Bridging the Digital Divide in east London – an assessment of the current challenges

The Covid-19 pandemic has starkly illustrated the digital divide and its impact on those most vulnerable in society. When the world went virtual, those without access to devices, internet connection or digital skills were left more isolated and disadvantaged than ever. To better understand the role ELBA can play in addressing this challenge, we recently embarked on a project with a fantastic team of volunteers from Morgan Stanley to explore a fundamental question: How do we work with our business and community partners to most effectively tackle digital inequality in East London? 

The project took place as part of Morgan Stanley’s Skills Connectors pro bono programme, in partnership with Pilotlight. Over the course of eight weeks, the volunteers dived into the project and researched the issue, with the goal of developing ideas for ELBA to take forward in collaboration with our network. Their work focused on the impact of the digital divide on three core groups: students and the impact on learning, young adults and the impact on employment, and older people and the impact on community. Their research involved speaking with a number of key stakeholders including community organisations, businesses, schools, beneficiaries and tech companies, to help gain a deeper understanding of the issues. They were then able to highlight some key challenges and needs for each group:

Students & education 

  • The main challenges for students are access to suitable devices and the internet. Chromebooks and internet dongles or data would be the most useful devices to enable students to access learning remotely.
  • For teachers, the logistics of managing digital learning is a key problem, as they don’t have time to review and train on the wide variety of online resources. A digital knowledge base which consolidates best practice into a clear and concise reference point would help tackle this. 

Young adults & employment

  • Young adults need access to the right devices (laptops or tablets) to effectively work from home or look for employment, as these are either not available or are shared in most households.
  • Young adults also need better knowledge of free internet hotspots and access to private working spaces, as wi-fi is often shared by many within a household, and there is a lack of private/confidential space to hold meetings or interviews.
  • To help young adults keep up with digital change and increase their earning potential, they need education on new technology, help developing the confidence to apply, interview and network online, and support with upskilling.

Older people & community 

  • For older people, a lack of access to devices is the most acute issue. Tablets or other simple devices with straightforward usability would be best suited to enable older people to connect with their community.
  • The level of digital literacy and confidence required is relatively low. Simple tutorials and how to guides would help older people navigate the digital world.
  • Covid-19 has exacerbated the issue for this group, but also galvanised the motivation to change. 

Based on the learnings from the research, the volunteers generated a series of creative solutions and next steps for ELBA to take forward. These include ideas for device donation and recycling, skills clinics, best practice sharing and hackathons, to name a few. We are excited to develop these ideas into initiatives and volunteer opportunities for our member companies to support, and have formed a Digital Divide Working Group to bring them to life. 

A huge thank you to the team at Morgan Stanley for their incredible work, and to the team at Pilotlight for their support. We look forward to working closely with our network to tackle this challenge and provide support to east London communities. 

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