January 18, 2018

A vision for digital inclusion in Atlanta

I have had the honor and pleasure of serving as a Digital Inclusion Fellow for two years. The Fellowship exposed me to concept of digital inclusion as a social issue in the 21st century. Since then, I can honestly say I caught the “bug” and have made the conscious decision to dedicate the rest of my career to this cause.

I am currently working with Impact Church and several additional churches in Southwest Atlanta and I’ve been inspired by the scripture passage, “Write the vision and make it plain.” As the end of my time with the Fellowship draws near, I have a vision for what the next evolution of digital inclusion work could look like in Atlanta. I want to make it easy for my communities to understand—and to eventually implement and create change.

The experts have focused on the three major components known as the three-legged stool of digital inclusion.  These are: affordable internet access in the home, a device on which to access the internet, and relevant digital literacy training on how to use both.

There are plenty of nonprofit and governmental organizations doing amazing digital inclusion work in Atlanta. The Urban League of Greater Atlanta has a magnificent computer literacy program. They have a computer lab available for its learners and provide exceptional basic, intermediate, and advanced computer instruction to the community.  The Atlanta-Fulton Library system provides computer literacy classes at its main branch, as well as targeted computer training at several of their branches. They also have a phenomenal online database, free of charge to its patrons, that provides instruction on everything from foreign languages to genealogy research to business marketing. The Technical College System of Georgia, who maintains the state’s standards for our GED programs, has recently adopted the Northstar Digital Literacy Assessment tool for its student. They understand the need for adult citizens to be computer literate in our society.

The needle is moving in Atlanta, with more and more institutions poised to adopt digital inclusion initiatives within their scope of work and services. As additional nonprofits and other organizations continue to engage, I see the need of an anchor institution that can help navigate the complexities of digital inclusion. This organization can bring focus to the unique needs of Atlanta and serve as a beacon for the issue of digital inclusion in underserved communities.

Here are a few characteristics of what a successful anchor institution could look like:

  • A networking collaborative to any and all organizations doing any kind of digital inclusion work, from teaching class to refurbishing computers. Organizations can showcase their great work, get and receive additional resources, and share best practices.
  • A clearinghouse of digital inclusion volunteers and/or program managers. Organizations can acquire trained and ready tutors, instructors, lab attendants, and other digital inclusion professionals to establish and enhance programming.
  • An advocate for digital inclusion initiatives or policy that may influence local and state government officials to prioritize closing the digital divide.
  • A local nonprofit computer refurbisher that can provide low-cost device options to underserved and low-income communities. It could evolved into serving as a training center for individuals looking to become computer hardware technicians.
  • An open digital empowerment space that can provide everything from a basic computer lab to a makers’ space for advanced coding and robotics.

There are many more features this organization could (and probably should) have. Its ultimate purpose is to serve the public and help make systematic change within vulnerable communities. The character “Vision” from the Marvel Universe was created with a combination of Iron Man’s Jarvis, Thor’s hammer Mjölnir, an upgraded synthetic body, and the “Mind Stone.” These elements came together and created an exceptional Being for the Powers of Good. I believe there are extraordinary elements of change that will come together and create a powerful institution for digital inclusion in Atlanta. I am looking forward to being there when the Thunder is laid.

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Aneta Lee
Aneta Thomas Lee is an altruistic forward-thinker with a passion for underserved neighborhoods. She has worked in nonprofit management—either by volunteer or active employment—for over 20 years. She enjoys serving others by giving them the education they need to empower themselves. Aneta served as a Digital Inclusion Fellow in the 2015-2016 and the 2016-2017 Cohorts and is excited for the opportunity to continue as an agent of change in her community.