Digital is how we do things; digital skills drive social mobility

Posted On: 
11th September 2017

Good Thing’s Foundation’s chair Liz Williams spoke to PoliticsHome about the organisation’s ambitions and how it has now helped over 2 million people improve their digital skills. The charity is hosting a parliamentary reception on 11th September.

Good Things Foundation, a charity which supports digitally and socially excluded people to improve their lives through digital, is leading the way in the digital revolution. Its chair Liz Williams is thrilled that the government is so supportive of this agenda it has even changed the name of the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport:

They are emphasising the importance of digital and that’s brilliant”.

“The government does recognise it is a critical issue to society and the economy. It is fabulous news that the right to digital skills has been enshrined in UK law”.

This recognition is crucial when considering how many people depend on their phones and tablets as Liz Williams explained:

“We talk about social divides. We have got an increasing gulf between those of us who feel that we can’t live without our devices. We pick them up first thing in the morning. They guide our whole life. There is about 45%, according to data from Good Things Foundation, of people who say ‘I can’t live without my device’.

Williams explained that the charity’s work tackles wider social issues through upskilling citizens:

“It’s a genuine force for good; working at the intersect of social and digital inclusion; helping people not only become digitally included but socially included too tackling issues like poverty, poor health, wealth and financial inclusion”.

Citing a personal example of one of the 2 million people helped by the organisation, Liz Williams mentioned a man who spoke recently at one of their events:

“One of the learners - Olwyn - stood up and said: “I can’t believe I am standing here having this conversation with you. I was homeless, living on the street, I was on my knees, I had no self-worth. I now have a job and am now coaching others. I am now standing on a platform talking to you about it. My life is transformed”.

That was one of many stories”.

The organisation has a ‘small central hub’ but Liz Williams explains the strength of Good Things Foundation really is its wider network:

“It is an organisation that is powering up through its 5,000-strong network of grassroots organisations who do a brilliant job in their communities, using their deep understanding of what their communities need to make a massive difference to the lives of the individuals through the power of digital”.

The role of the Good Things Foundation has spread internationally in recent months as Liz Williams explained in two projects:

“Our reach is spreading too. We are no longer just a UK based organisation; we’ve a pilot in Kenya working with the library service there on digital capability. The most exciting news is that we’ve recently set up our Australian subsidiary having been selected by the Australian Government to help the digital inclusion challenges that they have there.

“I think that is a massive accolade for the organisation. Basically, the Australian Government invited us to tender, they looked for the best across the world and they chose Good Things Foundation. I could not be more proud of the team as a result of that”.

Touching on her own ambitions for the charity, Liz Williams said that it was important to remember that society across the planet and especially the UK is facing some “huge questions” about what the future looks like.

“Social inclusion has never had a greater spotlight on it and the relationship between the elite and those on the ground: all of those questions. And the role of digital has been never been more sharply in focus. We are undoubtedly in the 4th industrial revolution. Digital is how we do things and digital skills provide one, if not the, biggest opportunities to drive social mobility”.

“I have had a personal passion around digital and social inclusion. It’s just something I think is absolutely at the heart of where we should be. I’ve been championing inclusion in the broadest sense for well over a decade and believe strongly in the power of digital to transform lives. We need to ensure that the advantage of digital reaches to everybody”.

This is a longstanding commitment to the digital sector for Liz Williams who has been involved with the charity since its foundation and has also been working for ten years in the digital sector:

“When Good Things Foundation, in its previous form, was formed six years ago, I was one of the founding board members and frankly it has been a massive career highlight for me to be able to play a part in the evolution and success of the organisation. When [former Labour MP & minister] Lord Knight stood down I have to say I didn’t think I wanted to be his successor and perhaps didn’t see myself as a natural successor”.

She continued: “It is a huge privilege to be able to be part of the organisation and to chair it in the next stage of its evolution”.

This role is a part time voluntary position which Williams currently balances with her other role as Director of Tech Literacy and Education Programmes at BT Group.

Good Things Foundation runs the Get Online Week campaign which takes place in October 2017 for the 11th year running, informing and encouraging young people to understand the important role that digital will play in their lives. Liz Williams invites all MPs to get in touch if they want to visit an Online Centre in action or to meet constituents who are being helped by the charity so she can facilitate that.

The organisation is funded by the Department for Education, as well as a number of other government departments and organisations. Its Chair explained “We are delighted that they recognise the value of what we do” but she went on to explain the ‘hardest to reach’ category of people who do not currently engage with digital in any way cost a huge amount to reach and to then upskill.

The charity’s chair sums up the importance of the organisation’s work as, ‘not digital for digital’s sake’ but because it really matters to the individuals to the economy:

“We know that for every person we get back into the system we know there is a massive win for the UK economy”.

The charity is hosting an event in parliament for MPs, peers and other stakeholders on Monday 11th September at 12.15 - 14.30 in the Cholmondeley Room and Terrace at the House of Lords.

“MPs and policy makers are welcome to come. It provides an opportunity to meet our partners and more importantly it enables them to meet some people whose lives have been improved by digital.”

Having conducted a review on behalf of the Government and the Skills Funding Agency into publicly funded digital skills qualifications in 2016, Liz Williams is pleased with the direction the Government is taking on this area and she congratulates the minister Matt Hancock and his team on convening a new Digital Skills Partnership which will meet in the Autumn for the first time. The charity’s chair is cautious in how much real change will be delivered:

“Jury’s out – we have to watch this space and see where it takes us. All of the signs are good so let’s wait and see”.

She concludes about how much digital has now spread into every sector and the scale of the challenge ahead not just for the Good Things Foundation and indeed the Government:

“I don’t think digital is a sector anymore – digital is part of the banking sector. It is part of everything we do. From a Government perspective, it is the same for them. They need to realise that it is critical to everything. DCMS is recognising that and trying to pull things together in a way that enables the UK to be properly set up for success going forward”.

All MPs, Peers and parliamentary staff are invited to the Good Thing Foundation’s reception on Monday 11th September in the Cholmondeley Room and Terrace at the House of Lords from 12.15pm.