In May 2015, NTEN and Google Fiber launched the Digital Inclusion Fellowship, a new national program investing in local communities and nonprofit organizations to address the digital divide. Sixteen Fellows comprised the first cohort, and they have shared their work with us. Aneta Lee gave us an update on her work with the Parks and Recreation Department in Atlanta, Georgia.
Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Atlanta, Georgia to go in the next 5 years?
I’d like to see the conversation on digital inclusion go several different ways yet converge on one goal: to bridge the digital divide in underserved areas.
The first direction is towards specific funding. Atlanta is home to many influential foundations. These foundations need to become aware of this important issue and be willing to fund innovative projects around closing the divide. There should also be a push within our governing bodies to establish a Digital Inclusion Fund, similar to the ones in Nashville and Charlotte which address the needs of communities in a holistic way.
The second direction is on relevance and training. As someone expressed at the 2016 Nonprofit Technology Conference, digital inclusion isn’t just about teaching the computer to children in school. To be digitally inclusive, people must be able to maximize their participation in the digital economy in a significant way. This cannot happen if we only focus on K-12 initiatives. Atlanta has to find ways to treat this issue as a community enterprise—a family enterprise.
Finally, the Metro Atlanta nonprofit community needs to present a stronger voice in this conversation. They need to realize that the ramifications of the digital divide are interwoven into all the major issues of our time: poverty, homelessness, hunger, education, jobs, civic engagement, healthcare. Implementing a digital inclusion program is not straying away from any nonprofit’s mission; it only enhances it.
What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?
The advice I have for the new cohorts is to always keep an open mind about this important cause, towards the community you are serving, and the Fellowship. Establish a good relationship with your Google Community Impact Manager early and often. Enjoy your fellow Fellows—learn from them, mine their brains for information and ideas, and keep the love flowing.
When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?
I am proud of the fact that despite some of the disparaging things said and assumed about my community, the people who we are trying to reach are not clueless to the issue of the “digital divide.” Although they may not express it in the terms we have created, they know technology is an integral part of their lives and their children’s lives. Even seniors who have historically shied away from learning the computer realize now technology is no longer “just an expensive toy those young people play with.”
What is something that you have struggled with and overcome or learned from?
I struggled with the intricacies of dealing with a city government, the lack of a stable initiative around digital inclusion in my community, and the complications inherent to a pilot program. What I’ve learned is that it is okay if what you envisioned for your project did not come to fruition as planned. Everyone is on a different spectrum concerning this cause. I’ve learned to be proud of the work I’ve done and have found comfort in knowing that the contribution I have made will eventually manifest to a fully realized vision.
How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?
This Fellowship has exposed me to so many aspects of the nonprofit technology world that I am not sure I have enough characters to express. The first, most important topic I have been exposed to is the issue of the “digital divide.” I believe no matter where my nonprofit career takes me I will always push for a digital inclusion initiative if the organization does not have one.