Changing futures - the Tinder Foundation AGM

12 Dec 2014 |Written by James Richardson

AGMs - from voluntary groups right up to multinationals - don’t tend to be the most entertaining way to spend your morning. Minutes have to be reviewed, accounts and reports presented and accepted, and board members re-elected. But somehow at Good Things Foundation’s AGM last week, we managed to enjoy ourselves. Partly because it was an opportunity for our staff-owned mutual to plan for the year ahead, and for everyone to have a say in how the business is run; partly because it always happens at the beginning of December, and it makes it feel like Christmas is coming. The sausage sandwiches helped, too.

Good Things Foundation has just turned three, so - with all the formal proceedings out of the way - two teams labelled themselves (literally) with our many achievements since 2011 and tried to form themselves into human timelines (neither managing to do it in quite the right order, but close enough). Despite the mild chaos and repeated shouts of ‘losers!’, we reminded ourselves that in three short years we’ve delivered successful projects for NHS England, DWP, DCLG and Comic Relief; broadened our activities into digital health, ESOL and social housing; and continued to transform Learn My Way to keep it the UK’s most accessible, flexible platform for learning online skills. Turning to the future, we broke into groups to come up with ideas for new directions and prototype projects like crowdfunded tablets for learners on low incomes, boosting political participation through digital democracy, and a new and better offer for rural UK online centres.

So, we managed to have fun, but with a very serious purpose behind it. Everything we hear at Good Things Foundation - from centres, learners, partners and national research - tells us that the landscape of digital and social exclusion is changing rapidly. Austerity has reduced the capacity of frontline community support services, even as demand for those services has increased dramatically. From the model of skills training and access in UK online centres and libraries, the conversation is shifting towards the urgent need for new solutions to help people living in poverty to get online at home, so that they can consolidate the online skills they’ve learned and have the information, services and money-saving power of the internet at their fingertips. Increasingly, volunteers need to be able to do more than support people with computers and the internet: those who are left offline are increasingly likely to have poor literacy and numeracy, English as a second language, physical and mental health problems, and financial circumstances that require them to find debt advice or - in the worst cases - food banks. Formal partnerships, referrals mechanisms and advocacy are required to ensure that UK online centres are plugged in to the network of local services for socially excluded people.

Digital inclusion remains at the core of Good Things Foundation’s work. But if we want it to happen, we need to understand and respond to the wider social circumstances that leave people digitally excluded in the first place. We can’t do this alone - and we know we’re very lucky to have such committed board members, who give so much of their time and experience to guide us, and a network that has the passion and commitment to change people’s lives on the ground.

I can’t wait to find out what we’re doing at the next AGM, but I hope more sausage sandwiches will be involved…