everyone.connected | 12 Jul 2023

Good Things Foundation event celebrates helping to narrow the digital divide

Good Things Foundation (GTF), Vodafone’s strategic partner helping to tackle the digital divide, hosted a celebratory event at the House of Lords on a sweltering summer’s day overlooking the Thames on Friday 7 July.

Lord Knight of Weymouth, former GTF chair, kicked off proceedings by emphasising the need for “equity” in society if everyone was to benefit from the many advantages digital technology offered.

“We have to continue the fight and the work of this Foundation to ensure everyone has equitable access to the wonderful power of technology, as well as making sure [the internet] is a safe place for us all to be,” he told the audience of partner charities, community groups and businesses.

Helen Milner, GTF’s Group CEO, said: “Today we’re celebrating moving the dial on digital inclusion.”

Good Things Foundation: Building a national network to bridge the digital divide

We caught up with Good Things Foundation’s Group CEO, Helen Milner, to discuss her charity’s work tackling digital exclusion and it’s three-year strategic partnership with Vodafone.

Digitally included people have better access to education, job opportunities and public services, said Helen, and giving people the connectivity, devices and skills they need to participate in the digital society could contribute an extra £12bn to the UK economy.

She renewed the call for individuals and businesses to donate unwanted devices that can be refurbished and given to vulnerable people, through programmes like Vodafone’s Great British Tech Appeal and the charity’s own National Device Bank. But she warned that demand for such devices was currently five times greater than the supply.

Vodafone’s UK Chief Corporate Affairs & Sustainability Officer, Nicki Lyons, endorsed the charity’s aims  and reiterated the company’s commitment to ending the digital divide through its everyone.connected campaign.

“This is a very important issue for Vodafone,” she said. “We believe that connectivity is as essential as heating and food, and that those who don’t have access to connectivity are missing the essentials of life.

“So closing the digital divide, particularly after the pandemic, is something close to our hearts.”

Vodafone calls on UK businesses to donate unwanted devices to Great British Tech Appeal to help bridge digital divide and promote circular economy

At least 200,000 tonnes of electrical goods are thrown away by businesses annually. And yet up to 10 million adults in the UK are digitally excluded and 7% of households have no home internet access.

Vodafone is a strategic partner of GTF and provides free SIMs and devices to its national network of more than 1,200 digital inclusion hubs, which number public libraries, food banks, community centres, local charities and other organisations.

Vodafone’s everyone.connected campaign has already offered connectivity to more than a million digitally disadvantaged people, she said, with a commitment to help four million cross the digital divide by the end of 2025. Vodafone has also donated 24 gigabytes of data to Good Things Foundation’s National Databank which will support 200,000 people, she added.

But despite the progress made to date, there was still much more to do, she warned, particularly by the Government.

“To make real progress we need strong partnerships that are supported by Government…we need the Government’s Digital Exclusion Strategy to be further up the agenda.”

Nicki’s call to action followed closely on the heels of a recent House of Lords Digital and Communications Committee report on digital exclusion during the cost-of-living crisis.

In the report, the Committee put pressure on the Government to do more to tackle the issue, demanding a refreshed digital inclusion strategy and an update on progress made since the launch of its 2014 strategy.

The Committee also recommended that regulator Ofcom consult on whether Openreach should be made to offer a wholesale social tariff – something Vodafone has argued for.

Building a full-fibre UK that’s fair for all 

Ahmed Essam, Vodafone’s UK chief executive, lends his support to Openreach’s new full-fibre wholesale pricing proposal, but asks wholesalers to introduce broadband social tariffs to help vulnerable customers. 

Nicki reassured the audience that the proposed merger of Vodafone UK and Three UK would only accelerate efforts to close the digital divide, giving the new company the scale to move faster and further.

One of the guests, Tunde Olasupo, is founder of Believe Achieve CIC in Bolton, Greater Manchester, an organisation providing digital connectivity, IT skills training and food to people living in a very economically deprived area.

Vodafone provides free SIM cards loaded with six months worth of calls, data and texts to the organisation.

“That’s been helping massively,” he told Vodafone UK News.

“Everything these days is all about digital, connecting online, so connectivity is very, very important,” he said.

“The digital divide is huge – there are a lot of people who are not connected – who come from abroad and need English lessons and access to food banks.”

Tunde Olasupo, founder of Believe Achieve CIC, Bolton, Greater Manchester
Tunde Olasupo says Vodafone’s free SIMs have been helping “massively”

As well as offering free SIMS, Believe Achieve gives access to devices through GTF’s Device Bank and provides practical advice on “how to write a CV, sort out your finances, and apply for jobs and benefits,” said Tunde.

“It’s wrong that people should have to decide between eating and connecting online,” he concluded.

Another guest, Maria Agiomyrgiannaki, Digital Inclusion Strategy and Delivery Manager for Waltham Forest Council, said demand for their connectivity and digital skills services distributed through local libraries had soared since the pandemic and cost-of-living crisis.

A lot of the people making use of the service are refugees from war-affected areas, such as Ukraine, she said, as well as referrals from mental health and poverty alleviation charities.

While the overall mood at the event was one of celebration, no-one was in any doubt that digital exclusion remained a formidable challenge for our society.

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