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The Digital Inclusion program was operated by Eastern Michigan University's, The Business Side of Youth program (The B. Side), after its launch on October 18, 2008. The original vision for Digital Inclusion, also previously known as I-Zoom, came from a think tank of Washtenaw County non-profits and staff. The group applied and received a grant from the Ann Arbor Area Community Foundation (AAACF) to pilot a computer refurbishment and training program for youth. The B. Side was selected to develop, test and operate this pilot program. After 2.5 years The B. Side successfully created a sustainable model that became known only as Digital Inclusion.
Over the years Digital Inclusion has grown significantly. For the program to expand its impact and create new partnerships, it was decided to give Digital Inclusion its own legal identity and become a full-fledged non-profit with 501c3 status.
To put this simply, DI was created to train low-income youth to refurbish donated computers that could then be distributed back to the community. The youth are taught the basics of computer hardware and software through training programs. As the youth learn about computers, they learn to refurbish them, with the byproduct of the training programs being refurbished computers. These computers can then be sold at affordable prices to the community, thus helping to bridge the “digital divide” (technology gap). In addition, youth are introduced to the field of information technology, which has been proven to have numerous high demand careers needing to be filled for the next decade or more. By learning the basic understanding of computers, youth are exposed to the possibilities that information technology can provide, which may increase the chances that they will pursue something in the IT career pathway.
The B. Side determined that the best possible resource to provide the training was college students. They get to practice what they have learned and be the instructor while reaching out past campus borders to impact the local community. The college students not only get to practice their knowledge as instructors, but get to put it to the test in a functioning social enterprise - namely the Digital Inclusion store. At the DI store students have the opportunity to gain valuable “real world” experience running or contributing to the success of DI’s sustainability. There are endless possible lessons to be learned from this type of experience, especially one that can be done while on campus.
Finally, the community and its residents benefit. The “digital divide” is more prevalent in low-income communities, mainly due to cost, connectivity, and choices. First, Digital Inclusion tackles cost by making our technology affordable and offering additional benefits, like free licensed Microsoft Software, to qualified residents and organizations. Second, we apply for grants to expand local free Wi-Fi networks to build an infrastructure to support the community. And third, we educate the community about technology choices. Ensuring that they understand the difference between portable technology (smartphones, tablets, etc.) and a traditional laptop/desktop system. Most portable technology use apps, which do not function the same as programs such as Word, Excel or other commonly used software, and thus increase the “digital divide”.
Ultimately, Digital Inclusion creates win, win, win relationships. We strive to ensure that everyone or every organization that works with us, is impacted positively for the overall good of our community.
Meet our Board of Directors
Board Chair / President
Site Lead: Eastern Michigan University
Site Lead: Jackson College