The WorkerTech Podcast - Episode 3

This is a transcript of episode three of a three-part podcast series by Tech for Good Live, created in partnership with Bethnal Green Ventures. If you want to listen to all three episodes and more podcasts from Tech for Good Live you can subscribe via your regular podcast provider such as iTunes and Spotify.

If you've read this transcript already, you can check out the other episodes below:
Transcript of Episode 1
Transcript of Episode 2

Episode Three
Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live): 
What is WorkerTech. Is it a real thing? Or just a made up word. Are you in some kind of surreal tech-themed dream right now. Of course not. This is episode three of the WorkerTech Podcast, brought to you by Tech for Good Live and Bethnal Green Ventures. If you’ve not heard the other two episodes yet - go and do that now.

There are marches on the streets and “precarious workers” are rising up and demanding a fair deal. There are battles in the courtroom and there is outrage among the general public. The hashtag “Delete Uber” trends on Twitter. It’s as if the human race has found a common enemy, and that enemy is this thing they call the “Gig Economy”.

Depending on your particular bubble, this may be your understanding of the Gig Economy. However, if you speak to some other people - such as those tech start-ups which are embracing this business model - you’ll hear a different story. You’ll hear that it provides opportunities for workers who previously had so little options. You’ll hear how it enables freedom. It provides a truly flexible working pattern, and ultimately - better pay.

So which is it? Is the Gig Economy good? Is it evil? Is it possible for WorkerTech to exist within this business model, or is this yet another example of tech gone wrong?

Let’s find out.

Although, I guess before we get to that - we should first explain what we mean by the Gig Economy, right? To do that, let’s hear from Fabian again. In case you don’t remember, Fabian is a researcher with the RSA.

Fabian Wallace-Stephens (Royal Society of Arts):
The Gig Economy is a term that is thrown around a lot to mean a lot of different things. The way we define it is people that use online platforms to find work. Work that is normally packaged up as small tasks that you might be able to complete on demand.

But this term is thrown around to lump together anything that is not a 9 - 5 job. So, zero-hour contracts and some self employed jobs. And this is really not helpful if you want to understand how technology is reshaping work. There might be some similarities between these new emerging forms of power, but they are definitely very different in terms of the very nitty gritty employment law perspective. Our research on the Gig Economy has found that 1.1 million people in the UK are currently employed in the gig economy - so that was 2017 - so last year.  Which is actually the same amount as the number of people employed by the NHS. Our research showed that 3% of the population have tried some sort of Gig work. They might be using it daily. But at least at one point they logged on and did some sort of mission. Another important point to emphasise is that it’s really much more than Uber and Deliveroo. They get the headlines but there are more people using platforms like UpWork or People Per Hour to complete creative, professional, technology based tasks. Looking to the future, our research showed that 1 in 4 young people (under 30) in the future would consider it. So there is the opportunity for these kinds of work to become more and more prevalent. And we can see this if we look at where these platforms are heading.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
I think this is a solid definition. It’s worth stressing though that there are varying definitions and there are a variety stats and reports flying about as researchers wrestle with what the Gig Economy actually is, and who is employed within it. The RSA’s research is saying that 1.1 million people are employed within the Gig Economy, but a BBC article from 2017 said that up to 5 million people work this way.

Whichever statistics we decide to go with - we’re still talking about a significant bunch of people. And those numbers are increasing.

The statistic that most stood out to me is that 1 in 4 young people have said they would consider this way of working in the future. I find that to be pretty strange. Possibly due to all of the horror stories I’ve heard. And it makes me question… what have these young people heard? What are they buying into? Have they heard tales of great freedom and flexibility? Choosing your own working patterns and being your own boss? Have they not seen the marches in the streets and the headlines in the news?

Because if we want to understand who actually is going to be filling the ranks of the Gig Economy in the future, we need to understand who is working in it now. Fabian has more on this…

Fabian Wallace-Stephens (Royal Society of Arts):
Something to bear in mind is that Gig platforms significantly lower barriers to entry to the labour market. So for example, let’s say that I just graduated. I’m a student without any work experience but I can pretty easily log on and do some missions on Deliveroo. It’s not a great full time career, but it’s lowered my barrier to entry. I don’t have to go to an interview.

