In today's knowledge-based society, digital technologies are a gateway to socio-economic development. Yet, almost 300 million people across Europe live in digital exclusion. This is particularly problematic given that soon all but 10% of jobs will require digital skills and literacy, if not fluency (IDC, Nov 2009). Digital Inclusion is thus necessary to Europe's competitive future.
In recent years, ICT-based Community Telecentres have become important supporters for digital literacy/adult education of the disadvantaged, contributing training and guidance to personal development, active citizenship, social inclusion, and employability. By offering low-cost or free training, informal learning opportunities, as well as proximity to rural and otherwise challenged communities, telecentres are proving their value to economic and social inclusion. In connecting and professionalizing the multitude of community-based telecentre projects across the continent, Telecentre Europe creates a direct channel for addressing the challenge of pan-European digital inclusion in a locally appropriate way.
Objective: More than 290 million people in Europe lack basic ICT skills. Telecentre Europe is seeking to close this gap. The telecentres that comprise Telecentre Europe's membership are public facilities such as libraries or community centers where people can access computers and the Internet, undertake basic training courses and gain skills certification. Because they are community-based, telecentres are especially effective in reaching people who are hard to reach through formal learning channels. However, for maximum effectiveness, Europe's telecentres need greater visibility, funding and organizational capacity.
Solution/Implementation: Microsoft granted funding and expertise to help launch Telecentre-Europe. Microsoft also helped facilitate the network's successful EU funding application. The Network is governed by a Steering Committee; implementation is through member initiative and action.
• Strengthens digital inclusion efforts in Europe by improving organizational capacity and management skills of telecentre managers.
• Promotes knowledge sharing and exchange to maximize program impact through employability-related skills and expertise.
• Provides a channel for cross-boundary collaboration and provision of products, services and expertise in digital inclusion.
• Facilitates information about resources and grants from public and private sources.
• Enables advocacy of grass-roots organizations at the European level to ensure digital literacy remains a key policy objective.
Microsoft was already working with several of Europe's leading telecentre organizations as part of the company's Community Technology Skills Program, which provides financial grants, objektivitet software and curricula support for community-based ICT skills training. Recognizing the potential for exponential value through collaboration, and building on these partnerships, Microsoft Community Affairs played an active advisory role in creating the Telecentre-Europe network, officially launched in December 2008 at the EU Ministerial Conference on e-Skills, in Vienna. Already, Telecentre-Europe has more than 250 telecentre leaders, practitioners and funding and development partners from 33 European countries participating in the network.
For many Europeans, telecentres are - and will be - the critical link with the digital world and the eSkills needed to maximize technology's promise. Professionalization of these community-based resources is thus a vital step in building and raising the capacity of centres to respond to the changing ICT needs of society.
Telecentre-Europe is well-positioned to maximize the impact of information-sharing between telecentres. This will require demonstrating the accomplishments of telecentres in increasingly concrete and tangible ways, while also pursuing formal recognition of the role and profession of telecentre managers across Europe.
This initiative needs to secure support from across industries and at the European level in order to accomplish digital inclusion in a sustainable manner. Microsoft embraces an open and inclusive multi-stakeholder approach to its corporate responsibility initiatives, and invites other corporations and company employees working in the ICT and technology sector to join forces in supporting Telecentre-Europe.
In less than two years:
• Coalesced to advocate at the European level about the importance of eSkills and e-Inclusion, winning Commission endorsement via the EU Ministerial meeting, securing invitation to participate in the i2010 review and as a stakeholder in the eSkills Week campaign.
• Secured a €260,000 capacity-building grant from the EU Grundtvig Program providing an employability toolkit to telecentre managers across Europe building on member centres' successful program innovations.
• § Created robust on-line networking portal and resource bank where telecentre managers post and exchange information, ideas and tools to enable better service delivery.
Extended membership to over 80 organizations in 33 European countries (26 EU, 7 non-EU).