2020 was a rough year. It flipped our reality on its head and forced us to completely reframe the most basic tasks, whether that meant purchasing groceries, doing homework, or seeing our friends. It also helped us reframe what it means to have access to the tools that allow us to fully engage with the world around us. While many in the digital inclusion sector have been pushing for digital equity for decades, there are others for whom the pandemic brought these issues to light.
Last year, as jobs, schools, government services, social gatherings, and everyday tasks moved online, there blossomed a growing recognition that digital access and skills are critical in our society and should be a universal human right. We saw more organizations and individuals becoming digital equity champions, affirming that we need government support in the sector. Some major victories were also won on both the local and federal levels in getting government recognition and support around digital access. Many organizations learned and reaffirmed that digital inclusion needs to be a part of all of our missions, no matter the day-to-day work we do.
I’ve always been incredibly impressed by everyone working in the digital inclusion space to address digital inequities, and this has never been truer than in the last year. I’m especially proud of our sixth cohort of Digital Inclusion Fellows. They jumped in head first to address significant digital inclusion challenges in a pandemic, figuring things out as they went, innovating, creating, and iterating to support their communities in the best way possible. And, I’m so thrilled to welcome our next group of fellows, who I know will continue the fantastic work of our previous cohorts while adding their own creative touch to address their communities’ unique goals and needs.
Our seventh cohort includes 16 Fellows from around the country: Alabama, California, Georgia, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, Texas, and Utah. They hail from a wide array of institutions, including a food bank, city government, a refugee resettlement agency, multiple libraries, an adult literacy organization, and an organization that works with formerly incarcerated individuals. Their backgrounds and experiences are equally diverse, from an Iraqi immigrant to a first-generation American, a student currently pursuing a degree in Logistics and Supply Chain Management, and a polyglot who speaks three languages. What unites this incredibly diverse group of individuals is a commitment to providing access and skills training so that communities can become empowered to navigate the digital world.
Over the next year, these fellows will be learning, sharing, designing, implementing, and challenging themselves to become digital inclusion experts who can and will transform their communities. I’ll support these emerging leaders in building robust digital literacy programming to help seniors learn how to use hot spots, parents of school-age children communicate with their children’s teachers, refugees pursue entrepreneurship, and formerly incarcerated individuals seek out job opportunities.
As we slowly ease out of the peak of the pandemic and folks talk about “returning to normal,” I want to make sure that we retain all of the lessons we’ve learned about the importance of digital inclusion and that we diligently continue to pursue digital equity for all. I am confident that our 2021 cohort of Digital Inclusion Fellows and their passion for creating a more equitable and digitally empowered world will lead us in this direction.
The fellowship is made possible by the generous support of our sponsors: Google Fiber, the Cleveland Foundation, and Digitunity. A special thank you goes out to our founding sponsor, Google Fiber. The Digital Inclusion Fellowship was conceived and launched in partnership with Google Fiber in 2015.