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. Maithri Vangala gave us an update on her work with TechBridge in Atlanta, Georgia.
What is an important moment that will stay with you well past your Fellowship year?
I think there are a series of moments which will stay with me, some of the most precious being the one-on-one time I’ve been able to spend with the instructors (pictured above) at each of the organizations I worked with last year. Learning about what drives each instructor to wake up in the morning and patiently coach their clients toward a better quality of life has been invaluable. I feel incredibly lucky to be spending this kind of time with amazing individuals in my community.
Where do you want the digital inclusion conversation in Atlanta, GA to go in the next 5 years?
Slowly but surely, with the help of initiatives like ConnectHome and the work of Next Century Cities, Atlanta will head toward a collective impact model to not only bring all residents of our communities online, but also to help them thrive in their lives with multiple channels of connectivity.
What advice would you have for the next cohort of Fellows?
This Fellowship is an incredible opportunity to be a part of a burgeoning social justice movement. Whatever your professional goals may be, use this time to develop or build upon a skillset in the workplace that will position you as civically centered. Your community needs you.
When you think of what your community has accomplished this year, what are you most proud of?
We’ve come a long way since the Fellowship began—and this is in part because the Fellowship launched right as ConnectHome did. It’s exciting to hear city conversations morph. It is also exciting to be a part of the preparation while working with organizations who will be able to support the city initiatives.
What is something that you have struggled with and overcome/learned from?
It takes time for everyone in a community to get on the same page. There are a lot of shifting priorities and perspectives. While participating in a fellowship with a set amount of time tied to it, it is important to have patience. It took some time for me to understand this, but once I did, things became a lot easier and my work became more focused.
What were you surprised by in your digital inclusion work?
Early on, I would hear myself repeating over and over again how foundational an issue digital inclusion was to an individual or family’s quality of life. Even with the resources and development I had, it took some time to fully believe this—perhaps a testament to how new digital inclusion as a social justice movement is in some communities across the country.
In carrying out some of my work this past year, I have become an evangelist.
How have you grown this year?
I’ve garnered some skill in channeling focus on a few key goals, and have developed appreciation for and interest in civic technology and the power of collective impact. I am also taking my own advice around building my skillset to remain civically centered so I can continue to serve the public interest in my career.
How can you see yourself applying what you have learned to your future endeavors?
As a lifelong social justice advocate, spending a year focused on digital inclusion work will be invaluable to having a perspective that is relevant to the current and future needs of my community. I am now a digital inclusion advocate and evangelist. This perspective will be interlaced in all of my work going forward.
Maithri joined TechBridge’s staff as their Community Impact Manager.