When it comes to the intersection of technology and equity, the activists’ adage “think global, act local” has never been more relevant.
It’s why the Digital Equity Accelerator, an initiative of HP and Aspen Digital, a program of the Aspen Institute, has brought together some of the most impressive nonprofits laying the groundwork to bridge the digital divide in the communities that need the most help.
At an event streamed on LinkedIn this week, HP and Aspen Digital announced the inaugural cohort for the Accelerator, a core group of nonprofits in the United States, India, and Morocco that will receive not only hardware solutions tailored to their needs and more than $100,000 in cash awards, but also hands-on mentorship, comprehensive programming, and access to senior advisors and their networks.
The initiative brings HP closer to achieving its commitment to accelerate digital equity for 150 million people around the world by 2030. The Accelerator is set to support nonprofits in healthcare, education, and economic opportunity. The program, which kicks off next month, wraps in September with a “demo day” where the participants will endeavor to gain outside support in the way of funding, networking, and legal and marketing assistance.
The program received 181 applications, which were reviewed and vetted over several rounds by Aspen Digital and the Digital Equity Accelerator advisory council. They were tasked with ensuring that the Accelerator centers on and serves the communities most impacted by the digital divide.
“We wanted to see as many of those communities as possible represented in the cohort,” says Jennifer Atala, Digital Equity Accelerator lead, “including aging populations, girls and women, immigrants and refugees, BIPOC, and people with disabilities.”
Of the seven selected, three nonprofits hail from the US, two are from India, and two are from Morocco. Their efforts are diverse. Among them: to bring internet access to rural villages, connect the elderly with telehealth services, and show young women what a career in STEM could look like. All aim to empower marginalized people with technology in a way that will better their lives.
The next four months will offer up a unique learning and testing ground for the cohort. They’ll receive nonprofit leadership and management training, and critically, learn how to apply an agile methodology to expand their reach.
“They’re coming into this with a project they want to accelerate, a new idea, or an existing idea to scale,” Atala says. “The intention with how we are moving forward is to test their ideas, explore what has already worked, and see if there are new ways to address digital equity challenges.”
That requires a holistic view and taking a rigorous approach to establish feedback loops, identify the populations that can most benefit, and seek out partnerships within their ecosystems that can help amplify their work.
“We are hoping they come into the program ready to challenge their assumptions, and to have the time and space to rework their idea, break it down and rebuild it,” Atala says. [With funding pressures looming], a nonprofit hardly ever gets a chance to do that.”
Meet the Digital Equity Accelerator participants:
St. Louis, Missouri-based Oasis Institute was founded 40 years ago, when it challenged the status quo for what one’s “golden years” should look like. Instead of taking a passive approach to aging, Oasis pioneered stimulating educational, wellness, and volunteer programs that helped older adults stay healthy and engaged within their communities. In 2020, it launched an interactive online platform that allows participants to take an Oasis class from anywhere; and in addition to online curricula, Oasis partners with others in over 250 communities and reaches more than 50,000 individuals each year.