As part of The BIG Alliance and ELBA’s Lunch and Learn series I was tasked with delivering a session on the role BIG/ELBA can play in building community partner resilience in light of technological shifts afforded by the 4th Industrial Revolution. Along with my fellow interns, we questioned how the 4th Industrial Revolution affects our communities in London. I focused on exploring how a lack of digital skills in some marginalised communities in Islington affects their access to income and employability benefits. Rapid developments in artificial intelligence, automation, mobile technology and cloud based technology have major ramifications for the present times, not just our future. I answered the question of how technological changes are affecting community organisations with limited funding and human resources in Islington.
Interview with Evelyn Oldfield Unit CEO, Mulat Haregot
I wanted to better understand how the pace of technological change is helping or harming Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic and Refugee (BAMER) community groups and what the BIG Alliance can do to help. To achieve this, I interviewed the CEO of Evelyn Oldfield Unit (EOU), Mulat Haregot. EOU aims to provide, develop and coordinate support services for those from marginalized BAMER communities. The insights I gathered suggest BAMER community organisations and communities are being left behind.
Benefits of community organisations adapting to technological changes
Organisations that increasingly adapt to technological shifts are more easily able to reach young people - an audience largely online. Using digital design gives some charities an advantage in advertising their services to their target audience through effective marketing. Being a “modernised” charity also enhances the ability to attract funding, therefore, making some organisations more viable in the long run. Lastly, managing risks becomes more difficult without recruits with the relevant “know-how” regarding digital data management. For example, the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) within community organisations requires a level of expertise.
How individuals from marginalised groups are affected by technology changes
When I asked Mulat how marginalized BAMER individuals are affected by technological changes, he discussed the impact of adults with limited digital skills unsuccessfully completing online applications.
Research conducted by the Huffington Post shows that 470,000 people need help applying for Universal Credit (UC). A report by the Trussell Trust demonstrates that the time it takes for people to receive UC payments affects their likelihood of accessing food banks, as the wait for the first payment has severe financial consequences, greatly disrupting the financial resilience of households across the UK.
To overcome difficulties with completing important online applications, many rely on their children – minors - to fill in vital applications. With regards to Universal Credit, the longer people wait for their first payment, the more likely they are to use food banks. The errors that come from relying on children to complete applications increases the likelihood of delaying the wait time for their Universal Credit payments even further and increase the likelihood of mistakes made in citizenship applications.
Many of us take for granted the digital skills we have been taught. For those without digital skills, simply uploading documents can prove challenging. A lack of digital skills means that some marginalised groups fail to reap the benefits of technological shifts hailed to exponentially increase our productivity and improve our ability to access employability and earning benefits.
What the BIG Alliance and ELBA can do to help build digitally resilient community organisations
To gauge a further understanding of how the BIG Alliance and ELBA can play a role in building the resilience of our community partners, I asked how programmes such as BIG Alliance’s Community Resourcing (CoRe) programme could support organisations in adapting to the changing world. Mulat really emphasized that the work of the business volunteers has to live beyond their time on the individual programme for it to truly make organisations more resilient in adapting to technological shifts. In the CoRe Programme, 3-4 business professionals work with community partners on specific tasks for 6 months. CoRe 2019 produced a great example of sustainable intervention in closing the digital divide as Macquarie Group and Slaughter and May volunteers transformed the Octopus Communities Network’s online data protection resilience through carrying out a GDPR audit and facilitating the process of GDPR implementation. Additionally, they created a GDPR implementation manual to disseminate to members of the Octopus Communities Network. This ensures that Octopus Communities Network and its members are better able to manage, collect and store data in accordance to EU regulations. This strongly demonstrates the role business volunteers can play in modernising community groups and ensuring that the work lasts beyond their time volunteering.
The power of collaboration to improve local offer
Additionally, The BIG Alliance, Islington Council, Voluntary Action Islington and several other community network groups have come together to establish a Voluntary Community Sector (VCS) Capacity Building Network. One of the goals of the network is to map the local offer across the community networks and create a centralised calendar of support offers. Mulat suggests that this will allow people to more clearly see the gaps in their local offers and also attract people who are willing to fill the gaps. This is a great opportunity to offer digital skills training for individuals and community organisations. Community networks and organisations using their resources and working together to build the capacity of individual community groups is a great means of closing the digital divide through collaboration.
Overall, closing the digital divide is a key aspect of tackling inequality and poverty. ELBA and BIG Alliance have various programmes with this goal in mind that targets young people, students and community groups. The biggest takeaway from the interview with Mulat Haregot is that the sustainable impact of volunteers is fundamental. It is important for charities and community groups to make decisions on how they want their organisations to be modernised for their service users and then for volunteers to help them make it happen.
Written by Enna Uwaifo