Interestingly for Uber, so many of their drivers in London are migrant workers and Uber recently put out a study that show if you’re a migrant worker in London, driving with Uber is a pretty good job prospect - in terms of what you could earn. And so, that might be to do with existing discrimination that exists in terms of recruitment where perhaps people don’t want to employ certain migrants in other roles.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
So this obviously leads to the question - is this not exploitative? Does the sheer fact that you didn’t have a job, but now do have one, automatically make that a good job? We’re talking about a group of financially excluded people. Communities with less job prospects and more barriers into work. So, on the one hand it’s good that a form of work has arisen with lower barriers to entry. But it is “good” work? Does it provide enough security and support? What about sick pay, pension, holiday leave?

That study that Fabian mentioned is called “Uber Happy? Work and Wellbeing in the Gig Economy” and it’s worth a read. It’s London focused, and backs up what Fabian said - the majority of drivers are first generation immigrants, often from ethnic minority backgrounds.

In terms of finding out more about the lives of Uber drivers, we went straight to Uber.

Guy Levin (Uber):
I’m Guy Levin and I lead on Driver Public Policy at Uber HQ in San Francisco. As you can probably hear I’m British originally but moved over to the US last year. Uber, for those of you who don’t know, is a technology company that connects those people who want to ride with drivers who want to work at the touch of a button. It started around 2010 and is now connecting 15 million rides a day in almost 600 cities around the world.

What is most exciting for me is the 3 million people who user Uber to access flexible work. That’s the area I focus on and fundamentally I believe that Uber can be a powerful force for good; improving access to work.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
That’s Guy. I’m glad that I had the opportunity to chat with him. I definitely went into the call with preconceptions about Uber, about their business model and issues with worker rights. But I did wonder about all those negative stories we hear about. Are they accurate? Is Uber the monster we’ve all been led to believe it is?

Guy Levin (Uber):
So before turning to Uber, it’s important to think about what came before. So in London, where I grew up, taxi drivers and private hire drivers and mini-cab drivers have been self-employed for decades. This is the normal model. Uber didn’t come along and create something that is new. It used the model that was already in place. It’s also important to think about for whom a traditional 9-5 normal job doesn’t work. Many people are shut out of the labour market or shut out of the work they want. An example would be people with disabilities who face much higher rates of unemployment than the national average. That’s why it’s really important that flexibility is at the heart of the proposition of our drivers.

Our app gives drivers the ability to control if, when, where and for how long they want to work. There is no minimum commitment, no shifts or notice periods, or exclusivity. And that’s really powerful. We see around the world the impact that can have. In France we did some research that found that 25% of drivers who found the app had previously been unemployed. We know that people with disabilities face much higher rates of unemployment, so in the UK, we work with a charity called Lingo who help deaf and hard of hearing people find work. So we built the app to make sure that it works well with drivers who are deaf and hard of hearing.

It’s the app flexibility that comes through time and time again when we ask drivers why they partner with us. Over 90% of drivers in London said they joined Uber because they wanted to have more control and flexibility in their schedule.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
There’s lots to unpack there. Part of me obviously isn’t surprised at all to find that Uber HQ have a lot of PR friendly lines to show how they’re doing a stellar job.

But, it’s easy for me to say that Uber is bad. The Gig Economy is bad. Period. But, there is a lot more to it than that. And in a lot of aspects, what Guy is saying is not wrong. Particularly about how the problems encountered by people working in the Gig Economy is nothing new.

When I was talking to Dan Tomlinson from the Resolution Trust, we tried to nail down whether the Gig Economy is an inherently good or bad thing. Is tech, in this space a bad thing?

Dan Tomlinson (Resolution Trust):
I think that tech, and the Gig Economy - and the Gig Economy is about tech, because it’s about self-employed people getting their work through an app. Tech is probably a neutral thing. It could be used for good, or used for bad. I think in general what we’re seeing is that technology is being used in new ways in work, to shift risk away from employers and onto the people that are working from them who aren't now their employers. They are their contractors.

