Oaklanders interested in digital inclusion projects in Oakland would have been delighted to be part of the recent event organized by Everyoneon.org, a national organization focused on digital inclusion and internet access and California Emerging Technology Fund, a state-wide non-profit organization whose mission is to close the digital divide by accelerating the deployment and adoption of broadband.

The noon-time event, held at City Hall in Oakland, introduced Everyoneon, CETF and partners The Stride Center, Reliatech, Oakland Technology Exchange( OTX), the Oakland Public Library, and the East Bay Broadband Consortium to an interested audience whose affiliations included UC Berkeley and Code for America.

Among the speakers were Jennifer Riggs of California Emerging Technology Fund. Riggs emphasized that CETF is a statewide effort that’s focused on making sure everyone has access to the internet at home and the ability to work in technology if they’d like to. “Our job is to help fill the gaps,” said Riggs, noting that her organization has supported and partnered with many Oakland digital access non-profits.

James Nixon, a principal in the East Bay Broadband Coalition, a consortium founded by the East Bay Economic Development Alliance, the East Bay Community Foundation, and Solano and Contra Costa Counties, stressed the importance of broadband infrastructure to economic development in his presentation. “We wan to see 4G coverage in all three counties and 1 Gigabit speed,” Nixon told the crowd. “We need that to be competitive with other parts of the country.” Working closely with the Stride Center, who maintains call center agents to do the work, EBBC is also the founder of East Bay Connects, a referral service that recommends affordable broadband to East Bay residents seeking residential coverage.

Barrie Hathaway, director of the Stride Center, emphasized that the Center not only provides people with critical job skills for entry into tech careers through Microsoft Certification and computer repair and call center training, it also operates as a social enterprise, providing employment through a Call Center and through ReliaTech a computer repair and refurbishing service. “Our mission is helping people get out of poverty through workforce development,” said Hathaway.

Karen Lincoln, Relia Tech’s manager, explained that the service operates by taking in donated computers, repairing and refurbishing them, and then making them available to schools, organizations and individuals at affordable rates–with lifetime service contracts.

Domingo Vasquez of OTX, another West Oakland organization, explained how their services focused on providing free computers to Oakland students in grades 6-12 and to new broadband subscribers. “A volunteer program of 20 hours gets you an OTX free computer,” said Vasquez. “We’re trying not just to bridge the digital divide, but to eliminate it.”

Lana Adlawan of the Oakland Public Library shared on Ready! Set! Connect! a program running in several branches and the Main Library that provided tech literacy training and volunteer hours to teens, who then used their time to provide in-library tech support and mentoring to patrons, many of them much older than the youth. The first cohort of youth in the Oakland program is graduating this May. “This is a program that provides real world experience to youth and also helps patrons who need more support,” Adawan said. “We’re excited about it.”

Susan Mernit from Hack the Hood (yes, that’s me) also presented, sharing with attendees basic information about Hack the Hood’s development as a program started both to address the need for tech job training in Oakland and the stunning lack of visibility on the mobile web that plagues many local small businesses. Attendees asked about Hack the Hood’s completion rate (92% of the youth in the summer 2013 program graduated), number of web sites built for local businesses in 6 weeks (60), and plans for 2014 (we want to both run the Oakland summer program and expand into year-round operation with a youth web services shop, internships, and ongoing mentoring.)

Other speakers included Mai Ling Garcia from the marketing department of The City of Oakland, who touched on her role with social media, open data, and strategic tech planning, and Norma Fernandez of Everyoneon.org, an organization dedicated to getting people in low income communities of color online.

“We’re all working together in this room to tackle this problem,” Fernandez said. “And the best thing we can do is work together.”


About The Author

Susan Mernit is editor & publisher of Oakland Local (oaklandlocal.com) a news & community hub for Oakland, CA. A former VP at AOL & Netscape, & former! Yahoo Senior Director, Mernit was consulting program manager for The Knight News Challenge, 2008-09; was a 2012 Stanford Carlos McClatchy Fellow; and is a board adviser to The Center for Health Reporting at USC, Annenberg School of Journalism. She has consulted with many non-profit organizations on strategy, product development and social media/engagement, including Salon.com, TechSoup Global, Public Radio International and the Institute for Policy Studies/Economic Hardship Reporting Project, led by Barbara Ehrenreich.

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