only business problems, but societal problems with technology,” Rippert said.

The company commits one percent of pre-taxed dollars to philanthropic investments and sponsors a number of initiatives that provide technology for communities historically marginalized in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics industries. Accenture is also leveraging its technologies toward solutions that optimize student and mentor relationships to ensure continued learning.

“We’re looking for ways to be able to create a one-to-one relationship between a sponsor and a child by using natural language processing to facilitate a near-real-time kind of dialogue across the boundaries of language in a way that ensures protection of the child,” she said.

The company recently partnered with Amazon Web Services Inc. to sponsor a hackathon for organizations like Girls Who Code, GameChanger, Compassion and Goodwill, as well as students from around the world who might not otherwise have the opportunity to interface with these technologies.

“When you think about the innovation side of the organization, and our philanthropic desires, and couple that with all of the digital technologies, the possibilities are endless,” Rippert said.

A human approach

With so many pressing issues that could benefit from the assistance of advanced technology, Accenture decides how to allocate resources based on the needs voiced by its communities. “We always start with the business process or the societal issue itself, as opposed to thinking about how can we use a particular technology to instantiate something,” Rippert said.

A significant force for ideation to that end is Tech4Good, a global innovation contest hosted by Accenture that calls upon participants to solve a social issue with technology. Winners receive funding to develop and implement their ideas. “Initiatives like Tech4Good are part of the DNA of our organization,” Rippert stated.

One project Rippert is particularly excited about combines the self-operating power of artificial intelligence and integration capabilities of internet of things tools to fill a need in home healthcare. Built around Amazon Echo, the solution provides support through labor-saving processes that make life easier for those who are homebound.

“Connecting sensors in the home to doors, beds or stoves enables a lot of freedom. [It’s] an opportunity for the person to interface with family, caregivers and enable an independent living situation that extends that home care environment,” she said.

The Tech4Good program gives Accenture insight into real-world applications of technology and allows the company to actively put its resources toward solutions through the people who can best solve those problems.

“They spend time really thinking about how they can apply new concepts to address something that’s doing social good. For us, it’s an opportunity to give back,” Rippert said.

Helping the world work and live

At Accenture, projects for social good are as valuable as those developed for the commercial market. The company prioritizes equity through initiatives like its internal gender pay gap elimination and by ensuring inclusion stays at the forefront of industry conversation through a constant dialogue around the effects of marginalizing education and hiring practices.

Technology is becoming increasingly integrated within every aspect of our lives, but Accenture recognizes that its often prohibitive costs can mean a lack of access for marginalized communities. This inevitably makes the tools that are essential to economic participation unavailable to many, widening a social chasm that leaves populations unfairly disadvantaged.

Accenture works to bridge this divide with educational initiatives like Skills to Succeed that provide resources, coaching and access to technology. Last year, the company committed $200 million to equipping people in need with the job skills required by a digital economy.

“We provide them with skills [and] other things you don’t think about when somebody is trying to re-enter the workforce, whether that happens to be clothing or other capability to be able to get back on your feet,” Rippert said.

Social responsibility is slowly becoming more prominent in the dialogue around tech innovation. At the forefront of digital renaissance, Accenture works to move beyond passive social sponsorship projects and take an active role in shifting industry objectives to ensure technology serves everyone.

“Part of our mission statement as a company is to help the way the world works and lives. We find ways [to] amplify our ability to make a difference by leveraging our capability around technology in a way that really is disruptive to changing the societal issue,” Rippert concluded.

Watch the complete video interview below, and be sure to check out more of SiliconANGLE’s and theCUBE’s coverage of the AWS Executive Summit. (* Disclosure: TheCUBE is a paid media partner for the AWS Executive Summit event. Neither Accenture LLP, the event sponsor, nor other sponsors have editorial control over content on theCUBE or SiliconANGLE.)

Photo: SiliconANGLE

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