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Citizen Engineers Rally to Solve Real-World Problems

Citizen engineers in the tech community seek real meaning in their work and use their knowledge of science and society to help solve real problems.

Global climate change, hunger, water shortages, widening economic gaps—our world is facing what seems like insurmountable problems. While governments work to implement policy change, business can also leverage its power to have a positive impact. Business is the only force on the planet large enough and pervasive enough to change our broken global systems. We already have many of the technologies to solve these problems, but we need "citizen engineers" to apply them from within social systems in a way that is sustainable.

Engineers inherently try to solve problems to make things better. Most engineers strive to sharpen their skills and immerse themselves in the trenches of innovation. They have the background and skills needed to fix systemic problems facing our planet, yet we need to empower these problem-solvers to work with entrepreneurs or to start social enterprises to create clean water, air, and soil while also increasing wellness, education and empathy.

Over the past 10 years, many software and systems engineers have incorporated Agile and Lean practices into their development process. These principles are centered around fast feedback, iterations, collaboration, and learning. We believe that agile practices have the power to affect positive change not only in business and software development, but also in social entrepreneurship.

It is those citizen engineers in the tech community, seeking real meaning in their work, who are using their knowledge of science and society to help solve real issues like maternal death in India or clean water for disaster relief in Thailand. However, these entrepreneurs and engineers-for-good cannot always get the resources they need to take the next step in their venture. These resources can include financial support, tools and training, or donated time and expertise in the form of hack-a-thons for good, sustained volunteer efforts, or sabbaticals with a social bent.

Rally Software recently launched a social impact endeavor, Rally For Impact, to mobilize citizen engineers to connect them to the resources they need. By giving financial support through partners, providing technology tools and training in Agile methods, and connecting citizen engineers to a network of resources, we aim to propel engineers to tackle global problems.

After two years of prototyping at the Unreasonable Institute, Rally For Impact is moving through a three-step process to take responsibility for part of the solution:

  • Intention: Understand how citizen engineers work and what they need
  • Awareness: Build a support network of businesses and nonprofit/NGO partners to mobilize these engineers
  • Action: To do real work to confront the issues with the highest need
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As part of our intention phase, we partnered with Cognitive Edge to collect short narratives or experiences of citizen engineers to help us gain empathy and understanding for how they got where they are today, what obstacles they overcame to get there, and how we can replicate their success. We will share this data publicly.

Inspired by the Foundation 1/1/1 philanthropy model, social good has been baked into Rally Software’s corporate culture and ethos over the last 10 years. We have set aside a portion of equity, given our employees one percent of their time to volunteer, and are offering discounted and donated product to support fellow B Corporations, nonprofits, social entrepreneurs, open source, and students around the world.

With Rally For Impact, we are taking the next step to bring strategic value to our business while honing in on our goal of solving social problems. The social enterprise is dependent upon the success of the business and is the key to its sustainability. We can embed our social enterprises within the wrapper of business—and be successful at both. We know you can too.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user krunkwerke

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