Powering The Recovery: Towards a Global Digital Inclusion Community

11 Jan 2021 |Written by Adam Micklethwaite

On 30th September 2020 Good Things Foundation hosted a roundtable, supported by Google.org, with leading digital inclusion practitioners from Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

The digital divide, already a significant issue worldwide, has been thrown into even sharper relief by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the purpose of the roundtable was to share experiences of delivering digital inclusion at this critical time.

In particular, Covid-19 has created a core question for digital inclusion practitioners everywhere: in a world where the acceleration of digital and introduction of social restrictions has moved interactions online, how can we reach and support those who remain offline?

Addressing this question and sharing their experience of continuing to deliver and adapt during the pandemic, we heard from Jean Deydier, WeTechCare (France); Jutta Croll, Stiftung Digitale Chancen (Germany); Dita Přikrylová, Czechitas (Czech Republic); Cara Turner, Codex (South Africa); and Núria Ishii Balagueró, Colectic (Spain). A range of other practitioners also joined the session, from a range of other countries including Belgium and Kenya.

From there, we moved into an open discussion focusing on the common trends and themes in our experience, and how we see digital inclusion practice evolving into the future.

The strong conclusion from the session was that there is a strong commonality in the way Covid-19 has changed the context for digital inclusion, and in the issues each organisation is facing. These included:

  • The greater urgency of addressing digital inclusion following the pandemic - as Cara from Codex put it, the digital divide is not a line, but a chasm; and within this, that access to the internet (devices and connectivity) has been recognised as an acute issue in its own right.
  • The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on different groups and their increased need for digital skills - from vulnerable/isolated people in later life to disadvantaged women.
  • The need to pivot to new models of delivering digital skills that can be provided remotely, and through a blend of remote and face-to-face support, in line with social distancing.
  • The importance of engaging with the challenge of reaching people who are offline through remote channels, and once engaged, working with the constraints of technology and the ‘home environment’ on learning;
  • A global recognition that digital skills have become even more important, both for life and for work, and that there is a stronger acceptance of the need to upskill and reskill amongst populations.

We heard about a range of different ways in which organisations have adapted to the new conditions created by the pandemic, all displaying the invention, ingenuity and resilience that powers so much delivery across the NGO/community sector. These included:

  • Adopting new models of delivery for digital inclusion, sometimes through a tiered structure reflecting different combinations of remote and ‘onsite’ delivery, in line with social restrictions.
  • The creation of new content for learners, to help them learn effectively either independently or with remote support, and new training for the intermediaries delivering digital inclusion ‘on the ground’ to help them deliver using new models.
  • The procurement/donation and distribution of devices and connectivity to those in need, either as ‘gifts’ or as part of a loan-based model.
  • The collection of local data to help identify the need for digital inclusion and support.

At Good Things Foundation our aim is to continue to engage with the group, and where possible expand its coverage to other regions of the globe, to provide a forum for sharing, joint advocacy, and potential partnership. Alongside this, we will be establishing a repository of best practice into which digital inclusion organisations can link to the resources, reports and good practice they are continuing to develop, so these have wider access for all.

In the UK, Good Things Foundation will draw on this learning and good practice as we continue to develop our offer into the future, and we hope that other organisations will benefit in a similar way.

But most importantly, we want to establish a shared community amongst the organisations and people with a passion for helping everyone benefit from technology. Digital inclusion is a mission for the world, transcending borders, and we are strongest when we work together. Similarly, Covid-19 is a global challenge, and it is right that we connect, share and learn from each other, wherever we are.