Kansas City fund aims to bridge digital divide

08/14/2013 11:01 AM

08/14/2013 9:59 PM

Metropolitan area nonprofit organizations have a new source of funding to help their clients in the Internet age.

Kansas City Digital Inclusion Fund, unveiled at a Wednesday luncheon, has been created with $1 million in corporate and foundation gifts. The fund will allow area nonprofit organizations to apply for grants to provide computer access or teach residents about using computers and the Internet.

Possibilities to be offered by successful nonprofit applicants include mobile computer labs, distribution of low-cost or free devices, and free classes.

Founding donors to the fund, established at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, include Google Fiber, The Illig Family Foundation, Sprint, Global Prairie, Polsinelli, and J.E. Dunn.

Research last year by Google and the Mayor’s Bi-State Innovation Team found that affordability and lack of relevance are the two reasons most cited by residents who don’t go online.

“It’s not always clear to people how digital literacy fits with their lives,” said Aaron Deacon, managing director the KC Digital Drive initiative, which works on a range of bistate digital projects.

The Digital Inclusion Fund was created with the idea that existing social service agencies and nonprofit organizations know best what their clients’ needs are.

“Community organizations are better positioned on the front lines,” said Erica Swanson, program manager for digital inclusion at Google. “It will be up to the nonprofits to decide what the right solutions are for their organizations.”

About 130 attendees at a lunch and program at the downtown Kansas City Public Library learned that eligible applicants must be 501(c)3 charities within the five-county metro area of Jackson, Clay, Platte, Johnson and Wyandotte counties.

Bernard Franklin, a community leader in the health and education fields, encouraged listeners to “frame a conversations around the digital divide and don’t walk awayLeave with a sense of urgency.”

Franklin said Kansas City doesn’t lack for resources but it often works separately, rather than together, to solve community problems. He urged collaboration to bring the elderly, the poor and the illiterate into the digital age.

The fund will begin dispersing one-year grants ranging from $15,000 to $100,000 each, with renewal options for a second or third year of funding. Applications are due Sept. 27, and first-round grant decisions will be announced the week of Nov. 4.

Swanson, the Google representative, emphasized that the fund isn’t designed to connect people to Google Fiber.

“Google Fiber helped start the digital divide conversation but it’s not about Google Fiber,” she said.

Nonprofits might choose to seek funding for another staff person, for hardware, for a mobile lab — for something not covered by their core budgets but identified as digital needs.

The fund will be administered by the community foundation, which will form an evaluation committee to choose grant recipients.

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