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How is technology helping consumers and businesses pull through the COVID-19 pandemic?

By Yiannis Faf, CEO and co-founder, WhatWeWant

Technology is interwoven into our everyday lives. At least that is the case throughout much of the developed world.

There are, in fact, approximately 4.5 billion smartphones in the world at present. And this figure rose by 1 billion in the space of the past four years.

Add to this the more advanced nature of these smartphones, not to mention the interconnected smart devices that make up the Internet of Things – our TVs, cars, fridges and lamps can all “communicate” now – and it is stark just how our lives have changed since the start of the Century.

“So, what?”, you may ask. After all, the ubiquitous nature of modern technology is not a novel topic for discussion. However, it is something that is largely taken for granted today. And, in light of the tragic and far reaching implications of the COVID-19 pandemic, now seems an opportune moment to take stock and appreciate just how important technology is in helping both businesses and consumers get through this immensely challenging period.

Keeping us connected

Yiannis Faf
Yiannis Faf

The most obvious benefit of technology in our current situation is its ability to keep us connected. The staple forms of communication between friends, families and colleagues – texts, emails, social media and instant messaging – are not enough.

Video calls are now hugely important for maintaining a deeper, more meaningful social connection with those we are close to. In early April, WhatWeWant commissioned an independent survey of more than 2,000 UK adults, finding that two thirds (66%) of us have used video calls to stay in contact with people during the lockdown.

Zoom, Skype, FaceTime – these are not new. Yet it is only during recent weeks that many people are starting to use the full capabilities of their smartphones, tablets and laptops to engage in video calls.

Working remotely

As an extension of this point, technology has been completely essential for businesses to keep functioning and people to keep working. This much is obvious to anyone who has been in work during the lockdown.

But not so long ago, much of what we are currently doing in a professional capacity would not have been possible. Cloud computing, file sharing, instant messaging, communications platforms, video conferencing – all of these advances from the past 20 years have made it relatively easy for teams to work together even when miles apart.

It is easy to take these things for granted. They’re not new and, in some cases, they don’t seem at all impressive or exciting. But we should take a moment to consider how much harder things could be if they were happening several decades ago.

Carrying out acts of kindness

In my opinion, one of the shining lights to emerge from the coronavirus pandemic is that people are carrying outrandom acts of kindness.From individuals and local communities through to businesses and charities, the current crisis is bringing the best out of many of us.

According to WhatWeWant’s aforementioned research, the majority (53%) of UK adults say their local community has rallied together during this time of crisis.For example, two fifths (41%) of people have bought and delivered food to someone who lives near them, and 27% have sent a gift to someone close to them to help lift their spirits.

However, while we might not consider it to be the case, much of this would be impossible without tech. Social media, digital news, online shopping and delivery services – many of us would be hard pressed to offer support to good causes if it wasn’t for technology.

Crowdfunding pages are another prime example of this. Local businesses, groups of friends, and whole neighbourhoods are setting up crowdfunding pages to raise money for good causes – a local restaurant, for example, might raise money so it can cover the costs of producing dozens of meals for doctors and nurses. Colleagues, meanwhile, might all chip in to buy a gift for someone in their organisation who has been badly affected by COVID-19.

At WhatWeWant, we have seen a surge in the number of people calling on crowdfunding technology to do just this. Indeed, without apps and online platforms to raise both awareness and funds in this way, it would be extremely difficult for this kind of collective support to take shape.

Tech startups answering the call

Returning to the business world, there has been a wave of positive stories about how tech startups around the world are also picking up the mantle. They are pivoting and finding news ways to help those in need.

To offer some general examples: healthtech startups are building apps for national healthcare systems so they can track the spread of COVID-19 and offer support to those with the virus; food delivery apps that previously served the restaurant industry are now allowing consumers to order groceries instead; and online education platforms have removed their fees so parents can access valuable home-learning resources for their children.

At WhatWeWant, with more people now using our app to create crowdfunding pages for acts of kindness, we have pivoted our financial model so that all fees go directly to the National Emergencies Trust charity. It is a simple change but one that ensures the business does not profit at a time of hardship, but instead further encourages people to care for others.

Cases like this are not rare – the tech startup community, both in the UK and around the world, has demonstrated an ability as well as a willingness to harness technology as a force for good, which warrants both praise and gratitude.

All things considered, technology has been a shining light in this otherwise gloomy time. And not just because we now have Netflix to consume our time, but because the very fundamentals of how we are managing this crisis as consumers and businesses is being almost entirely shaped by modern tech.

Yiannis Faf is co-founder of the crowdfunding app, WhatWeWant. The app allows users to upload what they want for an upcoming event for themselves, or someone else. Users can contribute to what their friends and family want as well as notifying them to contribute to whatever you have uploaded. Once enough has been raised, users can simply spend the money. During the Coronavirus pandemic WhatWeWant is donating all fees, including payment provider fees, to the National Emergencies Trust. Here are three examples of great campaigns on the WhatWeWant app that require people’s support: The Mission to Seafarers – Chat to a Chaplain; Protect the NHS – 5000 Face Shield Masks for the NHS; COOK-19 – Providing meals for the NHS.