Happy Birthday Good Things: Now we are ten!

Our Group Chief Executive Helen Milner reflects on our achievements as Good Things Foundation turns 10.

It’s hard to believe that today Good Things Foundation turns 10 years old. A decade ago, we spun out of our parent company, with one government contract and very little working capital of our own. Ten years later and we’ve held three different names, three offices and have now weathered a global pandemic. We’ve taken our ambitions worldwide setting up a subsidiary charity in Australia and an office in Sydney, and we have supported thousands of organisations in our community networks.

It makes me extremely proud (and a little bit tired) to think about it!

Our vision today – although worded differently – remains as it was when we began our journey: a world where everyone can benefit from digital. And having supported over 4 million people globally to use digital to improve their lives over the last decade, we are having an impact every day on achieving this vision. 

Every one of these 4 million people has a unique story, and a unique reason for using digital. 

There have been so many highlights over the past ten years so I wanted to mention just a few.

Raising the profile of the issue of digital exclusion has been central to everything we’ve done over the past decade. An outstanding moment being the backbench business debate last December in the House of Commons, focused on fixing the digital divide and amplifying our mission. 

Raising the profile of the digital divide with Government departments through key programmes that have helped us to demonstrate why digital inclusion is something that can’t be ignored. Through our Future Digital Inclusion programme, funded by the Department for Education, we supported 1.5 million people to improve their basic digital skills. With funding and support from NHS England and NHS Digital, the Widening Digital Participation programme supported over 400,000 people to improve their digital health skills, and then tested models of digital health inclusion that responded to local needs. And most recently, our support for the 2021 Census ensured that those without digital skills weren’t excluded from a digital first service. 

Building relationships with corporate partners who have really shared our values and wanted to help us make an impact has been fantastic. Too many to mention all of them. Lloyds Banking Group supported us in our first year and are still supporting us – evolving as we both develop our work. Others include BT, JP Morgan, Mastercard, Capita, Vodafone, Google. And one of our most recent corporate partners Virgin Media O2, who have helped us get our National Databank up and running.

Running the Get Online Week campaign which has reached hundreds of thousands of people and encouraged them to take their first steps into the digital world. The campaign has had such a major impact on so many people’s lives, and the Get Online Week model has been so successful we’ve been able to export it to Australia, and so the campaign is now global, and continues to engage people and partners in our mission.

Established Good Things Foundation on a global stage by launching Good Things Foundation Australia and opening an office in Sydney. After winning a contract from the Australian Government to run the Be Connected Network, we recruited Jess Wilson – now Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation Australia – who has been fantastic leading the team. Jess and the Australian team have grown our community network, won new contracts and extended our reach. This is something that we couldn’t even have dreamed about back in 2011, and seeing our Australian counterpart go from strength to strength has been one of my proudest achievements.

Becoming one of the first staff owned mutual charities. Being owned – and led – by our staff was crucial to our ethos, which was why we established ourselves as a staff owned mutual and social enterprise back in 2011. In 2016, when we were able to set ourselves up as a charity, but retain our mutual status, we were delighted to do so. 

Developed our new devices and data offer. Although the pandemic has thrown many challenges and difficulties in our way, it has also helped us to develop and clarify our offer to ensure we support people in digital poverty. In the early days of Covid, we began distributing devices to those who were isolated, which we are continuing to do (with the support of our brilliant partners). Mable’s story is a real illustration of how this provided a vital lifeline to people who had been cut off by the pandemic. Our device distribution work has also led us to investigate issues of data poverty, through our Data Poverty Lab which in turn has seen us launch our National Databank.

As a personal highlight, in 2015, I was delighted to be honoured with an OBE as part of the Queen’s Birthday Honour’s list, which was a real recognition of not just me personally, but the work of the whole Good Things team and our network. Working with our fantastic community partners has been a real high point, for myself and many of the team. Getting out to visit them and to meet the people they’ve supported has been the thing I’ve missed the most over the past two years.

Of course operating amidst a global pandemic has been challenging for us, and for the thousands of organisations we support. Digital exclusion has never been a more crucial issue, but we still need close the digital divide, once and for all. We’re always keen to talk to partners who want to have an impact in this space, so do get in touch at hello@goodthingsfoundation.org if you think we can work together. You can also donate to support us with our work – find out more here

Thanks to all the team members – past and present – who have made the last ten years so memorable. We really couldn’t have done it without you. I also want to thank our current and past board members, particularly our founding chair Lord Jim Knight, and our current chair Liz Williams MBE. Both have had a huge impact on guiding us and helping us to support so many people, and change their lives.  

And finally, a big thanks to all of the partners we’ve worked with over the past decade. Those who have funded us, those who have helped us to shout about digital inclusion, and in particular the amazing community partners who are on the frontline, supporting people every day to benefit from digital. You have all been such a crucial part of our journey. 

Here’s to the next ten years!

Helen Milner OBE

Group Chief Executive

Helen Milner OBE is the Group Chief Executive of Good Things Foundation. Founded as a staff-led mutual charity in the UK in 2011, Helen led the establishment of a subsidiary charity, opening an office in Sydney in August 2017, and running the Be Connected Network for the Australian Government.

Helen has over 30 years experience of working in and leading organisations creating and delivering education over and about the internet.