The Tinder Foundation chief executive and self-proclaimed “digital evangelist” Helen Milner tells on how digital inclusion efforts can help people access public services online.
With modern technology advancing at an exponential pace, the potential for improving lives is vast, but there are also inevitably those who are left behind.
The gap between the digital ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ is a growing concern, with already marginalised groups being pushed further out of mainstream culture.
This is why pioneering charity, the Tinder Foundation, is taking steps to close that gap and empower the digitally excluded.
The organisation’s CEO Helen Milner is a self-proclaimed “digital evangelist” and was recently awarded an OBE for services to digital inclusion.
She describes the honour as “an opportunity to reflect on what I had achieved. I had worked really hard to build digital inclusion as being an important agenda.”
Noting the contribution of her whole team at the Tinder Foundation as well as the partners that have worked with them she continues: “It sounds a bit clichéd but I do feel like I was getting it for them as well and it is a real honour… I think it does bring a legitimacy to the agenda that we’re working on.”
For Milner, that agenda is so much more than getting people online; it is about changing lives.
She says: “I am a massive believer in an equal society. Because I can enjoy all the benefits, seeing so many people not using technology to its full breadth is just a really negative thing for them as individuals, but also negative for society as a whole.”
The Tinder Foundation is about breaking down those barriers that prevent people from getting into work, communicating with friends and family and accessing goods and services.
Describing how this can change individual lives, Ms Milner recounts a recent encounter: “I was talking to a woman who had done a Skype call for mother’s day and she lived in Rotherham and her mother lived in Grimsby. For them they didn’t have enough money to see each other in person, they didn’t have a car, they couldn’t afford the train fare and so they hadn’t actually seen each other for two years. So, it was like magic.”
Since the charity was established four years ago it has grown significantly, she says: “When we first started we had one contract with one government department. Now we have 15 contracts with 5 government departments and trusts and foundations like the Big Lottery and Comic Relief, as well as corporates like Lloyds, Google and Talk Talk.
“So, we are absolutely diversified and we have created a lot of really great partners who believe the same things that we believe. We are helping a quarter of a million people a year to be part of that more equal world and for me the biggest achievement is always that job.”
A vital part of that is the online learning platform – Learn My Way – a website provided by the Tinder Foundation for UK online centres learners, which is designed to make getting online easy.
The resource is free and is, according to Milner, “world-class online learning.”
Alongside this initiative the charity has also been running the Be Online campaign, which provides materials to partners around the country, enabling them to engage with people locally.
“It’s about talking about the internet in a way that is relevant to everybody,” Milner says.
Looking to the future, she is unashamedly ambitious and seeks to build on the charity’s current achievements in order to bring the benefits of digital inclusion to a much wider audience.
“Our 2020 goal is to help 2m people to improve their lives through digital. It’s really hard to talk about digital inclusion without people thinking it’s all about technology. But actually it’s all about the changes we’ve been talking about.
“It’s about helping people to make transformational changes in their life and digital is something that can enable them to do that.
“Digital is also a tool that can bring about social change. There are many ways to address inequalities in society, but individuals can become dependent on the agencies helping them. By providing people with the necessary skills and confidence to do practical things like manage their finances or benefits online, or research health information, they are much more empowered and can become more independent.”
This article first appeared on PoliticsHome, sister publication to PublicTechnology.net