Digital inequity is one of the most pressing social justice issues of our time. The internet, once something of a luxury, has become a critical utility necessary for work, school, accessing healthcare and government services, and meaningfully engaging in our democracy. Approximately 19 million Americans (6 percent of the population), however, still lack access to fixed, high-speed broadband internet. 14.5 million of these unconnected individuals live in rural areas, and nearly one-third of those living in tribal communities lack access.
The pandemic has forced schools to incorporate remote instruction into their curriculums, but 10 million students–half of whom are students of color–do not have suitable home internet service. In California, gaps persist for low-income, rural, African American, and Latino households. Between 54% and 67% of these households had broadband subscriptions in 2017, compared to 74% for all households.
Tackling digital inequity requires a comprehensive approach that bridges the divides around access to digital devices, access to the internet, and digital literacy. As a leader in promoting digital equity among California’s philanthropic sector, Michelson 20MM relies on a holistic framework to address the complex challenges in getting more Americans connected. To enhance our efforts, we issued a call for applications, inviting organizations to apply for Michelson Spark Grants—our rapid grantmaking process aimed at funding highly impactful initiatives that would otherwise go unfunded through a traditional, lengthy timeline.
Please join us in welcoming our cohort of five Michelson 20MM Digital Equity Spark Grantees and their projects:
EveryoneOn is a nonprofit dedicated to creating social and economic opportunities by connecting low-income families to affordable internet service and computers, and delivering digital skills training. EveryoneOn will develop a robust digital inclusion training program for diverse organizations in California, including nonprofits, K-12 organizations, public housing agencies, and more.
Mohuman is a technology-driven nonprofit that helps underserved people access digital services. Mohuman will launch Project Rise Up, which aims to connect up to 3,000 San Diego low-income students and residents to the internet and other resources to build community digital resilience within the next twelve months.
The Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) works to inform and improve public policy in California through independent, objective, nonpartisan research. PPIC will use state-representative data to examine digital equity gaps and how they have changed from spring 2020 to spring 2021. They will also present policy options to address remaining challenges.
UNITE-LA ensures the improvement of cradle-to-career public education and workforce development systems in Los Angeles. They serve to prepare the region’s youth for high-skill, high-wage employment in fulfilling careers, with a priority focus on underserved populations. UNITE-LA, in full partnership with the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation (LAEDC), will launch the LA-Digital Equity Action League (LA-DEAL)—a regional community-driven consortium focused on eliminating the digital divide through a collaborative and multi-sector process.
USC Annenberg uses journalism, communication, public diplomacy and public relations to reinvent how we engage with our community. USC Annenberg will expand their Connected Communities and Inclusive Growth project from LA County to the entirety of California.
These five partners join previous grantees: the Foundation for the Los Angeles Community Colleges (FLACC) and the Education Trust West (ETW). Last year, Michelson 20MM partnered with FLACC and other funders to help L.A. Community College District (LACCD) students transition to remote learning during the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Together, we provided refurbished Chromebooks to 3,000 LACCD students. The nonprofit organization Human I-T offered tech support, hardware warranties, online digital literacy programs, and other scaffolding supports throughout 2020.
Through our partnership with the Education Trust West, we were able to highlight the equity implications of the digital divide for low-income students and students of color in higher education during the pandemic. ETW designed a poll that asked California college students about resources and support they were receiving from their institutions as well as their perceptions of the effectiveness of their institution’s strategies. The organization developed a digital map that illustrates higher education’s responses, including gaps in digital access and implementation of distance learning.
We look forward to sharing a series of blogs spotlighting each of our new grantees and the inspiring work they are leading to eliminate the digital divide.
The Michelson 20MM Foundation is dedicated to supporting and investing in leading organizations, technologies, and initiatives that seek to transform learning and improve access to educational opportunities that lead to a meaningful career. Michelson 20MM was founded thanks to the generous support of renowned spinal surgeon and inventor Dr. Gary K. Michelson and his wife, Alya Michelson. Visit us at 20mm.org.