Jun
21
2019

Closing the Gap on Digital Equity

This is the first post in a series about organizations, groups, and initiatives that are using .US as a home for their transformative work.

 

At digitalequity.us you will find the online home for the National Collaborative for Digital Equity (NCDE), a non-profit that aims to support sustained efforts to eliminate the digital divide as a barrier to economic and educational opportunity. By definition, digital equity refers to a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy and economy. Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.

 

Building the field of Digital Equity Investment for Economic Opportunity

There is a lot of work being done by a wide variety of actors across the US to close the digital divide. Exciting opportunities for this movement have grown out of recent developments around the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA), a federal law that encourages federally insured banks to help meet the credit needs of the communities where they do business, including low- and moderate-income (LMI) neighborhoods,

 

NCDE is among those at the forefront of this growing national movement around building and strengthening the field of digital equity investment for economic opportunity in the US. Their work focuses on bringing together and aligning a rich, but fragmented array of digital equity efforts, recognizing the need for a systemic and collaborative approach. The work of NCDE includes four streams:

 

          1. Educating bankers about why and how to make digital equity investments

          2. Helping leaders in education systems learn how to develop funding          

              relationships with banks.

          3. Mobilizing communities through statewide summits to yield collective impact

              and result in statewide networks of teams in low- and moderate-income

communities.

4. Raising awareness about digital equity resource providers, including   broadband, devices,

              software, technical training and support, librarian support, and high quality

              content. This final stream has two critical aspects:

                    a. Facilitating awareness about resource providers for banks and

                         education systems.

                    b. Getting resource providers to collaborate with each other

 

2nd Annual Invitational Summit on Digital Equity & Economic Inclusion

 

NCDE recently held their second annual National Summit, where the different work streams flow together to discuss the progress they’ve made and the challenges they’ve faced separately to better understand where they are as a field. The summit featured several informative workshops and six breakout working groups focused on key challenges facing the field.

Their Summit is not about raising awareness, but instead entails two days of intensive brainstorming and action planning to take the field forward and hold themselves accountable to convert recommendations into outcomes. During the two days, the breakout groups did some heavy lifting, driving this emerging field to the next level. These groups addressed:

 

  1. Fostering research and evaluation optimizing CRA investments for economic and digital inclusion
  2. Aligning foundation support for educational equity in LMI areas with CDFI and bank support for economic inclusion
  3. Fostering statewide initiatives for digital and economic inclusion
  4. Building capacity for tech and librarian support for LMI learners
  5. Improving collaboration among resource providers - developing strategies for bundling broadband, digital content, tech and librarian support, refurbished and new devices, and skills training for living wage careers.
  6. Developing educational system/bank partnerships for digital equity and economic inclusion

 

The Collaborative, and the US as a whole, are on the verge of exciting digital equity opportunities. NCDE has several pilots underway with CRA grant funded projects in New Hampshire, Maryland and Virginia. These pilots are significant at local and national levels, because they are establishing precedents for CRA funding to address different key dimensions of the digital divide.

 

Origins in Influencing Policy for Digital Equity

The collaborative was founded in 2013 as the Digital Opportunity Consortium, by Dr. Robert McLaughlin and Dr. Paul Resta, to persuade policymakers that it no longer made sense under the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) to put over $100 billion a year toward economic opportunity without addressing the digital divide. In making this case, they highlight that “without digital access and skills, it is extremely difficult to learn about, prepare for, and apply for living wage jobs, in today’s increasingly digital economy”

 

In 2016, after years of ground work in San Antonio, the group played a critical role in influencing the decision of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas to publish a report, which encouraged financial institutions to meet their CRA requirements by helping to close the digital divide, effectively moving the needle on federal policy. While they celebrated this victory, they also recognized the risk of opportunistic investment seekers capitalizing on this new category of CRA of funding and prioritizing profits over digital equity.

 

With a concern that flawed and misguided investments would kill the movement, they transformed into the National Collaborative for Digital Equity with the purpose of educating bankers on how to make investments in digital equity that are sound, evidence based and incorporate key dimensions that are essential for digital equity efforts to be successful. This meant extending efforts beyond affordable access to broadband and technology, emphasizing technical training and support, ensuring high quality content for educational and economic opportunity, and integrating libraries so that librarians that can help navigate online resources.

 

This transformation led them to assuming their pivotal role in the growth of the Digital Equity movement today, where they found a home with .US.

 

.US for Digital Equity

 

I had a chance to talk with Dr. Bob McLaughlin, the Executive Director of NCDE, about all of this exciting progress, so I had to ask what he liked most about making .US the online home for the National Collaborative for Digital Equity.

 

His response said a lot about what .US has to offer: “the overriding thing that I most like about .US is the fact that we are national in scope, and this is about US. It's patriotic without the nationalistic aspect of that. I care deeply about my country (though I also respect other countries). I love the fact that this really connotes for folks that we are national in scope and that we really want to do right by folks living here in the US.”