It’s nothing new to see corporate donations that complement the company’s core business and reflect its worldview. A set of grants last month from cloud communications firm Twilio certainly fits the bill. Totaling $1 million, the grants represent part of the company’s 2015 pledge to commit 1 percent of its equity to social impact programs. At some point during this calendar year, Twilio plans to give out another $1 million in grants.
Established in 2007, Twilio sells a cloud communications platform, essentially taking care of underlying infrastructure like servers and databases. Through Twilio's API (app programming interface), clients can then construct their own bespoke communications systems. In 2013, the company launched a social impact arm, twilio.org, catering to nonprofit B corp and social enterprise clients. These eight initial grants were awarded through the newly created Twilio.org Impact Fund.
Twilio's commitments here underscore the growing embrace of philanthropy among newer tech companies. As we've reported, a great many such firms have joined the Pledge 1% campaign, which Salesforce developed to spread its 1+1+1 model.
Twilio's recent grantees represent an array of constituencies and causes. Linking the projects together, unsurprisingly, is digital communications, as well as several plans to utilize Twilio’s service. Like a lot of corporate funders these days, Twilio is clearly keen to align its philanthropy with its core competencies—a strategy that has the added benefit of promoting its brand and products.
Twilio's niche is increasingly critical to nonprofits. As we’ve reported, communications can be the make-or-break factor for social service and aid campaigns. When information flows poorly, as is often the case in poverty-stricken or underprivileged communities, aid can be stalled. NetHope, an initiative to enhance connectivity amidst humanitarian crises, has gotten support from a range of tech titans like Google.org, Paul Allen, Gates and Intel. Cisco has also been a big player in global aid through tech. During the ongoing global refugee crisis, various tech and communications companies have stepped forward to address the connectivity needs of displaced people.
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Many of Twilio’s grants benefit causes closer to home. Recipients like CareMessage and Mission Asset Fund serve underprivileged communities in the U.S., in part by engaging people via SMS and other mobile technologies. Trek Medics, an emergency care provider, is improving its dispatch system. And initiatives like Lesbians Who Tech and #YesWeCode present underrepresented communities with paths to potential tech employment. Another grantee, Fast Forward, serves tech entrepreneurs tackling social issues.
One interesting component of Twilio’s grants is a focus on civic engagement. A grant to the OpenGov Foundation supports open-source tools in the hope of decreasing the distance between elected officials and their constituents. Another grant to Democracy Works backs voter engagement by digital means (i.e. through messaging to remind voters when the polls open).
In a lot of ways, these kinds of grants come down to narrowing the digital divide, both in the United States and overseas. That’s a cause with significant traction among tech companies, carrying with it the bonus of potential new business along with their social investments.