The Early Days
The isgood story started in 2016 when founder, Max Lynam, was providing digital services and online advisory to a couple of large foundations fundraising campaigns in the couple of years prior. Buoyed by the success of the campaigns and awards they received, he was motivated to raise more funds by showcasing the evidence of the positive impacts and outcomes for end-beneficiaries, their families and communities … and amplify the impact of the work that had been done so far.
As he approached the foundations about being able to do this ongoing fundraising, it turned out they were unable to provide the evidence he was asking for. They could account for the money expenditure, services, activities, head-counts and some clinical/survey data; but, not what the positive impact stories “sold” during the fundraising campaigns. These were classified as intangibles, too hard to measure or know, and externalities – it was just too hard to know and they said there was no way to really know …. and this blew Max’s mind a bit … because these were big, established and professional organisations.
Max had been focussed on supporting non-profits (NFPs) and “social-impact” programs since 2013, helping with digital and online solutions that supported their theory of change, program and/or policy design; but, it was only the the digital enablement techy-stuff around data-gathering, measurement and analytics, as opposed to digging into what they were measuring and why.
Surely, social or environmental impacts weren’t just unknown and intangible externalities ???
Feeling pretty unsettled that these large foundations felt it wasn’t possible to know if social/welfare/humanitarian activities were having the desired impacts, he went on a bit of a magical mystery discovery and research tour – talking to connections far and wide in the social, NFP, welfare, government, NGO, international aid and environmental sector. He continued probing and researching for a few years, surely someone had progressed towards a solution? But no … it was a pervasive issue amongst social, environmental and humanitarian organisations at every level and across the globe … and it was generally accepted that this is just how things are.
During these years Max had also been working to form partnerships, collaborations, reverse-engineering data-tools and exhausting all avenues of research. In the end, it was found that no existing tech approaches or systems were suitable to solve the issue.
Unable to turn away
Once Max had been fully exposed to the problem it made him very uncomfortable, and and it was impossible for him to turn away and ignore it. Having been born into technology and computing, and building previous businesses as an open-source techy hacker, he turned to the rapidly evolving potential of big-data, open-apis and artificial intelligence as a hope to find a solution.
So, in 2017, Max started building a network of collaborators and contributors doing ongoing research and development; then in 2018, he stepped down from his “startup” board and committee roles to dedicate more time to the project – code-named impactful.ai. Partnering a number of government and NFP organisations, three (3x) proof-of-concepts were built and tested in real-world applications over a couple of years. The learnings and insights were invaluable, but some of the biggest discoveries and challenges were still to come.
These years in research and development was an opportunity to forge deep connections and roots within the global for-purpose sector and to better understand the needs and opportunities of impact measurement across the many varied organisations and stakeholders involved. In particular, the need for intelligent systems that could track cause and effect across complex “wicked” problems … to improve change and outcomes, not just report activity.
Foundations of isgood.ai
With validation of market demand and proven capabilities, a dedicated organisation and formal structure was proposed – one that was founded and structured to ensure it stayed true to purpose, even when highly profitable. The proposed structure was to have a worker em-powered Pty Ltd company, with an associated non-profit entity. Excess isgood.ai funds would support and incubate further social and environmental initiatives, through the non-profit entity. The first guiding principles of this initial foundation was enshrined in our Manifesto and Handbook – and these and the guidelines that still govern us to this day.
In March 2019 the “isgood.ai – Solutions for Humanity Pty Ltd” company was registered by Max. The core mission was built into the company structure with 50% equity classified for those who bring the vision to life, run by and for the workers along the lines of holacratic cooperative models – while still allowing for external capital investment.
In the first half of 2019 we hit a “technological” brick wall … and for months we ran “lab tests” again and again trying to solve the impossible, with diagrams, designs, algorithms and data-structures spread across many, many metres of windows and walls. And then, in late 2019 the impossible became plausible, probable, and then possible. The technological and system design hurdles that would power the isgood.ai platform “brain” to work as intended were finally all in place, thoroughly tested and validated by subject matter experts and international research bodies. It was now time to productise the years of research, and prioritise the first features to make available to the world.
