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Insights / January 10, 2023

Full Circle

Photo of Sharon with text: Full Circle.

By Sharon Kennedy Vickers

The opportunity: coming full circle

As Software for Good welcomes the new year with our new vision and values, I feel the humbling sense that I have come full circle.

When I went to college, I learned how to imagine what Black liberation would mean for the world, to dream of what we humanity could achieve in a world free from racism and misogyny. Pursuing that vision was the work I longed to do, as a scholar and teacher like my mentor. But as a young mother, I had to put my dreams of liberation on hold to support my baby — so I learned to build software. Back then I never imagined, as I coded websites by hand, that technology itself could be a force for liberation.

As I grew as a technologist — almost always in spaces where I was the only person like me (the only Black person, or the only woman, or the only Black woman) — I often felt as though I were getting farther and farther away from the work of liberation that my soul still longed to do. But whenever I despaired, my mentor would remind me that technology can make it possible for human beings to live more fully and freely — and sometimes does. So I started pursuing opportunities to use tech to power liberation in academia, in the public sector, and in community with like-minded technologists wherever I went.

Still, in every job I’ve had, there have always been obstacles to building the kind of technology I dream of. Over the years I gradually resigned myself to separating my life’s purpose, the pursuit of liberation for everyone, from the day-to-day work of managing teams and shipping code.

Then I joined Software for Good.


The challenge: deep questions

This summer and fall, when I gathered with Casey, Cassi and Kevin to plan our company’s future, I discovered a group of people who are as excited as I am about the power of technology to liberate human beings. Thinkers like Robin D.G. Kelley and bell hooks formed my political consciousness in college, and I found myself drawing deeply on that lineage as the four of us planned a strategy around liberation and love, centering people who have been historically excluded from full humanity. On Google Meet or around whiteboards at The Coven, I found this team welcomed my biggest hopes and most sacred dreams — not only for our company, but for humanity.

The vision we articulated for our shared work took my breath away:

At Software for Good, we envision a  world where all communities can use the power of data and technology to cultivate shared abundance and liberation. To bring this world into being, we build software with love.

This is a mission statement for a company that can and will build technology that liberates.

Photo of a whiteboard from a Software for Good strategic planning meeting on August 12, 2022. Among blue sticky notes, handwriting in marker says: JOY & LOVE in a heart; People First in a circle; Holistic Good, Anti-Oppression, and Liberation & Love (underlined). Photo: Ash Chudgar

When the leadership team  brought this vision to the whole SfG team, they responded with an outpouring of joyful enthusiasm, intellectual engagement, and a whole lot of very deep questions. How can we tell if the apps we build are actually making the people use them more free? How do we shift from a scarcity mindset to an abundance mindset? How can a software agency love our people as human beings in a labor market that’s built on exploitation? How should we balance the needs of our own team with the demands of our clients and our duties to our communities and the world? How can we allow time and space for  our own team to learn and grow in an agency that bills by the hour? How will we know if we’re building software with love, anyway?

Trying to answer deep questions like these together is the work before Software for Good in the years ahead. As CEO, it’s my job to bring our expansive shared vision back down into the day-to-day reality of software engineering. Creating the conditions for love, abundance and liberation to flourish in a software agency is an immense and continuing challenge — especially because my team is united in believing the challenge is worth taking on.

Fortunately, I know I can count on the strength of my team’s shared vision for technology that liberates — and on our curious willingness to try new things, experiment, and support each other as we learn. My father, a farmer, always told me that “scared money don’t make none,” and I know he was right. Cultivating shared abundance, like growing crops in rural Georgia, is an act of hope over fear. Here at Software for Good, shoulder to shoulder with my whole team, we’re already building software that liberates human beings to live more freely. We’re only just getting started.