Tag: digital inclusion fellowship

Current and past Digital Inclusion Fellows from all five cohorts took part in the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Net Inclusion 2019 earlier this month.

Fellows joined digital inclusion community practitioners, advocates, academics, Internet service providers, and policymakers from around the world for the conference on April 1-3, in Charlotte, North Carolina. Several of the Fellows presented at the conference, as did NTEN’s Senior Program Manager Leana Mayzlina.

2016 and 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellow Munirih Jester of San Antonio received the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award. As the Digital Inclusion ConnectHome Coordinator for the San Antonio Housing Authority, Munirih has delivered digital literacy skills training to nearly 2,000 participants, awarded nearly 900 free computers, and helped to connect 1,069 homes to the internet.

The three-day conference was a valuable opportunity for Fellows to learn about digital inclusion best practices and to showcase their own digital inclusion work. We asked the 2019 Fellows for their top lessons learned as first-time Net Inclusion attendees, and to share what’s next for their Fellowship projects.

A’Sarah Green, East Cleveland Public Library, Cleveland, OH

A’Sarah spoke about part of her Digital Inclusion Fellowship project, the Technology Passport Earn a Device (EAD) Program. “Presenting my work was scary to me, as that was my first time presenting to a group that large,” says A’Sarah. “There’s an amazing amount of people out there with different organizations doing the same work on many different scales, sharing a breathtaking amount of knowledge and program ideas.”

Her perspective on digital inclusion has changed since she started her Fellowship. “I knew that my community was suffering. However, other communities are going through the same thing and there are more people out there like myself working to better the communities as a whole.”

A’Sarah’s next steps as a Fellow? “To continue spreading digital literacy the best way I can!” Her Technology Passport EAD Program will focus on supporting participants in completing digital literacy trainings in order to earn a laptop computer they can take home.

Krysti Nellermoe, International Rescue Committee, Salt Lake City, UT

Krysti presented about her organization’s work to integrate Digital Inclusion into existing programming to support newly arrived refugees. She was also a panelist on the session Developing and Managing Partnerships in Digital Inclusion, in which she outlined how IRC SLC balances working with tech companies and corporations for long-term mutual success in digital inclusion programming.

“I discussed how important it is to find corporate partners, specifically certified B Corps, with similar values and a desire to learn about the actual needs of the communities,” says Krysti. “I emphasized ongoing training on needs for corporate leads and volunteers during every interaction and that formalized MOUs and ongoing communication is integral to effective partnerships.”

While experiencing the conference and working on her initial Fellowship plans, Krysti says she’s “acutely aware of the need for policy-level changes to accompany ground-level work to turn the tide on digital equity. “Organizations will also need to look inward and outward in their digital inclusion efforts, not forgetting their own staff’s needs for digital education and access.”

In the coming month, her Fellowship project will focus on integrating digital inclusion into all existing IRC SLC resettlement services to help newly-arrived refugees access the digital tools they need to maintain safety and security, access higher level education and job opportunities, and start adding their voice through content creation and exploration in the digital age.

Samuel Maldonado, Orange County Literacy Council, Carrboro/Raleigh-Durham, NC

Samuel enjoyed the opportunity to share and talk with others from around the world and learn about their programs. “I realize that is not only one effort,” says Samuel. ”Instead it’s an alliance that could change lives.”

Attending Net Inclusion was a valuable experience for Samuel. “I never imagined I’d have the opportunity to be seated with CEOs of organizations, with leaders who runs huge programs, and with founders and sponsors in this field.”

As he begins his Fellowship work, Samuel’s goals are to continue to learn, connect with others in the field, and grow the impact in his community in North Carolina.

Shenee King, CHN Housing Partners, Cleveland, OH

Shenee was a panelist for a session on Social Justice and Digital Inclusion. She presented on special needs and technology and senior parents and guardians. “I learned that this is a topic a lot of people are interested in,” says Shenee. “There’s a shared experience with school staff trying to fight for access to technology for students who have special needs. There is a lot of data to support the work we are doing.”

As her Fellowship project progresses Shenee says she’s becoming more aware of the necessity of the digital inclusion work. “I am encouraged by the growth of the industry and the ability to grow in the field.”