By Christmas 2019, isgood had it’s first paid pilot signed and underway, with further paid pilots lined up to start in early-2020. With all of this positive development and paid pilots lined up, Max had stopped other commercial engagements and dedicated himself full-time to isgood.ai, with the expectation that the paid pilots would see the full launch of the platform by mid-2020.
Bushfires, then Covid
The bushfires of early-2020 threw a spanner in the works, as our first pilots partners were pulled into emergency response, we were unable to start the first of these pilots – so we concentrated on progressing our internal operations and pushing our ongoing technical productisation and development, as well as engaging with our other pilot partners in readiness for onboarding.
In April 2020 the ‘Solution for Humanity Inc’ association was registered as a Victorian Association, and was approved as an official Australian charity in July 2020. The charity operates as a philanthropic research and development entity, with the purpose of “enabling and supporting technological innovations to solve the world’s most complex problems” – in alignment with our founding principles. We finally had all of our organisational structure in place to help us to continue on our mission … to save the world 🙂
2020 continued to be a challenge, as we moved from bushfires to COVID-19, the NFP and social impact sector became sector became severely disrupted. Some of the pilot partners had to shut-down indefinitely, pivot to different operations or redeploy everyone onto frontline emergency management and other ended up having to stand-down large parts of their workforce. We had organised Melbourne’s first #dataforgood Hackathon with heaps of contributors and social enterprise partners, and covid-iso hit us just as it started. As for isgood.ai, Max’s reserve funds were eaten away, pilots were unable to be started, and while some really valuable work and relationships were forged, it was a hell of a battle for survival.
Focussing inward, 2020 enabled us to put a lot of effort towards how we can best build in resilience and anti-fragile patterns into how we work and support each other in the #techforgood community, while contributing towards isgood.ai and as Solutions for Humanity volunteers. This time to focus inwards strengthened how we support those doing good, both internally and externally. It has become part of our ongoing focus and efforts to ensure we live the values in the habits of the way we work with each other day to day.
As a result of our support efforts in 2020, we have been able to operate 100% remotely, with contributors from around the world – doubling the size of the isgood.ai family in September 2020, attracting and retaining many active contributors during 2021, continually improving our systems and processes … despite the ongoing covid challenges.
In late 2021, we do intend to have LIVE managed pilots in the actual isgood.ai system – and there’s definitely plenty of strong interest signed up and waiting for when isgood.ai is ready for general release.
It’s looking good … but boy, what a trip !!!!
So … why is everyone having to wait so long … what’s the delay?
Unfortunately, one of the problems we solve (only being able to account/value money), is also the reason it is taking a long-time to make isgood.ai available. MONEY … we are pre-launch, pre-funding and pre-revenue (MRR) … so, everyone except Max is ad-hoc or part-time, having to have other jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table, waiting for the day they can actually go full-time and be able to dedicate 100% of their efforts towards isgood.ai and other #techforgood projects !!!
One of the cool things as both our approach, and the world around us has evolved since starting on this journey … is the general applicability of isgood.ai to EVERY facet within the Doughnut Economics model … which is really such a wonderful view of wicked problems and planetary boundaries 🙂
There is NO WAY what we’re doing could have been done at the start of this journey, so the time it has taken has been part of what has enabled isgood.ai to be a reality. We know deep down that sort of everything in the real-world is interrelated and has cause and effect on the other … and, wether you are working towards SDG, ESG, NetZero, Circular Economy or mental health … both these activities and you are impacting those other areas as well.
We can help solve the puzzle and guide decisions, account for social and environmental impacts … giving the translation, comparability and vocabulary to bring the changemakers, communities and impact-creators together for a future where people, planet and prosperity can thrive in balance
… and THAT is pretty cool and is what keeps us going 😀