Deb Socia, Executive Director of Next Century Cities, was named the third annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion awardee at the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s Net Inclusion summit in Cleveland.
Among Ms. Socia’s many, many accomplishments, she founded Tech Goes Home in Boston in 2000, after more than thirty years as a public school educator and having seen first-hand the challenges faced by our most vulnerable citizens across the digital divide. Chattanooga and the Enterprise Center, recognizing the power of EPB’s gigabit network to better and more equitably connect our community, approached Boston about bringing TGH to the Gig City just over three years ago.
Since then, Tech Goes Home Chattanooga has worked with more than 80 community partners to provide affordable technology, low-cost home internet and digital skills training for more than 3,000 residents. TGH has since grown to offer courses for job-seekers, small-business owners, educators and families with young children - making full-participation in a rapidly changing digital world possible for everyone in our community.
Although the Enterprise Center was surely not her only nominator, we have been proud to work with Ms. Socia on issues of digital inclusion and smart city technology, benefiting tremendously from her leadership both at Tech Goes Home and with Next Century Cities. In her acceptance remarks, Deb shared some of her own story, which speaks directly to why her work, and ours, matters:
“I want to take just a moment to tell you a little about my family. None of my grandparents were born in this country. Neither of my parents made it through tenth grade. I am one of six children. I am amongst the first generation of high school graduates in my family. And the first generation of college graduates, and the first with an advanced degree.
You know why I care about digital equity so much? The library provided me the opportunity to read, to research, and to work hard to overcome barriers. When I did not know how to apply for college, I went to the library. When I did not know which fork to use? Miss Manners was waiting at the library to give me advice … [t]he library was the great equalizer. Information, hard work, and, yes, a lot of luck, brought with them the opportunity to change the trajectory of my life.
If I had been born into the same situation today, the library would still be there for me. But it would not be able to provide me with experiences equal to those of my peers. Though libraries have technology and work hard to provide online resources, this issue of equitable access cannot be solved solely by dedicated librarians. The only way we can provide equity is if we provide the requisite technology, training, as well as home access. To get equitable outcomes, we must have equitable input.”
Named for Charles Benton, the founder of the Benton Foundation, the award was created by NDIA to recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting the ideal of accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans, to crafting programs and policies that make it a reality. You can read more about this year’s award here.