Spotlight on Software for Social Good: Cal Blueprint
Welcome to “Spotlight on Software for Social Good”, a new series where we’ll shine a light on different projects and thought leaders in the software for social good space. At Benetech, we know that the social sector must embrace the power of software and data to realize positive, lasting impact at scale. Each post will share insights from community members putting software and data to work for social change.
Cal Blueprint is a student organization at the University of California, Berkeley, which carries out pro-bono coding projects for nonprofits across the globe. Their mission is to create beautiful and accessible technologies to support nonprofits and other organizations promoting social welfare. Each year, they work with five organizations on software projects that will help the organizations scale their impact. The Blueprint team designed and built a mobile app for taking attendance for a school in the Dominican Republic, a professional development platform for digital literacy in Oakland, and an online marketplace for food donations in the Bay Area.
I had the opportunity to speak with Wilson Wang, who is a project leader at Cal Blueprint to learn more about how they are designing software to drive impact at scale.
Can you tell me a little bit about the project you are leading for Cal Blueprint?
This year, my team is working with a nonprofit called HomePointr. The
organization’s mission is to improve access to suitable housing options for
people experiencing homelessness by connecting referral agencies with housing
providers. Blueprint is building the web app to streamline the exchange of data
between referral agencies and landlords who own properties to help individuals
experiencing homelessness find housing faster, and help landlords fill empty units.
Through the web app, referral agencies can search for properties that may be suitable for the individual based on criteria like mental health institution nearby or a wheelchair accessibility by selecting relevant tags. The final product will be available by the end of the spring semester.
Why does using software to deliver social good resonate with you?
I have a responsibility to use my programming skills to make
a positive impact in this world. After taking a coding class, early on in my
college career, I realized how powerful learning to code and build these
projects could be, and that I could harness this potential to create something
that helps other people. When I decided to major in Computer Science, I wanted
to give back to the community, teach other students, and give them an idea of
the range of problems they can solve using programming, which led me to join
Has this social impact work shaped your understanding of the field and your
approach to software development?
I think it’s very easy to get complacent with the comforts
of the tech bubble. It isn’t bad to go work for a big tech company, but through
my work for Blueprint, I’ve come to recognize how important it is to be aware
of the impact of your work and the ethics of the projects you are working on. Many
colleges are also starting to introduce ethics courses for their computer
science students, but being involved firsthand in work with clear social
implications makes these ethical considerations very real.
In terms of my approach to software development, the stakes
are higher when you are working for a nonprofit with a powerful mission. Nonprofits
don’t typically have the resources to continually invest in their technology,
so it is especially important that we ensure that our solution is very well
grounded and designed to work for their long-term needs.
To see this through, I meet regularly not only with the
other developers from Blueprint, but also with our nonprofit partners. Good
relationships and strong communication is key to delivering well-designed
technology that helps our nonprofit partners achieve their mission.
What advice do you have for college
students looking to start their own software for social good initiative?
Surround yourself with people who have the same motivations
that you do. Your mission could be a little different than the rest of the
college community is doing, but if it’s something you all believe in, by
finding each other, you’ve already taken the first step.
Blueprint was founded by a couple of students who came
together and said “Hey, together we can use our coding skills to do something
good and maybe others will want to join us too.” Today, Blueprint has over 40
members working on projects for 5 nonprofits each year. Together you can really
make a difference.
Thanks for sharing your story with
us, Wilson. It’s great to see that code for good organizations like Cal
Blueprint are creating opportunities for the next generation of socially minded
techies to learn and use their skills to effect meaningful change.
Do you know about an organization
that’s building or using software for social good? Let us know at
firstname.lastname@example.org, and we may feature them in an upcoming blog post.
What do we mean by software for social good? Read our Software for Social Good Explainer
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