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4 min read

Bridging the Digital Gap: Volunteers Connecting Communities

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In this article, I will briefly explore the transformative power of volunteerism in addressing digital exclusion. In volunteer engagement, we often we talk about technology as something volunteers use, but we less often discuss how volunteers could be a solution to tackling the digital divide.

In a world where everything seems to happen online, being left out can feel like being stuck in the slow lane while everyone else zooms by. That's the reality for millions of people around the world — including some in our communities — who experience digital exclusion. They're missing out on more than just cat videos and social media memes.

Tackling digital exclusion is about people having the tools or know-how to navigate the digital world and, right now, this important issue is holding individuals and indeed entire communities back.

But there's good news. Volunteers are stepping up to make a difference in the digital divide. They are everyday people with a passion for technology and a drive to share their skills with others. Together, they're changing lives and building bridges between clicks and communities.

Getting Real about Digital Exclusion and Getting Involved

Digital exclusion isn't just about not having access to the latest gadgets or a high-speed internet connection. It's about facing barriers like not knowing how to use technology or not having any means to access it. While it's beneficial for the local library to offer connected computers, what if accessing the library isn't feasible for you? And these barriers hit hardest in communities already facing economic challenges, creating a gap that's challenging to bridge.

But here's where the magic happens – volunteers are stepping in to fill that gap. From local tech enthusiasts to big-hearted organisations, volunteers are rolling up their sleeves to teach digital skills and provide support where it's needed most.

Here are just a couple of examples from the UK:

Age UK run a Digital Champions Programme. As they explain:

“Digital Champions come from a range of different backgrounds and have varying levels of digital experience themselves, from IT professionals to people who are ‘newly converted’ to digital technology and want to share their enthusiasm.”

Digital Communities Wales actively engage volunteers to close the digital divide.

As they say:

“Volunteers play not only a critical role in communities, but a critical role in closing the digital divide through giving their time to pass on digital skills to others. Be it supporting someone to turn on a device for the first time, make an appointment online, learning how to make a video call to family, attend a social online, book an online delivery or find information on public services – volunteers are at the heart of empowering people to be online in ways that are meaningful to them.“

Empowering Communities, One Click at a Time

What makes volunteer-led efforts so special? To start with, they're all about giving people the help they require, exactly when they require it. Instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, volunteers tailor their support to fit the unique needs of each community. Whether it's teaching seniors how to video call their grandkids or helping jobseekers brush up on their resume-writing skills.

And it's not just about teaching tech – it's about building trust and empowerment, too. By connecting with communities on a personal level, volunteers break down barriers and show that the digital world isn't as scary as it seems. That sense of trust opens doors and makes it easier for everyone to get on board with the digital revolution.

Challenges? We've Got This!

Sure, volunteer engagement isn't always smooth sailing. Recruiting and keeping volunteers can be a challenge, especially when everyone's got busy lives and competing priorities. We know people today want flexible volunteering opportunities that fit around their busy lives. And let's not forget about the resources – running any volunteer involving initiative takes time, money, and a lot of hard work.

But we are not in this alone. By teaming up with other local organisations, businesses, and even government bodies (local and national), we can help volunteers to make an even bigger impact. Working together, we can pool resources, share expertise, and reach even more people who need support to get digitally included.

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Let's Make It Happen

So, what's next? Here are four steps to get started with tackling digital exclusion through your work:

  1. Take a look across your organisation’s activities and see where there may be digital exclusion issues, for example with your clients. Explore how volunteers could help in ways they aren’t currently.
  2. Talk to your existing volunteers and see if they’d be interested in helping to address these challenges.
  3. Reach out into the community to find new volunteers who want to help tackle digital exclusion.
  4. Connect with other organisations tackling digital exclusion and explore the potential to work together so everyone benefits.

In our positions as leaders in volunteerism, we have an important role to play in building a future where everyone has the skills and confidence to thrive in the digital age.

Let's help to bridge the digital divide, one click at a time. 🖱️

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