Presentation of the Fourth Annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards

Presentation of the Fourth Annual Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards

Net Inclusion 2019

April 3, 2019


Adrianne B. Furniss

The city of Charlotte’s namesake, Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz, was Queen of Great Britain at the time of the US Revolution. Therefore, it seems appropriate to revisit the Queen’s City and celebrate the people and the organizations who are ensuring this digital revolution benefits everyone.

This is the fourth time the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and the Benton Foundation have teamed up to present the Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award – and the first time we’ve been smart enough to realize that just one awardee per year is not enough to recognize all the great work being done around the country.

This year’s awards honor PCs for People CEO Casey Sorensen and Opportunity Home San Antonio Digital Inclusion Program Manager Munirih Jester.

I should disclose upfront that I am a huge Casey Sorensen fan and I sit on the PCs for People board. But I had no say in picking the winners this year, so I think of this as an independent confirmation – not insider trading.

Casey is a star in our field. Over the last 11 years, he has crafted a self-sustainable, scalable social enterprise that is positioned as a national leader in digital inclusion. Under his leadership, PCs for People has grown from concept to a network of 300 nonprofits, 12 affiliates, and physical offices in three states that are working together to solve the digital divide. The result is over 250,000 people with home computers and 128,000 people with the ability to access the internet from home.

PCs for People works with individuals below the 200% federal poverty level to provide internet, computing devices, training, and ongoing support. The average recipient is a family of three living on $14,000 per year. At this income level, most families are not able to afford or maintain a computer and an internet connection. Even in 2018, 60% of recipients have never owned a computer and 58% report they are unemployed.

That’s a lot of lives touched, a lot of families improved, and a lot of communities strengthened.

Munirih Jester is the Digital Inclusion ConnectHome Coordinator for the Opportunity Home San Antonio. She serves families that on average earn less than $12,000 a year. In her role as ConnectHome Coordinator, she has been able to deliver digital literacy skills training to nearly 2,000 participants, to award nearly 900 free computers, and to help connect 1,069 homes to the internet.

Munirih hires local Housing Authority residents as Digital Ambassadors, demonstrating how digital inclusion initiatives can themselves be inclusive of those who are working to get out of poverty. She’s developed a digital literacy training program that allows residents to complete training at a variety of locations, not just one, centralized location. She’s even tapped into the power of the sun to generate free, Wi-Fi networks.

Munirih’s award comes from a recognition that there are young, emerging digital inclusion leaders that we must celebrate – and emulate – now.

In the digital revolution, innovation comes from Minnesota and Texas by two people whose bright ideas were generated from necessity. We are at Net Inclusion both to celebrate those innovations – and to add to them. Please help me congratulate two true revolutionaries — Munirih Jester and Casey Sorensen.

Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Foundation.