How the human-IT nonprofit social enterprise is working to bridge the digital divide in Detroit
Middleton: Nationally, 75 (million) to 80 million people currently do not have Internet access. That’s 1 in 4 households. Here in Detroit, almost half of school-aged students do not have access to a personal computer or a reliable Internet connection. Many rely solely on their smartphones to access the web, which severely limits what they are able to accomplish online. To bridge this gap, we are bringing low-cost devices to communities and individuals so they can take advantage of technology and the internet to realize their full potential.
In addition, so that individuals can take full advantage of their new devices, we provide connections to low cost Internet providers in their region, wherever they are located. To date, we’ve helped thousands of homes connect to the Internet – for school, work, access to healthcare and more.
A device and the Internet are as useful as someone’s ability to use them. So we partner with community organizations and offer free digital literacy training in multiple languages ââto give people the skills they need to participate in the digital age.
Lee: What is the recently launched Digital Empowering Detroit initiative?
Middleton: We recently launched an Empowering Digital Detroit initiative in partnership with the City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability and Office of Digital Inclusion. Our goal is to collect 500,000 pounds of electronic waste and refurbish 1,000 laptops for deserving families.
Our campaign will run throughout Digital Inclusion Week, celebrated each year in early October.
Lee: Are you connected to Connect 313 or City Hall for digital inclusion?
Middleton: Yes. When we launched in Detroit in 2020 with support from General Motors, the Rocket Community Fund and the Craig Newmark Foundation, we partnered with Connect 313 and the Mayor’s Office for Digital Inclusion on two projects: Connected Futures and Connected Seniors.
Connected Futures provided 51,000 students with a home laptop and mobile hotspot to ensure they could attend online classes during the pandemic. In partnership with the Detroit Public Schools Community District, we provided free technical assistance at community centers around the city to help students stay in school by staying online.
For Connected Seniors, we worked with Connect 313, United Way for Southeastern Michigan and Wayne State University to provide laptops and tablets to 4,000 elderly community members who were isolated during the coronavirus pandemic. These devices have helped beneficiaries stay informed of important news and updates online, receive telehealth services from their doctors, and connect with family and loved ones through video chat. Research shows that the social use of technology among the elderly is linked to lower rates of loneliness and depression, better self-rated health outcomes, and fewer chronic illnesses.
We are also members of the Connect 313 coalition to make Detroit a national model for digital inclusion. More specifically, we actively participate in the Connect 313 Devices and Connectivity and Special Projects committees.
The Rocket Mortgage Classic and the Changing the Course initiative have helped bridge the digital divide through the work of Connect 313. Our partnership has enabled us to distribute devices to community organizations and help families, students and alumni. fighters to access opportunities.
Lee: Why did human computing first spread to Detroit and what has been your overall impact since you launched here last year?
Middleton: Detroit has been ranked by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance as one of the least connected large cities in the country. But unlike many other places, Detroit is seriously investing in digital inclusion and recognizes the enormous economic and social benefits of connecting Detroiters to digital opportunities. Having active local partners such as the Mayor’s Office, Director of Digital Inclusion, Connect 313, GM and Rocket Mortgage, is important in building the coalition needed to develop proven programs like human-IT.
Since launching in Detroit last year, human-IT has hired a team of 25 Detroit residents to promote digital inclusion and refurbish and reuse used electronics. Over the past nine months, they have distributed over 15,000 computers and 7,000 Internet access points to homes in Detroit, and we have handled nearly 100,000 pounds of e-waste from 20 corporate donors.
Lee: What will human computing do to bridge the digital divide in Detroit?
Middleton: human-IT has a unique four-step process for bridging the digital divide, while creating local jobs, conserving resources and protecting the environment:
We collect used technology from business partners across the country – enabling them to make a positive environmental and social impact by diverting their devices from landfills or recycling plants, and allowing them to be restored and shared with those who need it
We are tackling two problems with one solution – reducing e-waste and bridging the digital divide – by refurbishing and updating donated devices, and distributing them to local communities through targeted programs and initiatives. We are also making the devices available in our low cost store which is accessible to eligible people across the country, creating more equitable access to the technology our neighbors need to thrive.
The next step in bridging the digital divide is to ensure that everyone not only has the tools and resources they need, but also knows how to use them. We offer free digital literacy training in multiple languages ââto give everyone the opportunity to learn, grow and succeed; several subsidized programs that provide reliable high-speed Internet connections; and 1: 1 direct technical support.
Lee: How can people help?
Middleton: Businesses and individuals can help human-IT by contributing technology, donating, or promoting human-IT digital inclusion services in their local communities.
Community organizations are encouraged to contact our team to discuss local partnerships for the distribution of devices to low-income and underserved communities. In the past, we have worked with faith groups, non-profit organizations, community centers, social service organizations, housing associations, homeless shelters and affinity groups such as groups. LGBT support or veterans organizations.
Eligible low-income people can purchase the human-IT online marketplace directly at hitconnect.org for desktops, laptops and low cost mobile hotspots. Proof of eligibility is required for all purchases.
Mark S. Lee is Founder, Chairman and CEO of The Lee Group, a Plymouth-based integrated consulting firm. It can be heard on “In the Conference Room” at 11 am on Sundays at 910 am. He hosts the “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee” podcasts at leegroupinnovation.com.