Digital philanthropy: Part 4 – Plugging gaps – Access to technology

By Todd Cohen

The “digital divide” separating those with access to technology from those without it simply reflects and deepens bigger schisms in our society based on race and class.

Delivering technology and tech know-how to underserved communities is a huge challenge intertwined with the need for greater access to education and jobs.

Philanthropy – foundations, corporations and individual donors – can do a lot to help plug that digital gap. Fortunately, important efforts are underway to make technology more accessible to those who can’t get or use it.  

Digital-divide initiatives have been launched by a broad range of entities, including the federal government, AOL Time Warner Foundation, Benton Foundation and AmeriCorps, to name only a few.

Philanthropy itself, however, suffers from an equally troubling lack of access to technology. But that gap also is being addressed with a surge in activity to give nonprofits themselves better access to computers and the Web.

Tech-assistance providers are springing up in communities throughout the U.S., and foundations and tech firms are paying more attention to charities’ tech needs.

Philanthropy can further tackle the tech challenge by adapting itself to the lessons of the business world, which is thriving because it embraces the organic nature of the technology it uses and the markets it pursues.

Companies aggressively seek partners and form alliances and business “ecosystems” that build on the participants’ strengths and existing relationships with investors, suppliers and consumers.

On its own, philanthropy may lack the resources to equip, wire and boot up everyone who lacks access to technology. But philanthropy can speed the spread of technology through a new philanthropy that combines digital tools and entrepreneurial thinking.

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