So, rather than having stability rather than having the minimum wage. Rather than having certain protections that come from being an employee - such as sick leave or maternity leave for example - people who work in the Gig Economy. But now, we should be careful because taxi drivers have never had these things, for example. They have always been self employed. But there is this sense that tech has enabled companies to relatively quickly scale up and to contract with people who have more risk in their lives. So, at the moment, I’d say from the worker perspective, it’s just about a bad thing. But it isn’t a really bad thing. Lots of people who work in the Gig Economy love the flexibility that it brings them. Lots of people who work in the Gig Economy work multiple jobs and top up their hours with a Gig Economy job, so we shouldn’t say it’s all bad. There are definitely lots of positives and anyone who says it all one thing or the other is definitely lying to you.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
This is a polarising topic. And, to be honest, there isn’t really much research on it, and the research that has been done provides a mixed picture. The report that Uber commissioned - the one that was London focused - does show that there are high rates of satisfaction, but also high rates of anxiety amongst their drivers.

Uber talk about how their drivers in London typically make slightly more than the living wage and that they value the flexibility this way of working brings - but the drivers we’ve spoken to talk of working extremely long hours to scrape together enough to live on, with a constant fear of being ill. They talk about Uber’s cut increasing, but fares decreasing.

One driver we spoke to in Manchester shared his personal circumstances. He did so on the condition of anonymity. We’ve had someone else read his statement.

Statement from Uber driver:
I’m only happy to work with Uber when there is a surge price. If there is no surge price, Uber’s rates are really cheap. And Uber now take 25% of the fair. Some older drivers get 20%. But 20% is still high. If we talk about other taxi firms in England, you pay a certain amount of money a week, and it’s definitely less than compared to Uber.

When I started doing Uber, I was part time. I used to work in a marketing company. I passed my badge from the council and did it on weekends for a bit. But then I became full time because doing two jobs, where I could make the same money with one job didn’t make sense. But when I joined Uber it was good prices. The surge prices were on most of the time, but the past few months, there hasn’t been a surge price.

Getting sick is a worry because I have a family to look after. I’ve a daughter of 4 years old and this is my income. It’s the only way I can earn now. If anything goes wrong with me, there is nowhere else I can get the income from.

I was attracted to them because you used to be able to make money during the busy times. I used to make really good money. But not any more.

I work a mixture of days and evenings, but it’s not a benefit being able to do that. I have to work at least 60 hours a week to make a lot of money and I have to work at the busy times. My expenses are £580 a week. After that, whatever I earn on top of that goes in my pocket.

These long hours are why I’ve been applying for jobs.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
This isn’t the only story we heard like this. We only had to opportunity to engage with 10 drivers for this purposes of this project, across London and Manchester, but all the drivers we spoke to told us about the long hours that were needed to make ends meet. We’d love to see a real qualitative study take place with workers in the Gig Economy, to sit alongside reports like the one Uber commissioned.

The few drivers we spoke to though, they talked about high costs, and of the lack of flexibility - because they needed to work at the busiest times. They spoke about supporting their families and of worries about falling into real poverty if they were unable to work for a while.

The good news is that Uber do seem to be aware of this. Maybe it comes from the weight of public and driver pressure, or court rulings around the world, or maybe it sincerely comes from a desire to do better by their drivers. Either way, it was encouraging to hear about the steps the company are taking to improve things.

Guy Levin (Uber):
So I don’t want to speak for other companies or other app-based companies that may have different practices to us. But, for us we’re focused on making work better and trying to improve the quality of work. We should remember that independent work and self-employment isn’t new. Uber didn’t come along and invent this. There have always been challenges in work, even amongst people in traditional employment. Um, freelancers, who often face wage stacking and late payments and that’s why it’s important we’re able to use technology to try to solve some of those problems. We have a feature in our app in the UK called Flex Pay that lets people cash out their earnings instantly and solves that problem that freelancers and independent workers have had for generations of not being able to get paid on time.

I think it is important though to recognise that the safety nets and social protections in society are largely designed in an era when traditional full time employment, often male, was the norm. Self employed workers do face a weaker safety net and that is something that we need to address. We’re trying to do that directly. We have rolled out a new insurance policy with Axa that is free for all drivers and couriers in the EU and includes both on trip risks, like having an accident, but also off-trip risks such as falling ill, jury service. Even maternity or paternity payments. So we’re trying to find ways of modernising those social safety nets to better protect the independent workers who use our apps.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
Guy went on to talk about an education and training scheme that they’re launching. The goal being that it will help their drivers develop and grow, and to open up more opportunities for them. Remember what we learned in the very first episode, that only 7% of companies are committed to investing in training and development of their workers. I was encouraged to hear Uber’s plans for this, and their acknowledgement that they need to do better.

