The internet is the single most important economic resource of our time. It is the only engine that matters. It is more and more so over time and we need to make sure nobody is left behind.
Tracey Axelsson, executive director of the Vancouver Community Network
Let those words soak in. "The most important economic resource of our time." That sounds about right. The internet brings so much to so many of us. Education. Job opportunities. Health and wellness information. History. Current events and world news. The ability to connect directly with our loved ones on the other side the world. The list goes on and on.
If only these gifts were equally distributed.
To those of you, like me, who use the internet daily - can you imagine life without it? Fortunately, we're the "haves". The "have nots" in Canada have a very different experience - one outlined in CIRA's report The gap between us: Perspectives on building a better online Canada, released today.
This report is born from the stories, experiences and opinions of 70 grassroots organizations across the country working to make Canada's internet better for all Canadians. They work on internet infrastructure projects, provide internet access and improve digital literacy with passion and commitment every day. CIRA has financially supported many of the organizations that participated through its Community Investment Program, which provides around $1 million in grants annually to organizations doing good things for and through the Canadian internet.
The report highlights gaps in Canada's internet including: rural and remote communities struggling to get the infrastructure needed to connect, or people living in urban communities who can't afford a quality internet connection or a device to connect to it. On the other side of the digital divide are seniors whose digital skills are low or non-existent, new Canadians who may have used technology very differently in their homeland, or marginalized individuals who haven't yet had the chance to thrive in the digital world. They are on the outside looking in.
CIRA's report also provides 10 proposed solutions, so there is certainly hope for closing this divide.
CIRA announced the latest recipients of Community Investment Program grants yesterday, and many of them directly address the gaps highlighted in the report. They are inspiring organizations doing tremendous work, so I thought I'd highlight a few.
Using research and training to address the problems in low-income communities.
This project will connect policymakers with the lived experience of low-income communities who face barriers to accessing the digital economy. It will provide excellent leadership development training on the critical issue of internet accessibility to amplify the voice of marginalized community members, empowering them to increase access to the digital economy within their communities and beyond.
Creating opportunity with technology.
Indigenous women are deeply affected by the digital divide gap and subsequently are left out of the e-commerce economy in Canada. Thanks to a CIRA grant, CompuCorps will empower Indigenous women through a specific program that is designed to amplify their strengths while providing the facility and resources to create an online business or non-commercial website.
Helping older adults use technology so they can lead healthy, connected lives.
Thanks to a CIRA grant, Gluu Technology Society will employ and support approximately 50 staff and volunteers at partner organizations such as seniors residences, seniors centres and retiree organizations to be digital coaches, forming a Digital Coaches Network. This network will help roughly 1,000 seniors develop the digital skills they need to be active members of our increasingly digital society.
Research Chair in Sociocultural Issues of Digital Education
CIRA's grant will allow UQAM to develop an app that promotes the settlement of newly arrived immigrants in Canada. The first six months after arrival is a critical period where immigrants require information and support. Many own smartphones and this new app fills a current unmet need by providing reliable information on settlement, including registering for health care or finding housing, a geo-tracking and notification system that identifies services nearby, and a function for contacting nearby community organizations.
CIRA's Community Investment Program
CIRA has provided over $5 million in grants to date, many to small, grassroots organizations working tirelessly to build a better online Canada. The work we do through the CIP is one of the reasons I'm so proud to work for CIRA and learn more about, and have a real impact on, the digital divide in Canada.
Learn more about CIRA's Community Investment Program at cira.ca/cip.