City Conversation: Gigabytes & Giving Back

(6.30pm, Monday 13 October 2014, City Recital Hall)

Thank you, Sam [McLean], and welcome everyone to Gigabytes and Giving Back, Using Technology for Social Good.

I'd like to welcome tonight's keynote speaker, Jacquelline Fuller, Director of Google.org, and the members of this evening's panel:

  • Graeme Wood, AM, Philanthropist and founder of Wotif.com
  • Karen Skinner, National Director, change.org
  • David Scribner, Chief Executive, Virgin Mobile Australia
  • Dr Karen Nelson-Field, University of South Australia; and
  • Jamie Moore, General Manager, Hello Sunday Morning

And finally a warm welcome to Professor Emeritus Ron McCallum, who will be speaking to us at the end of the panel discussion about his experience with the extraordinary potential for technology to improve lives.

Like most global cities, issues including a rapidly growing population, pressure on infrastructure and services, and the gap between our very rich and very poor, are presenting challenges to Sydney's health and well-being.

Social sustainability is a pillar of Sustainable Sydney 2030 and tonight we focus on the important role that technology can play in building fairer, more resilient communities.

At a packed City talk in July, renowned economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz spoke about the global spiral towards greater inequality, and its high social and economic price.

At that event I posed the challenge: what kind of community do we want to be in the future, and how we will get there?

It is easy to be pessimistic about the future, but I have hope and a strong belief that we can meet the challenges we face.

The rise of inequality comes at the same time as unprecedented technological change, and this change is creating huge opportunities.

If we want Sydney to be a more equitable and inclusive city, we'll have to grab these opportunities.

The City of Sydney has taken confident steps in using technology to improve our environmental performance.

We've embraced clean energy by installing one of Australia's largest building-mounted solar systems. Our fleet of electric and hybrid vehicles is cutting carbon.

We've retrofitted our buildings with technology to reduce energy and water use, and we're replacing Sydney's park and street lights with LEDs - the first Council in Australia to do so.

We've been stymied in our attempts to establish low-carbon trigeneration precincts in Sydney, as is occurring throughout the world, because Federal and State government regulations have not been updated to allow energy to be transferred to adjoining buildings.

Instead, we are facilitating the private sector, such as the Frasers Property and Sekisui House trigen plant at Central Park that will supply low-carbon thermal energy to around 4,000 residents and 65,000 square metres of retail and commercial space in 14 buildings.

And we are focussing on our own properties, starting at Town Hall where trigen can improve energy efficiency by up to 20 per cent, compared with energy from the coal-fired grid.

Most importantly, we have become accurately aware of the powerful role technology will play in helping us tackle climate change.

Many governments, including the City, are still grappling with how we can make the best use of technology to boost our community's social sustainability.

One of the most immediate things we are doing is fostering great local talent by turning some of our properties into affordable work spaces, and supporting events that bring the City's creative and tech entrepreneurs together.

StartupAus estimates that tech startups could contribute $109 billion to our GDP and half a million jobs by the year 2033. Innovators and start-ups in Sydney are already creating new ways to do good, and we want to empower them to do more.

One of the recent recipients of City support is Good 360, a tech start-up involved in product philanthropy. With a City grant and in collaboration with the Better Buildings Partnership they are able to facilitate the recycling of surplus office furniture, appliances and fit-outs.

Atlassian - a Sydney success story that started with two graduates and a big idea - allocates one per cent of all staff working hours, revenue and equity to charitable causes. The Atlassian Foundation has so far donated more than $4 million to worthwhile causes, and given hundreds of staff hours to organisations that need a little help to make a change.

Tonight we're going to hear some about some other inspiring examples of people harnessing technology to build a better community.

In July Google.org launched the Australian chapter of their global Impact Challenge, a program to support non-profit organisations to reach their goals. Earlier this month a short-list of finalists were selected, and you can now vote for the idea you think has the most merit.

The popularity and success of this kind of collaborative and innovative approach to making our community a better place is just one of the reasons we should be hopeful about the future.

Creating strong and healthy communities is a shared responsibility - government plays a role, business does too, and so do we as individuals. We want to collaborate with other levels of government and the private and not-for-profit sector to builder a stronger, more inclusive community for all.

I'm very much looking forward to hearing from our speakers. I hope the discussion sparks an idea for you and motivates you to contribute to making our city a better place.

Thank you and enjoy tonight's discussion.