Powering up the recovery

Adam Micklethwaite blogs about the Power Up grantee partner's response to Covid-19 and what the future holds in store for the initiative.

When we launched Power Up in 2019 with the generous support of the J.P Morgan Chase Foundation, we aimed to break new ground.

Power Up is a social impact programme designed to embed digital into social interventions end-to-end, and across local support systems. Many programmes have delivered digital skills as part of social support, but typically as a bolt-on rather than woven into the fabric of delivery. We wanted Power Up to help organisations providing social support integrate digital at every stage of the beneficiary journey, so that people and businesses build the confidence and motivation to use technology in their everyday life and work; and to connect together organisations that provide social support, so that digital skills are accessible and available for those who need them.

Power Up’s core focus is on economic inclusion through social action: Powering Up People, Places and Provision. It recognises that digital skills are fundamental for economic participation and success in the modern world, whether managing money and maintaining your financial health, progressing in employment, or sustaining or growing a small business; and that those on low incomes, who are unemployed, and struggling businesses, are less likely to be online and making full use of technology.

Following the launch, 15 Power Up local partners were selected in England and Scotland through a process of application and assessment and began delivery in November 2019.

Since then, world events have taken a tragic turn. The toll of the Covid-19 pandemic so far has been horrendous; but it has highlighted the acute need for policies and programmes that do what Power Up aims to achieve.

  • Those hit hardest are the same people and businesses Power Up is designed to help. The inevitable deep recession and its impact on employment and financial health will raise the stakes again; and will further widen the digital/social divide.
  • Digital has instantly become a basic universal need, both in life and work. The need for digital skills for economic inclusion was already important: now it’s fundamental.
  • More people now say they want to improve their digital skills; this is particularly true of furloughed workers, but the importance of digital skills has been thrown into sharp relief for everyone.
  • Digital poverty and data poverty have been exposed as issues requiring urgent action.
  • The crisis has driven collaboration between organisations out of necessity, but in the process has prototyped new ways of working which are better and more sustainable.

As an approach designed to address economic inequality, Power Up is strongly placed to respond to these challenges, and the concept of ‘Powering Up’ goes to the heart of what will be required for economic and social recovery.

The programme’s focus on place is also highly relevant. The uneven geographical impact of the pandemic – driven by population, demography and deprivation – means that local organisations and people will need to collaborate to fill the gaps that national policies and solutions cannot reflect. Seen in this context, ‘Powering Up’ can be an effective mission for individual places to unite behind.

The 15 Power Up local partners have responded to the crisis with passion, ingenuity and resilience, and our learning report tells these stories. We have already found out a great deal about how access to digital skills can be maintained in communities, including during lockdown; and about the challenges that lie ahead, particularly the need to keep this access sustainable.

For the rest of the year, we will be working closely with our local partners, and with the J.P. Morgan Chase Foundation, to apply this learning and explore how the Power Up model can be taken further and deeper.