Are barriers to digital technology preventing civil society organisations from achieving their potential?


Simon Hungin


‘Civil society organizations collectively serve millions of the most vulnerable people on earth. We must ensure they have the tools they need to improve people’s lives and achieve their missions’, Chris Worman, Head of Strategy, Connect Humanity.

In a survey of over 7,500 organisations which serve more than 190 million people, 95 per cent of participants stated that the internet is critical to their ability to do their work; however, 78 per cent said that a lack of internet access, tools, or skills limits their abilities to serve their communities effectively.

This survey, run by Connect Humanity and TechSoup, along with additional distribution from CIVICUS, FORUS, NTEN and WINGS, was the largest survey of civil society regarding the barriers faced in a digitalising world, and was published in a recent report by Connect Humanity entitled: ‘State of Digital Inequity: Civil Society Perspectives on Barriers to Progress in our Digitizing World.

Key Points:

  • Infrastructure and access – Organisations believe that digital technologies are pivotal to achieving their goals, however, their work is impacted by a lack of internet access
  • Affordability – The high cost of devices and internet access is a significant barrier for both Civil Society Organisations as well as the people that they serve. This prevents them from participating meaningfully in the digital world
  • Digital Skills – A lack of digital skills is a major issue for both Civil Society Organisations. Few feel that their employees are well-trained on the devices and software that they use. This inhibits CSO’s abilities to provide digital literacy training and skills building
  • Policy – While CSOs view access to the internet as a basic right, many say that their government lacks policies to support this
  • Content – It is vital that the information and services that people most value are available in local languages, something which is often not the case as it stands

The Covid-19 pandemic further demonstrated the necessity of internet access within society, leading to renewed efforts when it comes to increasing broadband availability in order to close digital divides within society. However, the survey highlighted the need for philanthropy to support work to narrow the digital divide with 43 per cent of grantmakers surveyed indicating that they do not invest in programs to expand internet access.

Connect Humanity is a non-profit fund advancing digital equity by investing in community connectivity providers. It helps underserved communities identify the right solutions to meet their connectivity needs and provides funding and technical assistance so they can build the internet infrastructure, tools, and skills they need to participate fully in a digital society.

Read the full report here.

Simon Hungin is a freelance writer that supports Alliance magazine.

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