We’ve heard a few times now that the lack of benefits for freelance workers - and the very existence of low paid work and poor working conditions - isn’t unique to the Gig Economy. Crappy working conditions have always existed.

It comes back though to what Dan said earlier about risk being transferred from the employer to the employee, and how tech - and the Gig Economy - has contributed to the radical increase in that. Sure, crappy working conditions are not new, but app-based Gig work is. And it’s frustrating that these companies tapped into those existing disadvantaged workforces and communities, and didn’t apply the same radical thinking to social change that they did to market disruption.

Is it possible to work in this space and to be truly ethical?

And that brings us back to WorkerTech, we need to remind ourselves of Jessica’s definition. We’re talking about technology that is intended to have a positive effect on the worker. I think it would be a bold claim to say that Uber fall into that category - even with the new positive initiatives that Guy talked about.

So, is actual WorkerTech even possible within the Gig Economy? I spoke to Duncan McCann about this and about a product called CabFair. We spoke on the phone, and the quality of the recording isn’t the best, but hopefully you can still hear him ok. Because he’s doing some really interesting stuff.

Duncan McCann (New Economic Foundation):
My name is Duncan McCann and I work for the New Economic Foundation and I lead the digital economy programme here. So that means both looking at top down large scale policy but also helping to create the alternatives that we hope to see on the ground.

So CabFair is a project that I’m working on at the moment and it had its genesis in another project which was where was I shadowing 5 ex-Uber drivers who were trying to set up their own platform coop up in the north of England in Bradford.

During my time shadowing them, I saw some of the huge hurdles that are in place for drivers and workers to not only create their own platforms but to find a way to compete against these global vehicles. At the end of the six months of them trying to set one up, it ended in failure for a whole variety of reasons. But it gave me a lot of learning. And that fateful day in last September when TfL announced that they were going to not renew Uber’s license, we thought this was a great opportunity to put out a blog about what we’d learned from working with the drivers in Bradford and to float the idea of trying to do it in London with the learnings that we’d taken and with the connections we’d had. And we through this out in a blog, and what we were surprised at was the huge positive response that we had from not only drivers themselves, some from users and also tech firms who wanted to build something with a social focus that would help working people.

We were looking around the rest of the UK for where might be a more optimal place for us to trial what is still a relatively untested idea, not just in the UK but almost globally. There are still only a very small number of worker-owned platforms in this sector. And you could call it fortuitously, just as we were starting to look around, news came over that Brighton became only the 4th or 5th licensing authority to not renew Uber’s license. So many things about Brighton make it a much more perfect place than London to trial a platform coop. First of all is scale.

In London you have 130,000 cab drivers. Our figures showed that you needed at least 10,000 to make it viable system so that you could keep it on demand and not have people waiting too long. Brighton has 600 total license drivers, and that’s if you include hackney carriages - what we’d call black cabs in London. So the numbers are much more reasonable. We’d need about 200 drivers on the platform to become viable and there is a culture in Brighton that embraces alternative businesses, such as cooperatives and worker owned platforms. So we found that Brighton was probably more suitable for launching this kind of company. So now we’ve rejigged the business plan and have just finalising that by the end of the year with a view to raising the amount of money we need to start thinking in 2019 about launching the service in Brighton.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
The idea of an ethical example of a Gig Economy company is - as you’d imagine - something I’m happy about. A cooperative, and a worker-owned platform is a great way to empower the workforce and to put them front and centre in determining the direction of the business.

And - as we’ve said… intent matters. But it’s not always easy or possible to measure intent. Who is to say that Uber’s original intention wasn’t to genuinely empower workers? Who’s to say that Airbnb’s mission wasn’t to sincerely enable average people, like you and I, to share their homes with strangers - and for people to experience new cities in new ways?

A business model, or an organisational structure such as a coop does immediately provide evidence of intent. Especially in terms of worker rights.