Special thanks to our Cohort 5 sponsors—Google Fiber, The Cleveland Foundation, and the Meyer Memorial Trust—for their commitment to bridging digital divides and supporting the Digital Inclusion Fellowship.

Connecting Kansas City’s 311 Center and the local public library system. Expanding a peer training Digital Ambassadors program in San Antonio, Texas. Launching a Spanish-language Digital Skills 101 class in Jersey City, New Jersey.

These are just three outcomes from the 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellowships that wrapped up earlier this year. In the fourth Fellowship Cohort, 16 community and public service professionals from a range of organizations—from housing authorities and community development corporation to libraries and city governments across the U.S.—dedicated their work in 2018 to develop and implement a project plan to create new opportunities for digital literacy.

“The Fellows in this cohort were brilliantly creative. Their programs were innovative in both design and implementation. It’s been a joy to work with people who thoroughly understand the importance of digital literacy and are so deeply committed to the communities they serve, ”says NTEN Senior Education Manager Drew Pizzolato.

Here are highlights of several Fellows’ work to create diverse, community-based programs that help to bridge the digital divide. To learn more about each Fellow’s project, check out the Fact Sheets from the Fellowship’s Fourth Cohort.

Build a strong (and award-winning) peer training program

Fellow Munirih Jester of San Antonio, Texas launched the peer training program Digital Ambassadors to help provide residents of the San Antonio Housing Authority with digital literacy training, computers, and connection to the internet. The Digital Ambassadors are trained on onsite IT support, and conducting small group computer literacy classes on computer and internet basics, email, online safety, and more.

For her work, Munirih received the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award at the 2019 Net Inclusion conference earlier this month.

New digital literacy courses and partnerships

In addition to providing one-on-one tutoring and digital literacy support, Fellow Evert Keller of the Austin Public Library trained new digital literacy specialists and coordinated the launch of a new series of classes hosted in under-utilized computer lab space. Evert also developed strong working relationships with the other digital inclusion workers at the Austin Public Library and across departments of the City of Austin.

“A fire has been lit on the subject of digital inclusion here at Austin Public Library,” says Evert.

Breaking the cycle of poverty with tech courses

Lindsey Sipe with Project LIFT in Charlotte, North Carolina partnered with Digital Charlotte to developed a six-week technology course. Families who participated received 12 hours of digital literacy training on hardware, Microsoft OS, and Office Suite, and job application skills. Parents who completed the course received a free E2D laptop and a Mobile Citizen hotspot with unlimited connectivity. 95 people completed the course so far and the program is on target to graduate 240 more families by June 2019.

“This year has changed my life, my social awareness, and my passion for the underserved community of Charlotte,” says Lindsey.

Workforce development + partnerships = mobile job lab

Anthony Hale of the Huntsville-Madison County Public Library in Alabama developed a two-fold strategy to support area job seekers. First, he organized tools and templates he collected for patrons into a resource for a dedicated job lab supported by volunteers he recruited and trained. Second, with the help of a grant awarded from the local digital inclusion fund, he launched a mobile job lab that offers partners onsite training for their clients and communities.

The strategy was successful both to help job seekers find work and build new community partnerships for the library. Anthony says, “We have forged several great community partners over the year. The best have been with the local Google Fiber office, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Community Foundation of Huntsville. The success has been the result of the library becoming a viable partner in local workforce development projects.”

The fifth cohort of the Fellowship is now underway, and NTEN will feature blog posts and updates as the Fellows implement their projects. To learn more about the Digital Inclusion Fellowship or to connect with a Fellow, email dif@nten.org.

NTEN is pleased to announce the nine emerging leaders from North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Texas, and Utah selected as 2019 Digital Inclusion Fellows.

This fifth cohort of the Fellowship brings together these professionals from a wide range of service organizations, from a rural library to an organization aimed at empowering girls to use technology.

Launched in 2015 in partnership with Google Fiber, the Digital Inclusion Fellowship builds capacity and leadership in nonprofits to bridge the digital divides in their communities. In this year-long, project-based, professional development cohort, Fellows will develop and implement ambitious project plans in order to increase opportunities for adults in their communities to learn essential digital skills and will receive project grants of up to $1,000 to help launch their programs.

