Learn how the volunteer force of the Scottish Tech Army is supporting third and public sector organisations with their digital journey and how you can get involved.
The Scottish Tech Army (STA) is a not-for-profit company and a volunteer COVID-19 technical response team that supports the Scottish Government, Local Authorities, and other organisations across the country with rapid technical development projects. Initially launched as a crisis response initiative, they have now transitioned to become a ‘Tech for Good’ hub, with the ambition to power change on a great scale through collaboration and partnership.
To learn more about the project and understand how women with STEM skills can get involved, we spoke with Kirsty McIntosh, Head of Partnerships at the Scottish Tech Army.
Can you present the Scottish Tech Army in a few words?
The Scottish Tech Army was initially created to address COVID-19 related challenges and the post-pandemic economic recovery. It was launched on the 28th of April 2020 by co-founders Alistair Forbes (now CEO) and Pete Jaco, two tech investors. They recognised that a large number of highly experienced tech professionals were furloughed, out of contract, or had been made redundant at the same time as the third sector was coming under enormous strain, working at the front lines of the pandemic but without their traditional working methods available to them, eg fundraising, face-to-face support, etc. It was immediately taken up with more than 100 volunteers signing up on the first day and more than 30 project requests.
What challenges does your organisation address?
We help organisations understand and address their digital challenges and bring our volunteers to work on projects with them. Many organisations do not have the technical resources within their workforce, with many being small <10 employee organisations. They also do not have the financial resources to invest in tech solutions because core cost funding is limited and many do not have digital thinking or experience at board level.
Who is the Scottish Tech Army for?
We work with charities, social enterprises and the public sector (particularly in regards to ‘proof of concept’ projects where something can be tried out in a risk-free environment).
Our volunteers come to us from various sources – many are ‘independent’ volunteers but we also work with the corporate sector to encourage uptake of volunteering days on offer at work.
Who can join the community and what skills do you need to get involved?
Anyone can join – just go to our website and sign up here. I’d love your readers to know that we need such a broad range of skills and experience – please don’t disqualify yourselves because you don’t think you’re ‘techy’ enough! We hear that so much. We need diversity of thought, curiosity and innovative thinking. If you are a Business Analyst, Digital Marketer, product manager, scrum master, front end developer, or data analyst… we are always looking for a wide range of skills.
How many staff and volunteers have been involved in the project so far?
We have a small core team of 7, including two Kickstart team members and we’ve been supported by some fantastic interns from Glasgow Caledonian University (GCU). We have more than 2,000 registered volunteers now, not all of them active anymore of course, but a fantastic resource to reach out to.
How do you explain the successful feedback and positive responses you got from volunteers?
During the pandemic, we built a strong virtual community that was full of people who wanted to help, but who also wanted to find support. There is something very fulfilling about using your technical capabilities or years of experience as part of a team, working to deliver something that will make a difference to people who need these organisations’ help.
What do you get out of the volunteering experience?
You get to help those who need it and meet people you perhaps wouldn’t otherwise come across in your daily lives. You can choose the level of input – you tell us what you can offer and that is all we ask of you. In return, we offer an opportunity to expand your network, learn from our series of case study sessions, or ‘meet the hiring manager’ virtual meetings, as well as working on a variety of projects. We often have volunteers who come to try out something they don’t get to do at work…It gives them confidence and opens up new possibilities. In truth, the STA is what you want it to be for you.
We talk a lot about the future of STEM and the importance of building a fair, diverse, and more sustainable STEM sector for Scotland. How does the Scottish Tech Army contribute to this?
I think we provide an environment for those who want to start building a network or extend their existing one; it’s an opportunity to increase self-confidence and ‘go for’ roles we perhaps might have otherwise disqualified ourselves from. It’s also a talent pool – a place where volunteers from the tech sector get to see what you’re capable of – the fact that you’re volunteering says a lot about the kind of person you are.
What digital or tech skills do you see in high demand today?
That’s a really interesting question and I’d hesitate to answer it with the current asks. The third sector is in an early maturity stage when it comes to digital. In truth, once we develop a relationship with these organisations, they become more aware of the ‘art of the possible’ and we find we need a broader range of skills. Some organisations simply don’t have a technical employee/department who can help them so their asks are often easy to answer – it might be something very simple (to us); others have bigger ambitions but are also constrained by resources and knowledge. We often identify opportunities that they hadn’t thought of, which can cover anything from analytics to Artificial Intelligence (AI).
Anything else you would like to share with Equate’s community?
My own experience over the last two years since the STA launched has taught me to be grateful for the life I live. It is very sobering to hear the stories of people who access the help of charities and humbling to realise just how much of a difference these amazing people make to others. We’ve moved from a health crisis to a cost of living one and these organisations are needed perhaps now more than ever – but with fewer resources at hand. Many have dipped into crucial reserves to keep going. It’s estimated that the sector has lost billions of pounds because its traditional fundraising routes were closed during the pandemic. It will take years to recover. The STA is here to help these organisations do more with less.
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