2020 was a year like no other. What it was defined by is most understood in its paradoxes. Isolation and community; injustice and a movement for justice; disinformation and truth; hardship and mobilization of resources. In the face of it all, tech nonprofits rose up to serve.
This year taught us lessons that can’t be unlearned. One of those lessons is the critical role of tech nonprofits. Tech nonprofits are designed to leverage technology in a unique way to improve access to resources and distribute those resources more equitably. It’s now impossible to imagine a world where tech isn’t core to how the social sector deploys impact. As we look to what comes next, one thing is for sure: tech nonprofits will continue to be indispensable.
At Fast Forward, we are laser-focused on empowering tech nonprofit leaders with the tools, community, and capital they need to scale solutions for underserved communities. In 2020, we doubled down on our commitment, experimenting with new ways of supporting tech nonprofits. From a virtual Accelerator and conference, to a first-of-its-kind, free Tech Nonprofit Playbook, to exploring new ways for social entrepreneurs to engage with our tech partners, 2020 was a year of listening - and then taking action - to support tech nonprofits shaping the social impact sector.
Kevin Barenblat and Shannon Farley
“Fast Forward’s accelerator opened many doors for Climate Neutral, some of which led to funding and passionate people who want to help us grow. But probably the most lasting impact will come from the hyper-relevant insights we got from founders who have been there, done that. Their advice was like a noise filter, helping us find the shortcuts and the less obvious answers to the thorny challenges that every nonprofit tech startup faces.”- Austin Whitman, CEO, Climate Neutral
"Like Fast Forward, Google.org deeply believes that the best technology should be applied to our biggest social problems. We need new solutions and new approaches more today than ever before. And that’s why we’ve supported Fast Forward and their teams each year."- Brigitte Hoyer Gosselink, Director, Product Impact, Google.org
In 2020, Fast Forward alumni showed up. Big time. Noora Health’s COVID-19 training reached 14.8M people. Climate Neutral signed on 230 companies that will reduce and offset almost one million tonnes of carbon. TalkingPoints scaled 6x enabling 3M families to engage in their child’s education. Reboot Rx’s COVID Cancer Project analyzed 225K published studies to find those most relevant for COVID-19 and cancer patients. Almost Fun’s culturally-responsive educational resources reached 20K+ low-income and BIPOC students. Medic Mobile’s tools enabled health workers to provide 16M+ moments of care.
2020 also marked the year where the all-time impact of our alumni reached unprecedented heights. Behold some of these highlights:
14.8 million. That’s how many people Noora Health reached this year with life-saving information about COVID-19. Responding to the pandemic in a big way, the Fast Forward alum created a wide range of COVID-19 tools now being used by governments, healthcare professionals, and individuals across India and Bangladesh.
Noora Health improves patient outcomes through key behavior change practices. During the pandemic, this meant empowering families with training to slow the spread. With accessibility in mind, Noora Health leveraged WhatsApp and SMS to provide COVID-19 teletraining to patients and families right from their mobile phones.
Noora Health leveraged partnerships to reach even the most remote communities. With the help of over 70 organizations, they made sure millions had access to their COVID-19 Resource Library, an open-source tool that shares critical health information in 14 regional languages.
Shahed Alam and Elliott founded Noora Health because they believed in the power of families to heal. Seven years later, their solutions are empowering families at scale, improving health outcomes for at-risk communities through a global pandemic and beyond.
This year, screens replaced classrooms, whiteboards, and even books for students across the country. With the risk of learning loss heightened by remote learning, TalkingPoints improved student outcomes during the pandemic by enabling 3 million families to engage in their child’s education.
It’s not widely known that parent engagement is twice as important as socioeconomic status in predicting student success. To drive parent engagement in under resourced and non-English speaking families, TalkingPoints connects parents with the other key player in children’s education: teachers. The tech nonprofit has enabled 100 million conversations, in 100 languages, between families and teachers via their mobile app and text messaging.
This year, Talking Points announced expanded and new partnerships with national funders like Google.org and Schmidt Futures, and several of the country’s largest school districts including Oakland Unified and Boston Public Schools. These partnerships helped Talking Points expand its reach by six times since the start of the pandemic alone.
Heejae Lim was born in Seoul, Korea. She immigrated to the UK when she was eight, and later moved across the globe to the US. Her experiences navigating language barriers as an immigrant led her to pitch the idea for TalkingPoints at a hackathon. She won. Six years into leading TalkingPoints, she’s unlocking the potential of family engagement at meaningful scale.
In 2020, millions of families struggled with debt driven by historic unemployment related to the pandemic. Upsolve had their back. A legal aid organization turned tech nonprofit, Upsolve helps Americans file for bankruptcy and relieve their debt - all for free.