One of the Fellows selected for 2019 is Shenee King, Digital Inclusion Coordinator for CHN Housing Partners in Cleveland, OH. “Digital inclusion is important because technology is the foundation for economic mobility, staying connected to loved ones, and improving academic success for children,” said King. “Making sure that the most vulnerable populations in our communities are equipped, empowered, and educated to use technology to reach their goals is very important.”

Another 2019 Fellow is Samuel Maldonado of the Orange County Literacy Council in Carrboro, NC. “I am an example of what digital inclusion and the use of technologies for education can achieve,” said Maldonado. “I’m still learning and would like to express myself better in English, but it is not my first language and thanks to the access and use of technologies, I’m able to improve and learn every day.”

We are grateful to our Cohort 5 sponsors—Google Fiber, The Cleveland Foundation, and the Meyer Memorial Trust—for their commitment to bridging digital divides and supporting the Digital Inclusion Fellowship.

Heather Salters is an emerging leader in NTEN’s 2018 Digital Inclusion Fellowship. As a Continuing Education Services Coordinator for DeKalb County Public Library in metro Atlanta, Georgia, Heather is working in the Fellowship to increase and improve the library’s digital literacy programs. Here she shares her experience in implementing Technology Tutoring sessions, and the positive outcomes she’s seen thus far.

How does a cry for help result in hot dogs, high fives and hugs? The answer is not the punchline for a bad joke. For our staff at DeKalb County Public Library, it’s that each is an example of the excitement of patrons helped by the Library’s Technology Tutoring program.

Programs that help patrons learn and master basic technology is a staple for many public libraries. DeKalb County Public Library has offered formal group classes with patrons for several years. However, some staff don’t have the time, space, or staffing to conduct classes like this. Some library staff offer one-on-one Book-a-Librarian sessions, but they can be time-consuming and not always the most efficient way to help patrons.

How to structure digital inclusion programming

In retooling patron education programming at DeKalb, a team of librarians tried to find a better way to help patrons achieve their own learning goals around technology AND to help staff maximize their time and efforts. The team launched Technology Tutoring, a group Book-a-Librarian, similar to a learning lab, where patrons can meet their learning goals independently and receive help from library staff on their basic technology questions with hands-on assistance, recommended online learning sites, and confidence building.

The Library began scheduling Technology Tutoring sessions at six branches in late spring of 2018. Three branches host one session per month, and the other three host two monthly sessions. Sessions range from one to two hours where patrons may drop in for a minute or the entire session. Since starting, the Library has served more than 100 patrons at scheduled Technology Tutoring sessions. The wide range of patrons that attend want to know more about computers, tablets, smart phones, software, and other tech topics. Some know nothing about technology, whereas others know the basics but don’t have confidence or comfort in using it. Some have very specific questions, while others aren’t sure what they want to learn, and still others want to know it all.

The personal outcomes of DI work (hot dogs, high fives, and hugs included)

Here are three memorable stories from our tutoring sessions thus far with names changed to protect patron’s privacy:

Holly attended a Technology Tutoring session at one of our larger suburban branches in a more affluent part of the county, and she came with a list of questions. The first: how to copy and paste. To help her master this, we found a music video of her favorite song and taught her how to share it with her friends via email. After walking her through the process of selecting, copying and then pasting (even using keyboard shortcuts!) the link to the video, she practiced by sending Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to nearly every friend in her email address book. As she hummed along to the music without any help, she exclaimed, “HOT DOG! I think I got it!” We moved on to other skills, like resetting forgotten passwords, and with each skill learned, she’d excitedly share a “HOT DOG!”

Hank attended a session at a library branch located in a suburban part of the County, was reluctant about attending Technology Tutoring and technology in general, and didn’t have clear learning goals. After talking with him for a bit, I discovered his daughter gave him her old computer, and he had no idea what to do with it. I explained how I used computers every day, that computers were helpful, fun, and mostly not breakable, and that the best way to learn was to jump right in and explore. With a nervous smile, he squared himself with the computer in front of him and said, “Bring it!” We started with a quick overview of the parts of the computer and what each did, and then moved on to Mousercise to help him become more comfortable with using the mouse. At the end of the session, I shared a few websites for learning more about computers, and Hank said he would finally turn on the computer his daughter had given him to keep practicing. As he left the computer lab, he confidently turned, raised his hand, and offered a high five with thanks for getting him started.

