Accelerating digital equity around the world through on-the-ground local support

Learning from last year’s pilot, the Aspen Institute and HP extend the Digital Equity Accelerator to Mexico, Malaysia, and South Africa.

By Laura Petrecca — April 4, 2023

Last month, Nezha Larhrissi achieved a goal five years in the making. 

The nonprofit she co-founded, eSTEM Morocco, launched a long-awaited mentoring and skill-building platform for girls eight-to-18 in Morocco, where young women frequently drop out of the workforce to marry and care for children.

Named Titrit, which means “shining star” in the local Amazigh language, the website and app provide training on interpersonal, entrepreneurial, and STEM skills. The girls then partner with female business owners, where they use their digital knowledge to help those entrepreneurs succeed.  

Titrit’s mission, says Larhrissi, is to boost the girls’ confidence and self-sufficiency while preparing them to achieve gainful employment in a country where many women do not work outside of their household duties. In 2021, the labor force participation rate among females was 22% and among males was 66%, according to The World Bank

Numerous issues, including the pandemic, slowed Titrit’s introduction. But thanks to the assistance of the Digital Equity Accelerator, an initiative of the Aspen Institute in collaboration with HP, 550 participants are now using the platform, with more soon to join. 

The Accelerator — managed by Aspen Digital, a program of the Aspen Institute — works to increase digital inclusion and equity worldwide and  provided eSTEM with financial assistance, business coaching, and technology products such as HP laptops. 


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The results were far-reaching: eSTEM distributed HP laptops to local and national NGOs, which set up digital centers for girls in underserved communities. And even after the official Accelerator program ended, eSTEM remains in touch with mentors from the program.

“The Accelerator gave us an extensive network of support,” says Larhrissi, who is also eSTEM’s president. “We’ve never had a partner bring so much support and belief in our mission.” 

Inside a classroom where 2022 Aspen Digital Equity Accelerator participant eSTEM Morocco is teaching girls to spark their interest in potential careers.

eSTEM Morocco

Inside a classroom where 2022 Aspen Digital Equity Accelerator participant eSTEM Morocco is teaching girls to spark their interest in potential careers.

Expanding upon existing success

The Accelerator was launched last year as a way to address global social and economic injustices exacerbated by unequal technology access and use. The first cohort, announced in February 2022, included eSTEM and six other organizations in Morocco, India, and the US. All received capacity-building grants, hands-on training and mentorship, and technology tailored to their and their communities’ needs. 

For example, mentor Khuram Zaman, CEO of product and software development firm Fifth Tribe in Washington, DC, worked with the Digital Empowerment Foundation, which was a member of the 2022 Accelerator cohort. He had weekly meetings with the nonprofit’s program manager to determine effective strategies for them to share best Internet practices with rural communities in India, where many users have trouble determining what online material was accurate and what was misinformation. 

“We had to tackle the issue of not just giving them technology, but also providing them with the tools to use it responsibly,” says Zaman. They eventually hit on a solution: to educate a respected woman in each community and empower her to educate others. 

At the conclusion of the four-month program, the 2022 Accelerator members participated in a demo day where they pitched their work to potential funders and global leaders from industries such as tech, venture capital, social impact investing, and non-governmental organizations.

In total, the Accelerator provided $944,000 in unrestricted grant funding, $1,050,000 in hardware, and 218 hours in mentorship, coaching, and education to the 2022 cohort members. That aid helped boost the nonprofits’ cumulative reach by 1.7 million people. 

Empowering organizations to help their communities 

Buoyed by that success, the Accelerator is expanding its reach. This year’s cohort includes 10 not-for-profits and NGOs from Malaysia, Mexico, and South Africa

The support comes at a much-needed time, says Hazami Barmada, director of the Digital Equity Accelerator, Aspen Institute. The increased dependence on technology that arrived with the pandemic caused an already-massive digital divide to grow more expansive.


A Dignity Primary student embracing the principles of Montessori: self-directed learning in a mixed-age classroom.

HP and the Aspen Institute are ideal collaborators for this venture, she adds, as both organizations aim to expand digital literacy and access to solve social and economic inequalities. In 2021, HP committed to accelerating digital equity for 150 million people worldwide by 2030. 

“People that do not have access to the digital economy or digital tools are falling further and further behind,” she says. 

Partnering with community groups to create long-term success

The newest members of the cohort are tackling a range of challenges, from access to healthcare for marginalized groups in Malaysia to training in technology skills for incarcerated women in Mexico. The Digital Equity Accelerator’s success lies in supporting organizations that fully understand the needs of the communities they serve. 

“We’re empowering local organizations that solve these problems on the ground,” Barmada says. 

“Since these are rural communities, the only way residents would take this program seriously was if someone in their community was a credible thought leader,” Zaman says. “The train-the-trainer model was organic and natural.”

That collaborative approach is precisely what the Accelerator fosters. 

“We’re invested in solving with communities, not for communities,” Barmada says. As for each cohort member, “we want them to be able to flourish and continue to grow after we leave.”

Introducing the 2023 cohort members

These nonprofits and NGOs were selected from 120 applicants based on their reach, effectiveness, commitment to digital equity, and meaningful connections to their communities: 

  • Digify Africa, which works to address youth unemployment by reaching “high potential, low opportunity” young people across South Africa and providing them vocational programs, digital skills education, and job pathways. 

  • Dignity For Children Foundation, which provides access, education, and support for students and teachers across Malaysia to bridge digital gaps. The foundation focuses on marginalized populations, including refugees, lower-income, indigenous, and stateless children. 

  • E-Cubed (DBE-E³), which works with South African educators and youth. Through TeacherConnect, a WhatsApp chatbot and online community, it provides tools to cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset and inspire success for young people.  

  • Instituto de Investigación para el Desarrollo de la Educación, A. C. (IIDEAC), which aims to scale a comprehensive digital education model, deploying it to public elementary schools serving Mayan communities of the Yucatan. 

  • La Cana, Proyecto de Reinserción Social, A.C. in México, which provides education, training, and technical tools for incarcerated and released female prisoners to help them reintegrate into society and support their families upon release. 

  • National Cancer Society of Malaysia, the first not-for-profit cancer organization in Malaysia providing education, care and support services, aims to create an online database to enable early detection of cancer for people in underserved communities.

  • Science of Life Studies 24/7, which aims to create new modules teaching digital skills, professional and personal development, English and life skills and run learning workshops in Orang Asli and urban poor communities. 

  • Siyafunda Community Technology Center CTC, which aims to scale its knowledge centers by equipping community organizations with training, curriculum and equipment. Its digital skills-building work focuses on women and girls, unemployed youth, those with disabilities, and teachers and learners across South Africa. 

  • StartupLab MX, which will expand its Digital Transformation Program for women-led, low-income, and rural small businesses across southeast and central México by providing capital, training, digital marketing material, and networking connections.

  • UNETE, IAP, which will scale its “Modelo Integral UNETE (MIU)” program designed to eradicate digital illiteracy in Mexican public schools which have never been equipped with educational technology through hardware, training, mentorship, and more. 


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