CSR key to preventing digital illiteracy

Infoxchange, Connecting Up Australia facilitating relationships between IT industry and not-for-profits

Connecting the IT industry with non-for-profit organisations and charities is vital to preventing digital illiteracy, Australian business leaders have warned.

Speaking to Computerworld Australia, Infoxchange’s Australian founding executive director, Andrew Mahar, and Connecting Up Australia’s CEO, Doug Jacquier, said technology plays an integral role in their work with the not-for-profit sector.

“Our mission is technology for social justice,” Mahar said. “We work for the not-for-profit sector to improve the way that they use technology for the betterment of society.”

Jacquier said Connecting Up Australia’s role is to provide IT solutions to the ever-growing not-for-profit charities, with companies including Microsoft, Cisco, Sophos, MYOB and Flickr contributing hardware and software to the organisations’ mission.

“We estimate that on an annual basis, the non-profit sector probably spends half a billion dollars on technology-related issues,” Jacquier said. “It’s a very, very large market.”

Mahar agreed that the market was larger than many expect, but that this idea was not realised by many in the larger IT community.

“One thing we have a great deal of difficulty getting across to businesses is that the non-profit sector is a large and significant part of the Australian economy,” he said. “They represent something like 7 or 8 per cent of the GDP [gross domestic product], they employ 600,000 Australians and contribute literally hundreds of millions of dollars to the Australian economy.”

Jacquier agreed that greater awareness was vital in order to prevent further digital illiteracy.

“Not only is basic illiteracy a major issue in Australia,” he said. “When you add digital illiteracy on top of that, it just exacerbates the problem ten fold.”

Mahar said one project that Infoexchange has worked on to combat digital illiteracy included providing basic technology to Australians living in public housing estates.

“In Melbourne we’re wiring up the large public housing estate in the inner-city area of Melbourne,” Mahar said. “2000 households have been provided a computer and then the buildings have been wired up and the people can now get access to the internet for around $5 a month.”

With recent reports that CIOs can use their decision-making power to influence the direction of corporate social responsibility (CSR) in their organisation, Mahar sees CSR as vital, and has initiated programs that build on this premise.

“We’re running an enterprise called Green PC that recycles corporate and government computers that are at end of life,” Mahar said. “We’ve been running that enterprise for the past 8 years and we’ve distributed over 30,000 computers to low income households across Australia and into the Asia-Pacific.”

Jacquier’s next project also relies on CSR, and is a Microsoft-led program aimed at fostering connections between the IT community and not-for-profit organisations.

“We’re in the process of launching a product that we’ve developed in conjunction with Microsoft called Match IT,” Jacquier said. “What we’re trying to do with that is provide a matching service between non-profit organisations and people that can provide technology services.”

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