Hazel is a “regular” at the tutoring sessions at one of our medium-sized, more urban branches. She frequently attends, as do a core group of others, which is unique to this branch. She usually has a few specific questions, but often just comes for the affirmation that she knows the answer and the camaraderie of the core group. Hazel appears to be the center of the group and has begun tentatively helping the others by sharing what she has learned in previous tutoring sessions. With the holidays and a brief break from scheduled programs at the branch coming up, Hazel brought everyone in for a hug, which showed the gratitude and bonds that have developed within the group.

Holly, Hank, and Hazel’s desire to learn and their appreciation of staff helping them to learn and grow has been the best part of this program. Sure, Technology Tutoring helps our library maximize the efforts and time of staff, but to see patrons master a task, become more confident users of technology, and to share the excitement of this is truly amazing. It definitely serves as my motivation to continue with the program and digital literacy instruction.

Each year, more services move online, whether it’s voter registration, job applications, homework, or critical social services. For many individuals, this means it’s faster and easier than ever to get information, connect with friends, and access services that support their wellbeing. However, this increasingly connected world is leaving millions of Americans behind. With 35% of US adults not using home broadband, many of the most marginalized communities are increasingly being left behind by lack of connectivity and the skills needed to navigate online.

We have a shared responsibility to ensure that everyone can fully participate in the digital world to meet their personal goals. NTEN believes that every organization needs to recognize the role of digital equity in meeting our missions and is proud to commit to that work with our Digital Inclusion Fellowship (DIF) program. We invite you to support our Fellowship if you share a similar commitment.

About the Fellowship

Launched in 2015 in partnership with Google Fiber, the Digital Inclusion Fellowship builds capacity and leadership in nonprofits to bridge the digital divides in their communities. Selected nonprofit staff join a year-long, project-based, professional development cohort. Fellows will develop and implement ambitious project plans in order to increase opportunities for adults in their communities to learn essential digital skills, and will receive project grants of up to $1000 to help launch their programs. Previous Fellows have implemented numerous impressive and groundbreaking projects. Emma Hernandez, a Fellow in San Antonio, launched a hotspot lending program that allows library patrons to bring their connectivity home. She also developed a volunteer program that supported 200 library patrons in connecting with workforce resources. Felicia Tillman, a Fellow from Atlanta, formed partnerships to bring digital literacy training to uniquely sweet spaces. Read more about past Fellows’ projects (and get inspired to start your own!) in our Digital Inclusion Toolkit, program Fact Sheets, and blog.


We are no longer seeking applications for the fifth cohort. However, if you’re interested in supporting our Digital Inclusion Fellowship as a sponsor, host or Fellow, we would love to hear from you. Email dif@nten.org

We are deeply grateful to Google Fiber and The Cleveland Foundation, our Cohort 5 sponsors, for their commitment to bridging digital divides and supporting the Digital Inclusion Fellowship.

With more than 30 million Americans shut out from the internet access and skills we take for granted, it’s often hard to fathom the scope of digital inclusion challenges.

For one NTEN Digital Inclusion Fellow, the change is positive, long-lasting, and intensely personal.

Evert Keller from the Austin Public Library was recently approached by two elderly sisters who needed basic computer skills training to help them crack a very old mystery.

Their challenge was to track down a long-lost and beloved cousin, he said, for whom they had been searching for a very long time.

“They had shared many great memories as children, but lost contact in their 20s,” he said.

Through the library’s basic computer skills training and his support, the sisters were able to track down and find a working phone number for their lost cousin and get back in touch.

Evert says making a difference in people’s lives is the best part of his career in digital inclusion.

“I like to think if everything in the world was right, none of us would ever have to feel closed off from the resources we need to realize our goals. Through work, such as helping reunite these women, I am able to advance what I believe in every day.”

Evert is part of NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellowship cohort for 2018 and is part of the Austin Public Library team that offers walk-in support for people learning word processing and bookkeeping programs, as well as basic computer skills and jobseeker training.

The Digital Inclusion Fellowship is currently looking for supporters, and there are many ways to get involved. Find out more about the fellowship and the ways you can support digital inclusion.