I asked Duncan about this, and about what sets CabFair - the name of this new venture - aside from the likes of Uber and Gett.

Duncan McCann (New Economic Foundation):
Yeah, it’s really interesting in terms of the positions the drivers are in. So the main driver I’m working with, he drives for the luxury part of Uber and makes a decent wage. He’s quite open. He really knows the system and if he works according to his system he can work the 15, 16, 17 pounds an hour after his costs have gone. He isn’t one of those drivers who is complaining because he’s not making minimum wage or something like that. But he also really understands the asymmetric power relationship that he’s in. And if he wakes up one morning and the app isn’t working, he’s got no-one to help him. He has no line to call and no support from the organisation. That’s definitely one of the problems.

One thing is to resolve this asymmetric power relationship between the platform and the drivers. In economic terms what Uber is demonstrating is the monopsony power which is the opposite of monopoly power. Monopoly power is where you’re abusing the customer relationship part whereas monopsony power is where you’re abusing the producer relationship. You can think of the likes of Amazon and books but Uber is definitely with drivers, where they’re in this really powerful position because they do have an amazing offering which is a job and which does give some payment at the end of the day. And it is the notion of flexibility.

Although, again, having spoken with so many drivers now that notion of flexibility is really super artificial. So if you just drive whenever you want, it becomes very hard to make that minimum wage. So part of the drivers’ system is to know when you have to be on the road. So, that’s morning rush hour, afternoon rush hours. Friday night and Saturday night. Any work outside of those it’s really speculative as to whether you’re going to make that minimum wage.

So you really have this notion of drivers being disempowered. A platform that is not really meeting their needs. It’s wholly at the service of Uber, and of course the customers who are so vital to revenue for an improved system. So, what we want to do is put drivers at the centre of our platform. So, by being a coop, we automatically give drivers a say in the governance of the platform; how it functions and works. Now we’re under no illusions that all the drivers will take us up on this offer. To be part of managing and governing the platform and setting the rules for how it should work. Our experience from other platforms and other coops suggests that about 20% will take advantage of that but the other 80% will take comfort that it’s drivers in similar predicaments to them setting the rules and making sure the company works for them.

As well as putting them at the centre we also think that we shouldn’t be taking as much of the fare as the drivers as Uber does. The exact number varies but the average is of a UK driver is having between 25 - 30% of their fare taken. It varies depending if it’s Uber pool, or some of the other services. We think that we can very comfortably get that down to 10% and probably even lower once we’ve had the experience and have really understood the model a bit better. So really what we want to do, is if we had to summarise it, is putting drivers in control of the platform. Having a much bigger say about how they operate and the rules of the system, and having more money in their pocket at the end of the day.

That’s our proposition for drivers. For communities, it’s really about being a good corporate citizen in that locality. Someone that is really focused in that community rather than another source of wealth and resource extraction, which is what these sorts of multinational companies are. We also commit to paying our fair share of tax that is due. One of the difficulties of competing against Uber is that when you pay your Uber ride, they don’t have to pay VAT because they route the payments through a European jurisdiction. So we’re immediately at a 20% disadvantage, but we think it’s really important that as a user of roads and the education system and the whole network infrastructure that allows cars to run, we believe we should contribute adequately to the public services that we end up using.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
I can’t begin to tell you how glad I was to get the chance to speak to Duncan and to hear about the work he, and others, have been doing. There’s a few reasons for that. I love coops - obviously - so that is always a bonus. But the differing perspectives, and stories, and headlines and PR about the Gig Economy have been a little dizzying. I wanted to hear of a genuine WorkerTech product that exists in this space. I wanted to put a face and a name to the idea that when you hear the term Gig Economy… you know that it isn’t a binary thing. Entirely evil or entirely good. As Dan said, tech is neutral. It’s just lines of code and chips and circuit boards. It doesn’t have a morality system of its own. The moral input and output is from the people, the human beings making and using the tech. Let’s take an app for example. An app is capable of doing amazing things to support people and communities, or it could further divide and disadvantage people. The potential of technology being used for good is defined by how we make it, and how we use it.

Which brings us on to the last person I spoke to. Because, after these three episodes, hopefully we’ve laid out what WorkerTech is, and added some context around the social environment that this type of product will exist in. But we haven’t really touched on how to go about creating a WorkerTech product. Let me introduce to you Rachel Carey, and to Zinc.