This year, Upsolve celebrated relieving $300 million in total debt and over $150 million in debt in 2020 alone. Upsolve helped 11% more people file this year than in 2019. This impact earned Upsolve the honor of being named a TIME Best Invention of 2020.
Upsolve is more than a life-changing tool: it’s also a community. This year, they launched a Facebook Group for Upsolve users which became the most engaged community for bankruptcy on the Internet.
At its core, Upsolve is a civil rights organization. Rohan Pavuluri was a student at Harvard in 2016 when he and lawyer Jonathan Petts founded Upsolve with one mission: to empower people to access their rights when they can’t afford a lawyer. Since their beginnings as a Brooklyn-based brick-and-mortar organization housed in Blue Ridge Labs, Upsolve has changed the lives of millions of Americans by helping them exercise their civil legal rights.
Black Americans represent 33% of the incarcerated population, almost triple their share of the U.S. adult population. This is a racial justice crisis.
Accelerator alumni Uzoma Orchingwa and Gabe Saruhashi recognized that among the many layers of injustice inherent to this issue, the prohibitive cost of prison communications was one they could impact. Communications with loved ones while incarcerated is vital - recidivism rates are lower for those who regularly communicate with loved ones. Ameelio was born.
Ameelio is a prison communications platform which enables people who are incarcerated and their loved ones to send free photos and letters. In less than a year, Ameelio has celebrated some significant milestones: over 40,000 families have sent 205,795 letters and photos to incarcerated loved ones, Jack Dorsey’s #startsmall initiative donated $500K, and Ameelio contacted and registered voters who are incarcerated in Georgia, Maine, and Colorado. Keep an eye on this rising star.
In addition to deploying $2.7M in grants to tech nonprofits in 2020, below are some ways Fast Forward showed up for tech nonprofits.
We’ve learned a lot over the last seven years helping 60 tech nonprofits scale through our Accelerator. This year, we grew our ability to help more social impact startups by releasing The Tech Nonprofit Playbook, made possible by AT&T and Vanguard Charitable. This comprehensive (read: 15 chapter) guide to starting and scaling a tech nonprofit shares just about everything social entrepreneurs need to launch their idea, from fundraising to hiring to impact measurement. Keep your eyes peeled on the Playbook-inspired Fast Forward Academy coming in 2021!
18 entrepreneurs. 9 world-changing solutions. 4 virtual Demo Days. Over three months, the 2020 cohort experienced all the enriching aspects of our Accelerators of years past - with a virtual spin. From defining their impact and strategy, to learning from mentors and fellow founders, these entrepreneurs built lasting community from behind their screens. It all culminated in four virtual Demo Days, where over 1,000 people tuned in to hear the entrepreneurs pitch their transformative solutions to our world’s biggest social challenges. Plus, attendees “met” the entrepreneurs at virtual booths (thanks, Zoom!).
We took Accelerate Good Global virtual this year - and it was an experience for the books. The Fast Forward team turned the real-life AGG into a virtual conference in less than one week (yep!). We’re proud that it captured the magic of past AGGs, showcased the strength of the tech for good community, and fostered meaningful conversation during a time of great uncertainty. A truly global event, AGG drew over 1,500 attendees from 40+ countries who tuned in to hear from tech and social impact leaders like Reid Hoffman, Mitchell Baker, Sal Khan, and all-star Fast Forward alumni.
To support the invaluable work of tech nonprofits, Fast Forward partnered with the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Foundation on the second annual HPE Accelerating Impact Campaign. Through this company-wide program, every HPE team member received a $25 donation credit from the HPE Foundation to give to one of the 40 featured tech nonprofits. The result? A staggering $1.2M+ infusion into the tech nonprofit sector, made possible by the 28,000+ HPE employees from across the world who participated. We’re proud to have partnered with HPE on this high-impact campaign.
The movement for racial justice motivated our team to take a hard look at how we’re showing up as an anti-racist organization. An area for growth we identified was that it was not enough to know implicitly that we prioritize diversity, equity, and inclusion. We learned that taking a public stance around these core values is paramount. We got to work. As an organization founded on the idea that those with proximity to the problems should have the power to fix them, we are proud to share our Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Guidelines which outline how we approach DEI across our investments, community, and workplace.
"Thank you for being the first to believe in my organization. For adopting me and giving me a community when I needed it the most. Simply put - our organization exists because of Fast Forward."- Gabriella Wong, Founder, AccesSOS
The Fast Forward team continues to be so grateful to the community who fuels our work. To our partners, board members Ime Archibong, Oliver Hurst-Hiller, Rehka Pai Kamath, Aston Motes, and James Slavet, and the countless tech nonprofit leaders and mentors who make this work possible, we thank you!