At many nonprofits, it often falls on the few tech savvy staff (who are likely spread thin already) to plan and implement tech trainings. Even after providing coffee, lunch, or baked goods, it can be difficult to engage adults and train them on technology in the limited amount of time available. On the other side of the experience, tech trainings can often feel confusing and irrelevant to participants, or perhaps they’ve had an impatient or condescending experience in the past. It’s no wonder many people dread seeing tech trainings on the calendar.

While working as an NTEN Digital Inclusion Fellow and later as a program manager at an adult education nonprofit, I trained dozens of staff and volunteers and hundreds of students on how to access various technologies. Over the course of those trainings, by using the same adult learning principles I was using in the classroom, I learned a few key lessons about how to (and how not to) train adults.

Adult learners draw on past experience

The organization I worked with in my fellowship and as a program manager made much progress integrating technology very quickly. In two years, we grew from barely using an outdated computer lab to equipping every classroom with projectors and laptops carts as well as integrating digital learning tools into the curriculum. We accomplished this through many professional development opportunities, in-house trainings, and hands-on classroom support.

When it came to training our teachers, drawing from their previous knowledge was vital as a starting point to learning anything new. Whether I was training teachers on how to effectively use the projector to incorporate digital supplements in their class or teaching them how to recreate their curriculum digitally in Google Classroom, I always started with a KWL.

KWL is a warm up/wrap up activity where you begin the session by asking “What do you already know about [topic]?” followed by “What do you want to know about [topic]?” You end the session by asking “What did you learn about [topic]?” This exercise allows learners to draw on their previous knowledge and consider how they can connect it to the new content. And as a trainer, it helps you understand where your learners are starting so you can effectively deliver the content and check for comprehension.

Adult learners are goal-oriented

Adults are often primarily focused on how what they are learning will help them reach their goals. I saw a great model of this principle at NTEN’s Nonprofit Technology Conference: If you go into a session and it is not what you thought it would be, you can leave and find something else, no hard feelings.

Unfortunately, I initially failed at using this principle when we started using an adult learning software called Aztec. The software is designed to be used outside of class so I was tasked with orienting every student on the software and equipping them to use it independently.
I went to all the classes and showed students the website on the projector, reviewing basic digital literacy concepts and independent study skills. I gave everyone a handout with their username and password and said, “Okay, starting next week every student needs to get on for two hours every week.” A week later, less than 10% of the students had even logged in. No one hit the two hour goal; in fact, few students lasted more than five minutes!

I realized I had missed the most crucial part—showing the students why they would want to use this software. I assumed they would use it because it was part of our curriculum, but I overlooked a key barrier: they are adults with families and jobs and little free time.

I revised the orientation to mirror what the students would be doing independently. I brought them out of the classroom, took them to the lab, and had them work on the things they were doing in class using the online software. Once students saw the software was aligned with what they were learning in class, online hours increased dramatically. Our data showed students who logged in regularly began to show better performance in class and during assessments.

Adult learners value relevance

For the sake of time, we often try to kill two birds with one stone and have everyone attend the same training. However, in a similar vein as being goal-oriented, if learners don’t believe the information they’re hearing is relevant to them, they get distracted: They check their email, text their spouse, or tweet about the pointless training they have to attend. I find that it’s better to break up long sessions or alter your agenda so people can leave early after the content relevant to them has been covered.

We used this strategy when transitioning from a paper testing system to a digital version. Teachers and staff members both needed to be trained, but in different ways. Everyone attended the first part of the training which covered information everyone needed. Then teachers who wouldn’t be using the system extensively were free to leave. The second half of the training, concentrated on in-depth content for staff members who would need to maintain and troubleshoot the software.

Bonus tip: Keep your training focused on the topic at hand. We typically kept some extra space on a whiteboard for a “weeds” list. Any question or concern that took us “in the weeds” was put on the list and discussed in a follow-up email.

Adult learners learn by practicing and doing

One of the biggest mistakes I see in technical trainings is not providing some sort of practice. Adults learn by doing, and it’s ideal if you can provide real content to practice with. I’m sure many of you have tried showing someone how to do something, but when the time comes to use the information (a week or a month later) it has to be retaught. A good rule of thumb is to spend twice as much time practicing a concept as you did teaching it.

I put this into practice when training staff on a new online testing system. We started by looking at an example test session, but the majority of the training was spent creating real test sessions and adding the students who would be tested. It can be disengaging to input fake data or work with pretend scenarios in technical trainings.

