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7 nonprofits fighting for equal access to life-improving tech

HP and the Aspen Institute announce the seven nonprofits that will receive funding and support to scale up their work.

By Sarah Murry — May 25, 2022

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.

 
READ MORE: Connecting where it counts: HP and Aspen Institute team up to supercharge digital equity
 

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: 

USA

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.

Left to right: C.C. Joseph, co-founder of Fourth Wave Foundation, Carl Settles, founder and executive director of e4 Youth, Amy VanDeVelde, technology education director of Oasis Institute, and Poesy Chen, innovation director of Mobile Pathways.

Left to right: C.C. Joseph, co-founder of Fourth Wave Foundation; Carl Settles, founder and executive director of e4 Youth; Amy VanDeVelde, technology education director of Oasis Institute; and Poesy Chen, innovation director of Mobile Pathways.

Berkeley, California’s Mobile Pathways uses secure mobile phone technology to offer immigrants access to reliable legal information about the many pathways to legal immigration. It partners with other immigration-based nonprofits and attorneys, and recently launched “Hola Asistente,” a free virtual immigration assistant for anyone in immigration court to help track their case details. In addition to simplifying immigration law, Mobile Pathways offers information that can be helpful to those who’ve newly arrived to this country, including how to obtain medical services, a driver’s license, tax information, and where to take English classes.

E4 Youth organizes extracurricular programming for BIPOC students across Central Texas, with activities focused on cultivating creativity and leadership skills. One unique initiative, the Austin Digital Heritage Project, pairs college-age youth with industry professionals in immersive media and technology to collect and curate oral histories of Austin’s older residents of color into a virtual archive.

India

Bangalore-based Fourth Wave Foundation aims to empower and educate children from marginalized communities. Its two main efforts include Project VENDA, an anti-drug education program for students in Kerala; and Nanagu Shaale, which facilitates a bridging program for children with special needs to enable them to attend mainstream government schools.

Left to right: Thanae Bennani, executive director of Douar Tech; Vineetha Venugopal, assistant manager of Digital Empowerment Foundation; and Nezha Larhrissi, co-founder and president of eSTEM Morocco.

Left to right: Thanae Bennani, executive director of Douar Tech; Vineetha Venugopal, assistant manager of Digital Empowerment Foundation; and Nezha Larhrissi, co-founder and president of eSTEM Morocco.

For two decades, New Delhi-based Digital Empowerment Foundation has worked to bring access to the internet and digital literacy to remote communities across 24 states, through its 1,000 Community Information Resource Centres and the training of some 10,000 “digital foot soldiers” to bring access to people in rural, tribal, marginalized, and isolated areas.

Morocco

In a country where the unemployment rate reached 12 percent this year, Douar Tech offers blended learning opportunities to teach young people essential digital skills to find meaningful work. Its 560 hours of course content teaches tech literacy, entrepreneurship, and web development skills; and pairs online learning with in-person practice and mentorship to help participants gain confidence and real-world experience.  

eSTEM Morocco aims to encourage girls and women with tools and self-confidence to pursue scientific and technological careers, while spreading awareness of environmental challenges and the role technology plays in finding solutions for a sustainable world. Through camps, coding challenges, and an international conference where participants can mingle with women in technical fields, eSTEM says it has engaged more than 500 Moroccan girls and 100 mentors.

 

Follow Kimberly Wilson’s campaign for equitable healthcare access with HUED.