Ten Ways We Worked To Fix The Digital Divide In 2021
As the year draws to an end, our Group CEO Helen Milner provides you with her top ten moments of 2021 - befittingly, considering that Good Things celebrated our tenth birthday this month! And with us entering the next decade of work, she'll not only be reflecting on what’s past but what she hopes is in store for the future too.
1. We Turned Ten!
I can’t quite believe it. Ten years after setting up with just one government contract, we’re now a charity supporting thousands of community organisations both here in the UK and out in Australia. It makes me extremely proud (and a little bit tired) to think about it!
Our vision – though in different guises – has remained the same: a world where everyone can benefit from digital. To date, we’ve helped over 4 million people worldwide to cross the digital divide to improve their lives and I hope we can continue to have this impact and achieve our vision.
You can have a look at some of my other highlights in my birthday blog, here.
2. Beginning Our Work Helping To End Data Poverty
In 2021 we were delighted to start working with Nominet on a Data Poverty Lab to amplify, agitate and accelerate action towards ending data poverty. We’ve been working hard to discover what the challenges are and to discuss some of the solutions that are emerging. We’ve been listening hard to people with lived experience of data poverty, as well as politicians on the APPG for Data Poverty and meeting with industry leaders.
One solution that came from the discussions of the Data Poverty Lab and Chris Ashworth at Nominet was a national “databank”, and thanks to the support of Virgin Media O2 I’m thrilled to say that we have launched the UK National Databank as of earlier this year.
So, what exactly is it? Well it’s like a foodbank, but for mobile internet data. The UK National Databank brings free mobile internet data connectivity to people who can’t afford it and who are often experiencing multiple inequalities. We’ll be supporting thousands of vulnerable people in communities across the UK to get connected, and we are already talking to other mobile operators to contribute data into the databank too.
I’ll let the adorable robots tell you more…
3. Get Online Week 2021
This year we ran another successful Get Online Week campaign, with the core message that everyone can ‘Get Online. Get Connected.’ I am delighted to say that we were able to reach over 34,000 people in the UK this year, something that would not have been possible without the passion and creativity of all of our event holders and community partners. It was a campaign that also took place across Australia, and has happened yearly out there since 2018!
To hear more about the incredible impact of the UK campaign, take a look at the Get Online Week 2021 campaign report.
4. Winning Internet Hero Of The Year
In November in one of my few face-to-face outings this year, I went to the ISPA Awards in a posh hotel in London. I was shortlisted by ISPA as their Internet Hero of the Year, and I was surprised and delighted to win.
The prize was to recognise championing a digitally included nation at a time when it never mattered more. Chuffed for me, the team and the work of our wonderful network of community partners.
5. Working With Regional Leaders
It’s been excellent seeing regional leaders step up to tackle the digital divide on their own turf. This year, the Good Things Foundation partnered with Mayor Andy Street (West Midlands) and Mayor Andy Burnham (Greater Manchester) to ensure digital inclusion is core to their work. Our partnership together was discussed in our Roadmap for Combined Authorities, which also provides practical ideas for those in charge of developing digital inclusion strategies (regardless of authority type, may I add). As a firm believer in community power, I’m hoping that fellow leaders across the UK will follow suit in the new year.
6. Fixing The Digital Divide In Australia
One of the big moments in the past decade was establishing Good Things Foundation in Australia in 2017. Since then our team in Australia have mobilised a digital inclusion network of over 3000 hyperlocal community partners and reached over one million people.
Huge congratulations to Jess Wilson, our CEO in Australia, and her amazing team. They published a wonderful Annual Review, do take a look.
7. Collaborating For A Digital Lifeline
We know the pandemic wreaked havoc for millions of people around the world. And we know how communicating, working, and accessing services online was essential.
I was so proud of our work on Digital Lifeline – an emergency response project delivering devices, data and digital skills support to people with learning disabilities in the midst of the Covid-19 lockdowns. Especially as it took a multi-organisation effort to ensure the project was delivered effectively.
I want to share my thanks to our funding partners DCMS (the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport), and in particular our delivery partner AbilityNet. Also a huge thank you to Learning Disability England, the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group, self-advocates and other disability and digital inclusion organisations who contributed to the initiative. More than 5,500 adults with a learning disability received a new device, free data and received digital skills support from one of our local partners – bravo!
8. Talking About Fixing The Digital Divide
It’s been a great year for raising awareness about digital inclusion – with politicians and beyond. We published our Blueprint to fix the digital divide report and Digital Nation infographic, attending the Labour and Conservative Party Conferences this past autumn was truly invigorating and I felt encouraged to see so many friends and allies of Good Things in-person once again.
I’ve spoken at the APPGs (All Party Parliamentary Groups) for Digital Skills, Data Poverty, and PICTFOR (ICT and Parliament), with numerous MPs, and given lots of Zoom speeches. I’ve been on the radio and the TV talking about fixing the digital divide.
The issue has never been as well understood by the media, politicians, and the general public; but galvanising this into support for even more action is a priority for me in 2022. It’s the action that we need if we really are going to work together so that no-one is left behind.
9. A New Connect Up Community
Lockdown meant that many people experienced real social isolation for the first time, and struggled to make contact with friends and family through a lack of digital means or skills. Though we’re gradually progressing to a more open world, we need to ensure that everyone can benefit from digital connections. To make that a reality, I’m proud to say we’ve been working with the Scheinberg Relief Fund to create “Connect Up”.
Connect Up will reach 17,500 older people who have been digitally and socially excluded during the pandemic and equip them with the skills needed to make and maintain meaningful connections with others. What’s different about this project is that it will also create a new community of practice, pulling organisations together from across the nation to co-design and test new ways to support older people to learn new digital skills. I really welcome this kind of collaboration and innovation and feel excited to see what comes out of the Connect Up Community.
10. Partnerships To Celebrate
Finally, I’d like to champion all of the partnership working we’ve done over the past ten years – especially in 2021 – from our community of online centres through to our friends at the likes of Nominet, Virgin Media O2, Mencap, Vodafone, Google, JP Morgan Chase Foundation, Capita, Mastercard, Children in Need, DCMS, Which, Accenture, HMRC, Lloyds Banking Group, Department for Education, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Spor, Welsh Government, and BT. We couldn’t have gotten this far without your contribution and work towards achieving our mission.
Thank you, thank you, thank you! We literally couldn’t do it without you.
Here’s To Having Impact In 2022
So whilst it’s a time for reflection it’s also a time to look forward to the future.
With 10 million people in the UK without the very basic digital skills needed to take part in our digital society, and 1.5 million homes not able to afford internet access, our work is not done! There is still so much more to do.
2021 has brought me much pride but it’s also brought me sadness. Sadness when I hear of the tragic situations that people on the wrong side of the digital divide experience.
That’s why our three priorities for 2022 are:
- Support as many people as we can who are on the wrong side of the digital divide through working with our amazing network of community partners – the Online Centres Network – and growing this network so everyone has somewhere local where they can get help to use the internet;
- Grow the National Databank so that hundreds of thousands of people right across the UK can get access to the internet if they can’t afford it;
- Launch a National Device Bank of refurbished laptops, tablets and smartphones for those people who can’t afford a device can get online too.
Of course all of this is underpinned by the amazing UK national digital inclusion network – the Online Centres Network – and people learning in a supported way with our wonderful free online courses on Learn My Way.
If you want to help us to deliver our priorities, I would love to hear from you and collaborate on fixing the digital divide with you in 2022.
And with that, I wish you all the best this festive season and a very happy new year!
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.