Having people work with real content means trainees focus on the task rather than half-heartedly practicing with fake content. It also avoids wasting time creating fake data and pretend scenarios. Whenever possible, use real-life examples and content.

Adult learners are self-directed

Adult learners want to be involved in their learning plan. Be sure to include your learners in the planning process. This can be as simple as sending everyone the agenda ahead of time and asking for feedback. You can also ask participants how much time they’d like to spend covering each topic. The KWL method can be useful here, too.

I put this strategy into practice when I had to fit fifteen weeks of material into eight for a summer MS Office class. I had an idea of which topics would need to be cut, but I wanted to include the students in the decision. On the first day of class we looked at the different topics together and discussed each student’s priorities. I adjusted our course outline to reflect the topics they wanted to spend the most time on.

This meant we never got to using formulas in Excel but the students were able to create full PowerPoint presentations with pictures, themes, and transitions by the end of the course. They were much more satisfied gaining deeper knowledge in one area than shallow understanding over many.

Using these principles and tactics, you can stop dreading tech trainings and make your next training more engaging and effective, setting your adult learners on the path to success.

Last year, NTEN launched the third cohort of our Digital Inclusion Fellowship. While the program model was the same we’d used previously, this cohort came with an exciting difference: the majority of the host organizations were churches serving African American communities.

While we hadn’t worked directly with churches previously, African American churches made sense as a program partner for a multitude of reasons. For one, African Americans consistently have the lowest rates of internet use among surveyed groups in the US. When it comes to having access to high-speed internet, only 57 percent of African Americans have a broadband connection at home compared with 72 percent of white Americans. As the community centers and resource bases for one of the most digitally marginalized communities in the US, churches are uniquely positioned to provide digital literacy training and resources to their constituents.

During the Fellowship year, our third cohort achieved some outstanding feats. They trained nearly 2,000 individuals and provided almost 9,000 training hours to communities in need of digital skills. They offered classes in languages including English, Spanish, and Arabic, on topics ranging from computer basics to creating online greeting cards and building resumes.

Fellows worked primarily with churches, but also partnered with community centers, housing authorities, and public schools. They collaborated with local ministries already working with underserved communities, and helped identify and meet the needs of the individuals they were serving.

One of our Digital Inclusion Fellows worked with the Housing Authority in Austin, Texas, while the remainder of the Fellows were hosted by churches, and worked with a pre-determined cluster of partner churches in the Bay Area and Atlanta.

Here are a few of the lessons that were learned and reaffirmed by the NTEN team, our Fellows, and partners.

Get buy-in

How do you make sure that the folks doing this work will follow through on their commitments? What gives you confidence that the work will be sustainable? Having clear buy-in from your organization and its partners is a critical piece of the puzzle.

Talking about buy-in and commitment is easy enough, but making sure that it gets put into practice is more challenging. One way to address this is to have conversations with a wide variety of staff before launching the program, from the coordinators and trainers themselves to the leadership of the organization. Those conversations should actively involve them in the planning, so that they feel personally invested in the outcome.Digital inclusion quote: Your community will remember the commitments you’ve made and will hold you to them, for better or worse!

Setting clear goals from the beginning and ensuring alignment will also help everyone row in the same direction once implementations starts. Communicating those goals clearly and transparently both within your organization and to partners will help everyone keep their commitments, as well as giving an easy out to those who realize it’s not a good fit (it’s better to realize this in the planning stage than during implementation).

Lastly, communicating what your plans are to the community keeps you and your partners accountable. Your community will remember the commitments you’ve made and will hold you to them, for better or worse!

Find creative solutions

In drafting project plans, we supported the Fellows in aiming high and dreaming big. We set goals for everything from how many individuals they’d train to how many lab hours they’d provide. Several months into the program, challenges started to bubble up. How do you provide lab hours in a church that doesn’t have a computer lab? How do you provide trainings to individuals on weekends when the facilities are closed?

Despite starting out with limited resources, learning how to stretch our available resources opened my creativity in regards to creating classes, finding affordable resources and establishing connections with existing organizations. — Jessica

This is an area where the Fellows again proved themselves to be dedicated, committed, and creative. When there wasn’t an obvious and simple path forward, they came up with innovative ideas. In places with no computers, Fellows would set up an ad hoc mobile lab, bringing laptops to the training site. Others developed BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) classes to help students learn to navigate their phones or other devices. Where facilities were closed during peak class hours, Fellows partnered with libraries, schools, and community centers to offer classes. Others met learners where they were instead of asking them to come to a central location.

