We spoke to Helen Lamprell, General Counsel and External Affairs Director at Vodafone UK, about her work as a Trustee of the Vodafone Foundation and the opportunity tech has to transform lives.
As an independent charity, the Vodafone Foundation connects people across the globe, providing support and tools to make a lasting difference. Working through a network of twenty-seven local foundations, the Vodafone Foundation is on a mission to improve one billion lives by 2025. Speaking to Helen Lamprell, we find out how technology is helping to deliver this mission. We also discuss why the UK is well placed to nurture social innovation as tech becomes more accessible to all.
Can you tell us about the Vodafone Foundation and how it’s working towards its mission?
The Vodafone Foundation is an independent charity set up in 1991. It’s funded by an annual contribution from Vodafone Group Plc and Vodafone operating companies around the world, including here in the UK. The Foundation designs and delivers social investment projects under the programme ‘Connecting for Good’.
The underlying belief of the Foundation is that connectivity drives change. We act locally and operate globally, so we can respond to the specific needs of communities and also use the collective power of our teams and technology network around the world.
How is tech delivering positive change through the work that you’re doing? And how has this changed over the years?
During the history of the Foundation, we’ve seen a rapid evolution in tech and communications. If we look back over the past 27 years, we’ve seen the rise of the internet, mobile devices, smartphones, apps, expanded connectivity with 3G, 4G and 5G, social media and more. These advances in tech, including the network technology and services we develop at Vodafone, have enabled our charitable work to become even more transformational.
For example, in the UK we’ve launched a Vodafone Foundation app called DreamLab, which is helping to speed up cancer research. And, we’re using our mobile technology to help people affected by domestic abuse. From a global perspective, the Foundation has been able to deliver communications networks that can be set up in less than 40 minutes to help disaster relief teams. Our instant classrooms bring internet connectivity and resources to children in some of the world’s most marginalised communities
We’re now entering a new era in communications and technology with the Internet of Things, 5G, AI and advances in application technologies, like augmented and virtual reality, so the possibilities continue to grow. It’s an exciting time for social tech innovation.
Can you tell us more about the cancer research project the Vodafone Foundation is supporting here in the UK and what results it’s achieving?
We launched the DreamLab app in the UK last year, a fantastic example of social innovation. The free app works by using the collective processing power of people’s smartphones when they’re not in use, to help speed up cancer research*. We’re working with Imperial College to help analyse huge datasets of cancer drugs and uncover new uses for existing drugs and drug combinations; so far, we’ve helped crunch over 6 million calculations. Researchers believe that in the end this work could speed up access to effective drugs and enable truly personalised treatments for patients. To support the project, all you have to do is download the DreamLab app and leave your phone plugged in overnight – it’s as easy as that.
If 100,000 DreamLab users were to charge their smartphones for six hours every night, critical cancer research could be significantly reduced from 300 years to three months.
What more could be done to stress the importance of technology with a social purpose?
There’s enormous potential to develop solutions for social benefit using technology. In the past, incorporating technology into a solution was only really accessible to those with a computer science degree or developer skills. Technology today is much more accessible to everyone. If you have an idea, there are many more avenues and resources to help build the technical element. Technology can help us address our most challenging and pressing social needs, in areas like health or inequality.
However, we need to make the process for bringing ideas to market easier. Industry and investment bodies can play a big role here. It’s one of the reasons Vodafone UK has teamed up with Social Tech Trust, one of the UK’s leading drivers of social tech, to launch our new social innovation award programme, Vodafone Techstarter.
We launched Vodafone Techstarter in September 2018 to help UK social tech ventures scale their ideas. Vodafone Foundation is supporting the not-for profit awards within the programme, and Vodafone UK the for-profit awards. We’re offering not only funding but also access to industry expertise in areas such as technology or commercial development. Support like this is particularly valuable to ventures who are developing prototypes. It’s an area where there is a gap in support and where companies can help.
The UK is one of the world’s best places to develop technology ideas. We have some of the best research and education institutions and a real entrepreneurial and inventive spirit. We have a great history of innovation in this country and we’re pragmatic – we recognise challenges and think differently about how we address them. We have amazing universities, innovation networks, medical schools, and of course the NHS, where people are focusing on outcomes that can benefit us all.
We see more and more companies embracing their social responsibility. I think we’re going to see much more collaboration and sharing of ideas across industry, government, charity, research and education. The disruptive nature of tech is giving us new ways to improve the way we live, travel, work and support one another. No single entity has the whole answer but working collectively and collaboratively has the potential to be hugely transformational.