Right now, we have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild and reimagine America’s infrastructure systems. Following a decade of underfunding and maintenance backlogs, last year’s historic bipartisan commitment of more than $1 trillion in federal funds toward infrastructure improvements provides an extraordinary moment to modernize the systems that connect and sustain us all.

As we collectively consider how to take advantage of this window of opportunity, we need to start by redefining what infrastructure actually means. For years, the physical, digital, and social dimensions of infrastructure have been treated as separate issues—often siloed and considered in a vacuum. But in truth, then and now, the infrastructure reinforcing society is multidimensional. Each realm is heavily connected and interdependent. If we are to properly build infrastructure designed to withstand the challenges of the 21st century and beyond, we need an equally multidimensional framework for designing, funding, and governing it.

This framework absolutely must harness the ever-growing power of technology to best advance the social good. From building databases that better facilitate ethical information sharing ​​across vital entities like hospitals and schools, to ensuring equitable access to vital services, like translating websites that offer access to benefits such as the Child Tax Credit in multiple languages – public interest technology (PIT) is a critical component of our infrastructure.

Today, there are an ever increasing number of real world dependencies that are evolving how critical technology is becoming as a piece of infrastructure. And if we just think of technology as digital, while ignoring its social and physical dimensions, we won’t be as equipped to steward it toward the ethical, equitable, and prosperous outcomes we want to see for all of society.

If philanthropy is society’s risk capital, funders and philanthropists have a crucial role to play by:

  1. Demonstrating what’s possible and fueling an innovation ecosystem that designs and builds technology with the public interest at its center.
  2. Infusing nuance into the conversation. Technology is not a monolith, but rather has contributed both positive and negative impacts on our society.
  3. Investing in the next generation of public interest technologists. There are entire networks of higher-education institutions and nonprofits committed to advancing and expanding the field of public interest technology with the goal of building a more equitable future.

Read the full article about technology advancing social good by Katy Knight and Laura Maher at Stanford Social Innovation Review.