We rely on technology and the internet for nearly everything we do – from finding jobs and training opportunities to keeping up with our kids’ schooling and more. Unfortunately, not everyone in our city has reliable internet and technology access. That’s where the Digital Inclusion Project – a Foundation funded partner – comes in.
The group was founded in February 2020, as the pandemic was poised to change our lives and expose a deep digital disparity in many communities. The Digital Inclusion Project aims to expand access to the internet, equipment, and technology training and support so that all residents, regardless of their age or economic status, can thrive in our increasingly digital world.
“Digital inclusion isn’t about getting people online for recreation but is more focused on activities that are necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and essential services,” explained Veatrice Farrell, director of the Digital Inclusion Project. “It seeks to reduce and ultimately to eliminate historical, institutional and structural barriers to the access and use of technology.”
Originally known as Digital Inclusion St. Petersburg, the project has operated under the guidance of the St. Petersburg Innovation District and the Deuces Live District since its inception. From 2020 to 2022, it focused primarily on the South St. Petersburg Community Redevelopment Area (CRA), where a significant percentage of households lack an internet subscription. In the fall of 2022, it moved under the administration of the Community Foundation Tampa Bay, which serves as the project’s backbone organization.
The Foundation for a Healthy St. Petersburg began funding the initiative in 2021 and decided to deepen its support in 2022 given the positive impact of the program and the growing need from the community. Together with the City of St Petersburg, the Foundation provided the funding necessary to transform Digital Inclusion into a stand-alone entity, hire Farrell as its director, and expand reach to eventually include all of Pinellas County.
“The pandemic magnified the importance of technology in our everyday lives, as well as the challenges faced by those who don’t have easy access to the internet, tools, or training they need to be connected,” said St. Petersburg City Council member Gina Driscoll, who envisions a city where every resident can utilize the internet for telehealth, online learning, and accessing valuable resources.
Farrell’s expertise has been invaluable to the partnership.
“Veatrice has been working on digital inclusion since the beginning. She helped to form the partnership, its priorities, and its scope,” said Alison Barlow, executive director of the St. Pete Innovation District. “She has seen firsthand the challenges individuals in our community are struggling with and what services will make a difference.”
As our world becomes more reliant on digital technology, initiatives like the Digital Inclusion Project are vital to fostering equitable access to the internet and digital resources. By addressing the digital divide, Digital Inclusion’s work will help ensure all residents can participate in the digital world and thrive in today’s interconnected society.