Like all of The Patterson Foundation's initiatives, Digital Access for All (DA4A) is built on learning and sharing. The Florida Prosperity Partnership (FPP) webinar, "Better Together" Virtual Session: How Digital Access Intersects with Our Work, Our Lives and Our World, was a golden opportunity to listen to national experts and gather ideas from organizations dedicated to elevating financial capability for all. The session underscored the links between financial success and digital access. For The Patterson Foundation (TPF), the discussion deepened our commitment to understand and bring together those who care about access in our four-county region of Desoto, Charlotte, Manatee, and Sarasota counties.
Vew the complete 90-minute event [above] and access links to resources mentioned during the webinar, including contact information for the panelists, slides, and the recording.
Here are TPF's "CliffsNotes" on this truly memorable session:
Guest experts included Maribel Martinez, Senior Director of Programs and Evaluation for EveryoneOn, Jeremy Hegle, Senior Community Development Advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, and Eileen Coogan, President and CEO of Allegany Franciscan Ministries. More than 50 additional FPP experts participated from across the state, including government and financial leaders, social service providers, and organizational directors and sectional managers from United Way, Goodwill, and a host of other nonprofit agencies. The Zoom session engaged the audience from the beginning through ongoing audience questions and an active chat. This FPP approach enriched the session.
First, we explored the topic of why digital access is critically important to people and organizations. Jeremy Hegle explained that the Kansas City Federal Reserve got involved because they understood that digital access and family financial success are increasingly intertwined. Maribel Martinez from EveryoneOn said their organization was specifically founded to connect low-income families to affordable digital resources and address the fact that 60 million Americans are currently not connected to the internet. Eileen Coogan of Alleghany Franciscan Ministries shared that their agency learned from its Florida Common Good Communities of Wimauma, Overtown, and Lincoln Park about the impacts of internet access and digital equity.
Besides the panelists, several FPP members added to the conversation. These included William Porro, Assistant Director of Human Services for the City of Miami, who discussed the digital access challenges many low-income neighborhoods face and how the City of Miami is seeking to address this problem via the deployment of "hotspots" in municipal parks throughout the city.
The second question we explored was how organizations are approaching the digital divide. For Allegany Franciscan Ministries, the answer was a collaborative "smart neighborhoods" approach that utilizes information and communication technologies to improve citizen welfare and enhance economic opportunities. The Kansas City Federal Reserve focused on raising awareness and understanding across its seven-state region by emphasizing the foundational role that access to technology plays in fostering economic opportunity for low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Jeremy Hegle shared the results and findings of this plan in a piece entitled, "Disconnected: Seven Lessons on Fixing the Digital Divide." EveryoneOn addressed the two main barriers they see to internet adoption – cost and relevancy – by focusing on awareness that connects low-income individuals to affordable internet service, computers, and digital skills training. The results are impressive. Since 2012, EveryoneOn has connected 784,000 people across the nation to the internet.
We ended the session with a final question, "What is Your Organization Doing to Close the Digital Divide?" We discovered that COVID-19 has been both a disrupter and an accelerator in closing the digital divide. Our experts described moving programs to virtual environments, advocating for more affordable provider rates, ramping up device donation programs, supporting stopgap hotspot services, and finding solutions for internet deserts as just some of the ways their organizations and the communities they serve are attempting to address the issue. CARES Act funding and grants from philanthropies have generated resources and funding for many of these initiatives, but the ongoing needs continue to grow. Yet, the future seems hopeful.
EveryoneOn mentioned that it moved its digital literacy training online, and, in doing so, gained new partners and a clearer understanding of where gaps existed in trying to teach tech skills to older adults. The Kansas City Federal Resereve led an employer laptop donation challenge and placed their organization front and center as a role model for social responsibility and community building. Lastly, we learned how the Alleghany Franciscan Ministries and Wimauma Enterprising Latinas are partnering together to provide public, high-speed digital connectivity to a rural Florida community where previously fewer than 40% of residents had access the internet.
TPF doesn't arrive with the answer, and that's particularly important with DA4A, where there are many approaches and solutions. What was once again affirmed for the foundation during the recent FPP "Better Together" event was that where leadership, willingness, readiness, capacity, and culture align, anything is possible.
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