Local community groups rewarded for digital innovation schemes
Social change charity Good Things Foundation joined forces with Joseph Rowntree Foundation last month to award the Community Challenge Prize to 10 worthy organisations that are using digital technology to tackle genuine challenges around poverty.
Helen Milner, Good Things Foundation’s Chief Executive, addressed digital leaders and partners about the importance of the Community Challenge Prize, awarded jointly with the Joseph Rowntree Foundation last month at a reception in parliament.
The awards recognise “10 amazing local organisations who are demonstrating how technology at the grassroots can be part of the solution to tackling some of the real challenges”.
She also talked about the transformative power of technology once vulnerable people in society are better educated in how to use it:
“When you talk to the people whose lives have been transformed you can see in their eyes a bit more hope and a lot more happiness because of that experience they have had and that's amazing”.
Good Things Foundation’s patron, the former Education minister, Lord Knight of Weymouth welcomed stakeholders and guests to the Community Challenge Prize awards ceremony on the House of Commons Terrace.
He said Good Things Foundation was very much established to “celebrate the good things that technology can do for people” but added it had been challenging lately with the debate in the media often saying, “Technology is evil; it is going to take your jobs. The robots are coming”.
Lord Knight said it was useful to refer to positive examples of technology assisting vulnerable people and cited examples of robots attending school on behalf of sick children who are then able to follow classes through their phones or a project diagnosing malaria using iPhones.
He concluded however that digital technology had to be accessible for all and that this was not the case with much of the content online:
“I’m currently working with another organisation that’s looking at the readability of the internet. The internet is largely written by and for people of a graduate level of education and to now be thinking about filtering content around the reading age of people who are trying to read it is another interesting exercise”.
Before the 10 award winning organisations were announced, Helen Milner spoke about the various projects the Foundation has been involved with in the past year:
“We are relentless in our focus on people. Real people in communities who have real needs and to make sure that those needs are met. Of course, we also understand that technology can be part of that solution and I would actually say it must be part of that solution, because we know that the challenges that we’re tackling are better, are stronger, and are scaled because of the use of technology”.
She acknowledged, as did Lord Knight, that there are some negative factors to digitisation and that people in some communities have real concerns, especially if high street shopping centres are being ‘hollowed out’ due to increased online shopping.
These people are “socially and economically excluded” because the pace of digitisation is not currently equally distributed.
Ms Milner added that the network of Online Centres that Good Things Foundation runs are part of the solution to breaking down the digital divide:
“We have been at the vanguard of tackling some of these issues with our Online Centres and other partners both locally, nationally and now internationally”.
The challenge for Good Things Foundation was to make digitisation work better for the most vulnerable in society who are currently forgotten in the debate according to Helen Milner:
“What we’re doing is exacerbating decades, centuries of social exclusion and layering the digital exclusion on top of that. Digitisation isn’t just another thing to worry about, it is making all those things you are already worrying about even worse”.
Helen Milner also referred to the digital dividend, which Good Things Foundation is now calling for:
“We have also decided that now is the time to ask those who are profiting from digitisation both in the public and private sectors to invest a bit more of those savings that they are making in making the digital world a bit more equal. Over the next few months we are going to be campaigning for a digital dividend. We are going to be asking those who are profiting from digitisation to invest a bit more.”
"This builds on important work the Foundation already undertakes including a Future Digital Inclusion programme with the Department for Education which has supported almost 250,000 people in the last year to cross the digital divide. The Foundation also works with NHS Digital to reduce health inequalities and with the HM Courts and Tribunals service to help vulnerable people ensure they have access to justice online to prevent exclusion".
The Foundation also championed its links with 3 local authorities Stockport, Salford and Leeds as well as Google, Lloyds Banking Group and TalkTalk “to make sure that we can reach even more people and also to give them opportunities for their staff to go out and teach people in communities that also feel that benefit”.
Helen Milner concluded by saying the Foundation should continue to develop these links including setting up a subsidiary in Sydney and recruiting 1,500 local partners to set up a digital inclusion network in Australia. She concluded:
“Digitisation is not helping everybody. So, we need to make sure that this digital revolution benefits more people. We need to be ambitious about doing things but also about using our collective voices to make sure that we fully understand the power of digital as a tool to tackle complex social issues - a tool for good, but a tool that must and should benefit everybody”.
Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s Chief Executive Campbell Robb welcomed the partnership with Good Things Foundation and said it was “a perfect match”.
He said the link between these two organisations was so important because of the situation facing the poorest in the UK:
“From our perspective, which is over 100 years of fighting poverty, if you’re poor in this country right now there is absolutely nothing really going for you. Everywhere around you, every market, every transaction you have, you are more likely to be exploited. You will pay more for your gas and your electricity, you will pay more for your transport, more for your food, more for your IT, more for your internet, more for your phone, than you would do if you weren’t poor or lived in a different postcode or had a different chance or upbringing. The system is absolutely and utterly rigged for getting people out of poverty”.
Mr Robb stated for the first time in decades we are seeing an increase of people in the UK suffering from destitution with 1.5 million in the past year, what he referred to as “the far, far end of poverty”.
He added that the technological advances would be affecting the poorest in society the most, so as much work as possible must be done to assist them:
“Technical changes coming down the road, those are the people who are going to be most affected. It is generally not graduates who are going to lose their jobs to robots; it is low paid shop workers who are not going to be able to access the digital future”.
He said the programme was about going into communities and asking what problems needed to be addressed and how technology could help address these. It was also about teaching people to harness technology themselves to solve these problems, “Not something that is done to them or done for them by other people coming in”.
He concluded: “It is about making technology something that they can harness and use to change their lives for the better. We need to buck a trend because for decades of technological change if you were at the bottom, technological change would hit you first and it would hit you hardest.’
The ten winners of the Community Challenge Prize announced by Good Things Foundation’s Chair Liz Williams were:
Go-Woman! Alliance CIC
High Wycombe Library
Kensington Vision CIC
Wai Yin Society
Learn for Life Enterprise
Crisis Skylight Birmingham
New Forest District Council Benefits Team
Bangladesh Youth and Cultural Shomiti