Rachel Carey (Zinc):
My name is Rachel Carey and I’m Chief Scientist in Zinc, so Zinc started last year. We create new ventures that are tackling a particular social problem. We run a 9 month programme where individuals come together to start a new business but who don’t necessarily have a team or fixed idea. But over the course of the 9 months they create new businesses from scratch form new teams with other people on the programme and we facilitate them to do that.

The people that come on the programme are from a wide variety of different backgrounds. Some of them are from a technical background, some from a business operations background. Some come with domain expertise in a particular area. Each of the programmes that Zinc runs is centred on a particular mission. That mission is what we consider to be an unsolved social problem that is affecting the developed world. We began one programme last year which focused on improving women’s and girl’s mental and emotional health. And we have just kicked off a new programme on the 2nd of October which focuses on unlocking new opportunities for people who live in areas that have been hard hit by globalisation and automation. So that second mission is, I think, of particular relevance to this conversation.

The context for that - as anyone who has been reading the headlines will have seen - is that the economic changes of the last decades have left large numbers of people struggling - in particular in areas that were centred around an industry such as coal or steel or textiles, which have been really hard hit or are struggling to recover. And the industries that have been created in those areas - particular in sectors like retail and back office processing centres, warehouses and call centres are also vulnerable to the next waves of automation. What we’re trying to do in this next mission is create opportunities in employment, in education, in health and in urban regeneration, to try to unlock opportunities in those areas. Also to buffer against the oncoming waves of automation.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):
So, that’s Rachel and that’s Zinc. Every time I hear about an incubator or an accelerator, a chill runs through my entire body, because most of the one’s I’ve heard about or witnessed have been terrible. Add the fact that this is tackling complex social issues… I just imagined rich white tech bros riding in on their white horses. Screaming at struggling local communities… “don’t worry, we’ve got this. I totally have a cure for all your issues. It’s an iPhone app.”

That’s not Zinc though. I spoke to Rachel for a good while, and the way they work is worth listening to.

Rachel Carey (Zinc):
I think that the important thing to say about the method we employ is that we’re completely problem-led and problem-centred. That means that we’re drawing on a range of different disciplines and different knowledge bases and we’re trying to de-silo the knowledge out there then can inform solutions to these different type of problems. We try to focus in on the problems; understanding what is driving them, who is affected, before rushing to a solution. A couple of important things about what we’re focusing on is, not jumping to any sort of solution but really understanding the problem and the need of the user first, and then drawing on different disciples and sectors and knowledge based to be able to understand that. I think the key point for us is that problems around employment are deeply connected to problems in other areas. Particularly in these hard hit areas.

So it’s almost impossible to see these issues in a vacuum. So we talk about issues in employment such as job insecurity and people in low paid work, in-work poverty, participation rates and hidden unemployed who are affected by mental health or accessibility. People not being able to connect to where the work is, or having mental maps that don’t allow them to do that. But actually all of those issues shouldn’t be seen in a vacuum. They are connected with issues around health and education and infrastructure that sit around people.

We’re trying to get people here in these first few months of the programme to get a real meaningful understanding of the issues and to think around how they might affect users before we move on to think about what potential ideas and solutions might be. So I guess that the proof of the pudding is what we develop and what products and services that might come out later. We’re 6 or 7 weeks into this programme now and what we’ve been trying to do is just hold people to thinking through the problems and detail and not just jumping to the solution. As I said, we’re trying to de-silo the knowledge bases. I think there are some amazing innovation and progress being made in HealthTech and EdTech and WorkerTech. I think the problem is that unless you’re very careful, you’re furthering these silos of knowledge when they could be and should be further connected together.

Rebecca Rae-Evans (Tech for Good Live):

If you’ve ever listened to the Tech for Good Live podcast, or if you’ve ever come to one of our events, or heard one of the team speak at a conference, you’ll be pretty confident in knowing that this approach is music to our ears.

