Chicago – On May 17, Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF) and its partners, Tech Goes Home and The Philanthropic Initiative (TPI), spoke to a national audience about regional systems efforts to close the digital divide.
The trio was selected to speak at the 2022 Grantmakers for Effective Organizations (GEO) National Conference, held in partnership with Forefront – an Illinois-based organization representing both funders and nonprofits. There, grantmakers came together to explore challenges and uncover solutions with peers who are continuing to lean into transformational change to create a just, connected and inclusive society where we all can thrive. The conference took place in Chicago and included dozens of plenary and breakout sessions featuring innovative experts and groundbreaking projects happening across the country.
“This was a tremendous opportunity to discuss our collaborative, systems-based work in digital equity with some of the most effective, innovative philanthropists in the world,” said Stratton Lloyd, ECCF’s executive vice president and COO, who explained the Systems Philanthropy Flywheel, a replicable framework for systems change based on the idea that lasting impact doesn’t happen in one fell swoop, but rather through an accumulation of smaller efforts that build momentum over time.
“That momentum is ultimately able to sustain itself,” said Lloyd. “And that’s when we begin to see lasting change.”
Lloyd co-presented learnings and results of Advancing Digital Equity, ECCF’s countywide, cross-sector effort to close the gap between those in Essex County with access to technology and those without, alongside Marvin Venay, chief advocacy officer of Tech Goes Home, and Lisa Payne Simon, partner at TPI – two vital partners in ECCF’s digital equity and systems work.
The COVID-19 pandemic and recent racial reckoning exposed a host of deeply rooted barriers that people in our communities come up against every single day, including structural weaknesses and racial and socioeconomic disparities that hinder many residents’ opportunity to thrive.
Digital inequity has risen to the top of that list of barriers as our world continues to depend more and more on the Internet for our daily lives.
“In an increasingly digital world, expanding access to digital devices, the internet and skills training has never been more important,” said Venay. “Digital inequity is deeply tied to a range of barriers facing our communities, from economic injustice to healthcare access, and systemic solutions are essential to realizing impactful, sustainable change.
In June of 2021, Essex County Community Foundation (ECCF) launched Advancing Digital Equity to begin to seek out ways to collaboratively bridge the digital divide, which is largely impacting Gateway cities, communities of color and immigrants in our region. The efforts have been successful because of a focus on nonprofit and community voice, supporting capacity-building and thought leadership, and funding multi-organization collaboration that leads to scalable solutions.
“Looking at the issue of digital inequity through a systems lens really enables us to think about solutions that are holistic and sustainable,” said Lloyd. “From there, you begin to see how all the moving parts are interconnected, how community voice is critical, how partnerships between nonprofit and for-profit enterprises and community and government leaders are essential to long-term solutions.”
To date, ECCF and its partners have distributed thousands of devices, supported programming that has increased Broadband access to thousands of individuals and families and provided critical funding to digital literacy training programs.
Tech Goes Home, a Boston-based nonprofit that empowers communities to access and use digital tools to overcome barriers and advance lives, has been a critical partner in digital literacy efforts across Essex County. TPI, a group of strategic philanthropy advisors that helps funders increase their impact, is supporting ECCF’s efforts to produce a ‘systems’ evaluation model.
“It was great to join ECCF and TPI at the GEO National Conference to engage with experts in the philanthropic field from across the country and explore community-led, inclusive, long-term solutions to digital equity and related challenges,” said Venay
The mission of Essex County Community Foundation is to inspire philanthropy that strengthens the communities of Essex County. We do this by managing charitable assets, strengthening and supporting nonprofits and engaging in strategic community leadership. Since 1998, ECCF and its growing family of nearly 260 charitable funds have granted $106 million to nonprofits, schools and students in Essex County and beyond. Our ultimate goal is to have 34 thriving cities and towns in Essex County and to improve the quality of life for the region’s nearly 800,000 residents. Learn more at eccf.org.
About Tech Goes Home
Tech Goes Home is a nonprofit dedicated to addressing the digital inequities that pose a significant barrier to opportunity and success for thousands of students, workers, and families in Greater Boston and beyond. Working in partnership with schools, healthcare providers, and community organizations, Tech Goes Home provides curated support – including access to digital devices, network connectivity, and robust training in how to utilize digital resources – to help individuals and families pursue economic mobility, support academic achievement, access critical resources, and engage with their community and loved ones. You can learn more about Tech Goes Home’s work, and ways to become involved, at techgoeshome.org.
About The Philanthropic Initiative
The Philanthropic Initiative cultivates high-impact philanthropy around the world through consulting, research, program design and management, funder education, thought leadership, and field building. TPI’s work with clients begins with their values, interests, and passions – wherever they are on their philanthropic journey to realize their vision. As thought partners and advisors, TPI works to create, implement and evaluate customized philanthropic strategies to address the world’s greatest challenges. For more information, visit tpi.org.