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Six social organisations, seven public institutions and eleven companies join forces to combat digital exclusion

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Four in ten Belgians risk being excluded from our increasingly digital society. The reasons include a lack of digital skills, a lack of access to equipment or an internet connection, and the 'stress' of digital technology. Given this unacceptable situation, last year BNP Paribas Fortis, with the operational support of Co.Station, launched an ambitious eco-system, the Digital Inclusion Ecosystem: 11 companies, six social organisations and seven public bodies have been working closely together in recent months and are now presenting the first six practical solutions for reducing the digital divide.

Digitisation is ubiquitous in our society. It is increasingly common for the digital route to be the only one possible, whether making a doctor's appointment, applying for temporary unemployment, registering children at school, taking online courses or applying for a certificate from the municipality. Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity or skills to use these digital tools. Moreover, the digital divide affects some groups more than others.
 
Digital Inclusion Ecosystem
In November 2020, BNP Paribas Fortis set the Digital Inclusion Ecosystem in motion, with the operational support of Co.Station. This initiative brings together stakeholders from different sectors and different backgrounds to generate synergies and work together. The project aims to reduce the digital divide by putting digital inclusion on the agenda, creating a network and devising ready-made solutions with a positive impact in the short and long term.
 
The ecosystem brings together bodies that can make a real difference by working together. The stakeholders in the ecosystem are the following:  

  • for the corporate world: AG Insurance, BNP Paribas Fortis, Colruyt Group, Deloitte, DNS Belgium, De Watergroep, IBM, itsme®, Microsoft, Proximus, and VRT;
  • for social organisations: Beego, Close the Gap, DigitalForYouth.be, Hobo, Maks, and Mediawijs;
  • for public authorities and public administrations, at federal and regional level: Actiris, Agence du Numérique, independent agency Opgroeien, Brussels Regional Informatics Centre (BRIC), FPS Strategy & Support, FPS Finance, Wallonia Public Service - Economy, Employment & Research.

 

"With its experience on similar inclusion projects (such as wifi.brussels, the Multimedia Plan in schools and the creation of municipal DPSs), since December 2019, the BRIC has been leading projects carried out within the Brussels Region, through its Digital Inclusion Coordination. Increased collaboration between the various digital inclusion stakeholders, be they associations, private or public, has led to various actions to give greater visibility to these projects and make the digital transition a vehicle for opportunity and well-being for citizens" (Marc Van den Bossche, Deputy Director-General of the BRIC)
 

Participants are assisted by a range of experts, also from organisations with diverse backgrounds:

  • for the academic world: UCLL, UCLouvain, VUB;
  • for the corporate world: 3 Step IT, Anysurfer, BNP Paribas Leasing Solutions;
  • for social organisations: Kauwenberg Centre, Digidak, Eleven Ways, King Baudouin Foundation, Link in de Kabel, Lire et Écrire, Vlaamse Ouderenraad (advisory council for the elderly in Flanders), Wablieft, We Tech Care;
  • For the federal and regional authorities: District09, EPN De Wallonie.

 
Digital illiteracy
The groups most affected by the digital divide are people experiencing poverty, the poorly educated, older people, young people and people with disabilities.
 
In Belgium, at least one in ten households does not have an internet connection at home. And this figure rises to three in ten for low-income households. Lack of access to digital tools is one of the main causes of the digital divide.
 
The second reason is the lack of digital skills, which is the case for 30% of Belgians.
 
The third cause is 'digital stress'. Some people, who are quite capable of using digital tools, sometimes prefer not to do so, for various reasons. Technology is changing so quickly that some people are switching off. There are also concerns about online security and privacy, and the fact that apps and websites are not user-friendly enough.
 
Six solutions for reducing the digital divide
The Digital Inclusion Ecosystem is initially offering six concrete solutions for combating digital exclusion. In the next phase, these solutions will be developed, tested and implemented. Other organisations can join the ecosystem as this second phase approaches. In the appendix, you will find more information on the six proposed solutions. 

1. Awareness campaign
The first solution is to make digital inclusion a priority objective. The general public remains largely unaware of the true extent of the problem and the groups affected by the digital divide. An awareness campaign will be developed for businesses, public authorities and individuals.

2. Strengthening of existing initiatives
As there are already many valuable e-inclusion initiatives, these projects should be supported and strengthened. A platform will be created for this purpose.

3. Mobile solution for hard-to-reach target groups
Today, some of the 40% of Belgians exposed to the risk of digital exclusion are falling off the radar of organisations that could offer them the support they need. As a result, these people are not actively participating in our increasingly digitised society. The offer of support must reach them if it is to best reach this population. The mobile solution offered by the ecosystem will make it easier to get hard-to-reach target groups to take their first steps towards digital independence.

4. Local access point for all
The public are often largely unaware of local access points, where they can go to use a computer or ask questions. This is why the ecosystem proposes creating a local Digital Inclusion Leader function and a local access point.

5. Numerical inclusion index
The Digital Inclusion Ecosystem wants to help public and private organisations to do more to achieve digital inclusion. This is why the ecosystem will develop an index, or international standard, that will allow these organisations to assess the extent to which they are promoting digital inclusion. This index will also encourage them to better adapt their tools and processes to the needs of people in digitally vulnerable situations.

6. Simple, automated development of digital skills
Sometimes, people do not take the first step towards digitisation because they are prevented by stigmatisation and shame, on the one hand, and by the lack of solutions, on the other. Solutions are insufficient or costly. This is why the ecosystem offers an automated and easy-to-use solution.
 
Note: The figures mentioned in this press release come from the King Baudouin Foundation's 'Digital Inclusion Barometer 2020', which can be consulted at this link (in French).

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