Tackling social issues generally - regardless of whether tech is in play - is extremely complex. So often you’ll be dealing with wicked problems and running into deep interconnected issues. I love that Zinc are almost physically holding back their cohort from thinking about the solution, but instead grounding them in a thorough understanding of the problem. But that itself wouldn’t be enough. As designers, or developers or researchers, it’s so tempting - particularly in the tech industry - to believe that we are experts in everything. We’re not. Partnering with experts in the social cause. Understanding what is already out there and what is already proving successful in this space is so important.

What Rachel said about the potential to inadvertently silo EdTech, HealthTech and WorkerTech and any other xTech is such an easy trap to fall into. To ignore the interconnections that exist, or not share and apply learnings from other fields, would be criminal.

In my first conversation about WorkerTech with Jessica from Bethnal Green Ventures, we spoke about that term - “WorkerTech” and how there is value in branding - if you will - this particular field. To give it a name that people recognise, to follow that xTech pattern that is so familiar. Helping people grasp it. Understand it. Enabling people to talk about this as a valid field of work and to begin to experiment. But, yep, we also need to be so mindful that we don’t shut ourselves off from others. That we don’t exist in a vacuum. Because that will significantly limit the reach and potential of WorkerTech. Fundamentally though, WorkerTech is grounded in the belief that we can use technology for good. And thankfully - the people we’ve spoken to in this area. Thinking particularly about Organise, Bethnal Green Ventures and Accenture, CabFair and Zinc… they totally get this. I think we’re going to be ok.

If I’m honest, I could talk about this topic forever. Three episodes feels too short to fully capture the excitement and potential of WorkerTech. I’d love to spend more time focusing on case studies. Speaking to beneficiaries of this technology. I have a list as long as my arm. Granted, I have pretty short arms. Not like a T-Rex, but, still short. Anyway, I have a list of things I’d wanted to cover if we do a follow-up to this.

But in just three episodes, I feel like I’ve learned so much. I think back to that first conversation with Jessica way back in episode one. The one where I was unsure of what WorkerTech is. I remember my personal worries about this being boring as hell. I could not have been more wrong. There is a real need right now for this field of work. For this type of tech intervention and support. To come back to that defining characteristic of WorkerTech - that these are products with the intention to have a positive impact on the lives of workers. Particularly those in low income, low-skilled jobs. If the people creating WorkerTech get this right. If they understand the problems, and the needs of the workers. If they understand the impact and effect of WorkerTech products will extend beyond just the workers. We’ll see real impact in some of the UK’s hardest hit communities too. That’s why it’s so important - like Rachel said - to have an understanding of those interconnected issues and environments.

I honestly can’t wait to hear more from Usman about Organise and to keep an eye out for their ongoing and future campaigns. Can Duncan and CabFair bring a workable and sustainable WorkerTech product into the Gig Economy? Will, in a year’s time, we be able to look back on the new changes and features that Uber are rolling out and think - ok… that has made a difference?

Technology moves so quickly. And more and more people are on a mission to give a voice to workers, and to reduce inequalities for those most at risk. I’m curious - and more than a little excited -  to see what WorkerTech solutions will emerge. To see how tech can create a fairer future of work. For everyone.

In terms of what’s next, and what you can do…

Bethnal Green Ventures are always on the lookout for talented teams using technology to tackle the most pressing social and environmental problems. Through their WorkerTech partnership with the Resolution Trust and Accenture they’re particularly interested in people who want to create a fairer future of work using technology. If you’re working on a tech product or service to create better work for all, then they would love to hear from you. Get in touch via  

This podcast has been brought to you in collaboration with Tech for Good Live and Bethnal Green Ventures. In particular we’d like to thank Jess, Milly and Dama from Bethnal Green Ventures for all their support.

This series would not have been possible without the contributions of Linda Wickstrom from Accenture, Usman Mohammed from Organise, Fabian Wallace-Stephens from the Royal Society of Arts, Dan Tomlinson from Resolution Trust, Guy Levin from Uber, Duncan McCann from the New Economic Foundation and Rachel Carey from Zinc.

Also thanks to who provide us with the studio space to be able to bring you content like this. And to our listeners. You existing and supporting us means a great deal.

This series was produced by Paul Jakubowski, narrated by Rebecca Rae-Evans and written by Jonny Rae-Evans from the Tech for Good Live team. If you want to hear more from us, please visit

Jonny Rae-Evans