While the solutions were diverse, what stayed consistent across the cohort was the commitment to innovate and find solutions.

Collaboration is key

Collaboration is critical not just for finding creative solutions, but also for extending the effects of your work. When community needs are great and there are not nearly enough services, it’s important that local organizations don’t waste time and energy reinventing the wheel. Share your time, knowledge, and resources with local partners to make a bigger impact.

I have learned how to be very creative and adaptable when obstacles arise when trying to implement programming. I learned how to build relationships to make things happen for all parties. At one point, I was able to collaborate with one organization to provide laptops for another organization’s computer classes. — Aneta

Our Fellows made this look easy even when there were hurdles in the way. One of our Atlanta Fellows provided training at a veterans’ organization, while another partnered with the Urban League and a Senior Center. The partnerships varied in scope and approach. While some Fellows trained trainers at other organizations, other Fellows shared curricula, or applied for joint funding. Not only did this expand the reach of the programs, but it also helped bring in new communities, from immigrants to veterans and seniors.

Define roles and responsibilities

But let’s be honest: collaboration and partnership is not always the panacea we make it out to be. It’s all too easy to keep racking up the partners until suddenly you realize that there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Instead of that collaboration being the steam engine that pushes your program forward, progress can be derailed.

An important lesson around partnerships is to be clear and upfront about roles, responsibilities, and goals. Not only does that help set expectations from the beginning, but it also gives you the opportunity to step away from the partnership if there’s no clear role for the partner or goals they align with. Through the challenges of working with a multitude of partners, we stepped away with a great lesson in how to determine which partnerships work and how to make them successful.


Read the full report from Cohort 3 here. With all of the learnings from Cohort 3, as well as our previous Cohorts, we made modifications and updates to the program and launched a fourth Cohort with a slightly different program model. You can read about the updates here and connect with our Fellows in the Digital Inclusion community group.

It’s National Digital Inclusion Week and NTEN is proud to participate!

First, I want to be clear that digital equity impacts all of us—yes, even if you have a smartphone and a computer. Roughly 60 million Americans are currently unable to access services, communicate with friends and family, connect to educational opportunities and resources, or participate in civic life the way many of us can every day. This means that as individuals, we do not benefit from ideas and voices calling for changes in our communities, creating the tools and services that we use, or even contributing to the content and information we rely on. As organizations, we benefit by having all members of the communities we serve able to access our websites and receive our communications, sign up for programs or services, and be an active part of advocating for our mission.

Nonprofit organizations are uniquely positioned to make significant impact toward digital equity. You are already a trusted community contributor, many times a true anchor despite changes in the region or country. You are trusted. You literally speak the same language as those you serve. And you, more than other organizations that aren’t based in your area or don’t provide your type of services, know your community’s needs and experiences. You have an incredibly important opportunity to add digital literacy training into the programs and services you already provide—people that need support to learn how to use technology and the internet are able to access that training without finding a new organization to talk to, figuring out a different transportation path to get there, or knowing that it was a topic that could actually benefit them.

This week, we are sharing data and resources to help you and your organization make the case for adding digital equity into the work you do and recognize that it helps you serve your mission. We will share posts on Facebook and Twitter and ask that you help share them!

Today we launch the 2018 Digital Adoption Report.  The report, sponsored by Mobile Citizen, seeks to understand how organizations are making decisions and addressing the challenges of internet access and use by both staff and the communities they serve. “Mobile Citizen was excited to partner with NTEN on this important research. It’s evident some gaps around digital adoption have started to close, while news gaps have been identified. With the information from this study, we can all better assess ways to address digital inclusion issues and therefore reach the most people in need,” says Cassie Bair, Mobile Citizen Chief Business Development Executive.

Please join us in raising up stories and voices from your work this week; there are many organizations participating this week both online and offline. Learn more about Digital Inclusion Week and get involved!

P.S. Fun fact: Digital Inclusion Week was started by one of NTEN’s Digital Inclusion Fellows! The Fellows do incredible work across the US. Learn more about the program and how you can participate.

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.