How Every Corporation's IT Department Can Close the Digital Equity Gap
“Philanthropy can often be the most cost-effective way—and sometimes the only way—to improve competitive context. It enables companies to leverage not only their own resources but also the existing efforts and infrastructure of nonprofits and other institutions.” (Porter& Kramer, 2002).
Corporate devices bridging digital divide
Although corporate giving has existed in the United States since the late 1800’s, the landscape has changed as drastically as our technologies. What was historically transactional – funneling employee donations through payroll deduction programs to a select few institutional charities – has evolved to become a strategic vehicle and a competitive differentiator for companies to attract and retain talent, grow market share, and appeal to new customers.
With this evolution, it’s not surprising that 85% of companies offer some sort of corporate giving program today (Non-Profit Source, 2023). Of these, a select few are tapping into the potential of an often-overlooked resource, their own technology.
An opportunity hidden in plain sight: your tech
A primary purpose of corporate giving programs is to create an avenue of positive impact between companies and the communities in which they serve and reside. An effective strategy that accomplishes this and creates a win-win-win for society, the environment, and the company is by giving their high-quality, gently used devices a second life through Corporate Digital Equity programs, making these devices available to local non-profits, charitable organizations, and their beneficiaries.
But what exactly is Digital Equity?
Digital equity is “a condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services.” National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA).
In other words, it’s the ability for people to access and use information communication technologies and includes five key elements:
1. Affordable, robust internet services
2. Internet enabled devices that meet the needs of the user
3. Access to digital literacy training
4. Quality technical support and
5. Applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation, and collaboration.
Today, many Americans lack reliable access to these vital tools that provide access to education, healthcare, entertainment, and jobs. This is what is often referred to as the digital divide. NDIA reported that in 2021 there were 9,883,443 unemployed individuals in the United States (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021), of which at least 33% lack foundational digital skills (NDIA State Digital Equity Scorecard). In the same analysis, it’s been reported that 75.2% of job openings require such skills (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2021).
The digital divide disparities were further exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Abrupt lockdowns resulted in the sudden discontinuation of access to technology provided by community-oriented initiatives like libraries, educational institutions, and vocational training centers. The rapid shift towards online services left a significant portion of individuals disconnected. As per data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2020, "93% of households with school-age children reported their children participating in some form of remote learning from home," while only a proportion of households had the means to access reliable devices and internet, necessary to fully utilize the available online educational resources.
In response, many non-profits, companies, and multiple publicly funded programs such as the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act and the Emergency Connectivity Fund unlocked resources for schools and libraries to provide computers and home internet access to students. However, these programs were not able to reach every student and household and are slowly discontinuing.
Continuing to provide access to reliable, internet enabled devices is critical in addressing this digital divide and for communities to thrive in today’s world.
Corporate IT bridging the Digital Divide
Every day companies work with ITAD providers to decommission their corporate and employee-based IT assets safely and securely. Many of these devices are still fully functional and can be key players in closing the local digital divide. By establishing Corporate Digital Equity programs, companies can create powerful win-win-win opportunities with compounding impact by donating their decommissioned IT assets, or the recovery value of those assets, to community organizations and programs.
IMPACT IN THE MAKING: Digital equity programs creating freedom and autonomy for students, one laptop at a time.
“Give them the tools to be successful and their opportunities are endless.” Mr. Patrick Lynch, Director of Development & Public Relations, I Know I Can
Huntington Bank has a long history of supporting local digital equity initiatives. They have donated over 300 devices to local organizations including the YMCA, Chicago Hope Academy and Cuyahoga Municipal Housing Authority. Because they chose Sage Sustainable Electronics as their ITAD provider, Huntington was able to make these donations with peace of mind that their refurbished devices were securely wiped of any data, and in a like new condition before being donated to their second life users.
Earlier this year, 50 Huntington laptops were donated to I Know I Can through Sage’s Good Together program. I Know I Can is the only college access program in Columbus and one of the largest and most successful in the nation. Since its beginning, I Know I Can has made higher education a reality for tens of thousands of Columbus students who dreamed of a college education and worked hard to get it. Because of Huntington’s donation, college bound students who have received scholarships through I Know I Can’s Founders program were also equipped with laptops.
When asked what digital equity and the donation of devices means for I Know I Can and their students, Director of Development and Public Relations, Patrick Lynch summarized it in one word.
“Whether you're living on campus or at home, if you don't have a device that is available to you when you need or want to use it, you're faced with a restriction. Somebody else is more or less managing your access. A laptop means you are not dictated by the hours and availability of computers at the library.
A laptop allows the freedom to decide where and when to study. Whether you want to work at a coffee shop, at home, or do group projects in a dorm room.”
Lynch went on to explain that students, who may have received a device to use while in high school, must return them upon graduation. “Our programs and supporters have made a strong financial commitment to these promising students so let's give them all the tools they need to be successful. Adding a laptop in their Founders’ Scholarship package just made sense.”
Corporate digital equity programs make this impact possible and have benefits for the planet as well.
Digital equity programs doing double duty for environmental sustainability
Extending the life of corporate IT devices through responsible and secure refurbishing, supports the environmental and sustainability priorities held by most major corporations.
According to SustainableIT.org, a non-profit trade association made up of technology and sustainability executives focused on advancing global sustainability through technology leadership, in addition to strong governance standards around data privacy, IT hardware circularity is a key environmental priority. Companies are encouraged to “assess current hardware disposal methods; initiate or expand IT asset disposition to reduce landfill [and] assess impact of prolonging lT hardware lifecycle on IT asset classes (servers, laptops, etc.).”
Many corporate laptops and computers are set for retirement after 3-5 years of use, however they often have another 4-5 years of use in them for non-corporate workloads, making them affordable options for non-profits. Studies have shown that prolonging the life of a device by just two years can avoid 190 kgCO2e of carbon emissions (Hart, 2016). Since the production of the device is responsible for upwards of 80% of their total CO2 emissions, extending the life through responsible reuse can reduce the demand for new devices (Kilgore, 2023).
Digital Equity Programs are Good Business
Supporting local digital equity initiatives not only addresses critical social needs but also aligns with the priorities of the business, fostering a sense of purpose and social impact. This commitment to the triple bottom line—people, planet, and prosperity—demonstrates a company's dedication to creating lasting solutions that benefit all stakeholders.
Through digital equity programs, companies and their employees can build connections to local causes they support while making a positive impact in the communities where they operate.
Together, we can bridge the digital divide and build a more equitable and sustainable future.