a A collaborative project to ‘bridge the gap’ in Kansas City’s digital divide 2022 Heartland Challenge Grant From the Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundation.

PC Kansas City for People Partnered with (formerly Connecting for Good) usher garage When a consultant out of nowherewill receive $240,000 in funding to be used over two years to develop a new Digital Readiness Assessment Tool.

In addition to the assessment tools, the group will provide eligible entrepreneurs with at least a laptop, desktop, hotspot device, and one year of free internet access.

According to Tom Esselman, executive director of PC for People Kansas City, the team’s goal is to connect low-income entrepreneurs with the digital resources they need to run and scale their businesses.

“Entrepreneurs with access to technology will always have something of an ecosystem of support resources they can understand and access, such as banks and loans, consultants, financial advisors, HR professionals, marketers,” Esselman said. I’m here.

“Fundamentally, if the technology was lacking, there was no bridge to that ecosystem,” he continued. “So our ultimate goal is to bring so-called informal entrepreneurs into that ecosystem.”

Esselman described the PC for People Kansas City philosophy as a “three-legged stool” focused on providing Internet access, devices, and technology training.

“[These are] People who have gone their whole lives without access to what most people take for granted,” Esselman said. “Just by sitting down and talking to these individuals, families, or small organizations, you can see just how transformative you can be if you have these basic technology tools in your hands.”

Connect to support

When Rick Usher learned that recruitment was open for this year’s Heartland Challenge, he reached out to Esselman and the No-Where Consultants leadership team with the idea of ​​joining forces.

Usher, president and CEO of The Usher Garage and former assistant city manager of Kansas City, said: Kansas City Digital Inclusion Coalition.

“We are creating this program to give them the access they need, but most importantly, the connection to this vibrant Kansas City entrepreneurial empowerment community.”

— Rick Usher usher garage

“We are creating this program to give them the access they need, but most importantly, connecting them to this vibrant Kansas City entrepreneurial community,” Usher said. said.

PCs for People supplies devices through a recycling and remanufacturing model. Importantly, he is the only non-profit of the three companies. Heartland Challenge grants are only awarded to nonprofit organizations in Missouri, Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.

consultant out of nowhere — a B company certification Led by CEO Larissa Uredi and Founder and CTO Aaron Crabb, the Digital Strategy Agency will provide technical expertise to develop the Digital Readiness Assessment Tool.

According to Crabb, the team is still figuring out what exactly the digital readiness assessment tool will look like, and is talking to and learning more about the entrepreneurs it will target.

“What are the real-life challenges people who will benefit from this tool face and what are their paths to digital readiness?” the club said. “What hurdles do they encounter when trying to access these other resources?”

Usher added that the team is working on the project with: design thinking We now want to “get rid of the unknown unknowns”.

Assessment tools may include surveys or questionnaires to better understand the specific issues faced by entrepreneurs.

Uredi said the team will seek out 100 entrepreneurs to be evaluated once the evaluation is complete, with the goal of having at least 75 eligible to receive the grant’s deliverables.

The team will also “deliberately” focus on BIPOC entrepreneurs, Usher added, highlighting how important bridging the digital divide is in bridging the racial wealth gap. I mentioned that there is a lot of research going on that shows.

Esselman said the two-year term of the grant will begin in July and the team will have a checkpoint with the Kauffman Foundation next May.

COVID exposure

For Usher, Esselman, Uredi and Crabb, fighting the digital divide is both a professional project and a personal passion.

Usher and Esselman point out that while the pandemic has made the digital divide “front page news,” the issue is not new, and Kansas City’s Digital Inclusion Coalition tried to bring it to your attention well before the pandemic began. Did.

“Rick and I and some others have worked together [on this issue] In the last seven years, this started before COVID, and no one cared about low-income people lacking internet and computers,” Esselman said. “By the time COVID hit, it was like, ‘Oh my God. All these people need the internet and computers.'”

“When I step out of my privilege, I realize there was a lot of business that had the air sucked out of the room. [by the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic] And they had nowhere to turn. I think many of us forget that. “

Larissa Ulady, No-Where Consultants

The pandemic has exacerbated the struggles facing many low-income entrepreneurs and small businesses. We lacked the resources and knowledge to create options such as online ordering and curbside pickup.

Usher believes that access to high-quality, affordable internet is basic infrastructure and should be viewed as a utility, just like water, electricity and gas.

“clearly [Internet is necessary] It can be used for learning, healthcare, managing household chores, using online banking, shopping, etc.,” Usher said. “This is a quote from an MP. [Emanuel] Cleaver: “If you’re not online, you’re in decline.”

Crabb noted that small businesses and entrepreneurs may not be able to find the best candidates if they are unable to post job listings online, while Uredi said there is a trade-off between education and economic opportunity. We mentioned that Link makes digital literacy and access even more important as virtual learning becomes more and more important. boom.

“You’d expect to be able to do that using the Internet,” says Uredi. “You can’t get out of that economic depression if you don’t know how or don’t have access to it.”

Uredi also recalled his own experience converting much of No-Where Consultants’ business to digital format in the early days of the pandemic.

“When COVID started, it felt like all the air had been sucked out of the room,” said Uredi. “I remember how fast it started to act… I made sure I had the tools so my team could work remotely. It was just second nature.”

“When you take a step outside of your privilege, you realize there’s a lot of business that sucks the air out of the room and has nowhere to turn. I think a lot of us forget that.”

split access

Esselman said the team has some expectations and parameters as to what tools will be offered to each eligible entrepreneur, but will work on a case-by-case basis.

“In conditions of underserved or underserved areas, these people are just trying to survive. accurately indicates the bitterness of

Tom Esselman, PC for People Kansas City

“This is not set up to be just a deal,” he said. ‘Oh, nice. You got an assessment. You passed. This is yours. Good luck.’ thinking about.”

Entrepreneurship in low-income areas isn’t always as attractive or “sexy” as people generally think, he added, because access to resources is unequal.

“These are the people who are trying to survive in these underserved areas,” Esselman said. “They have to do business just to survive, and that pinpoints the pain of the digital divide.”

Usher pointed to the irony that many people living in wealthy neighborhoods on opposite sides of the digital divide often feel too connected to the internet.

“A lot of the reason the digital divide persists in these areas is because people in wealthy neighborhoods don’t even think about it,” Usher said. “In fact, they often feel over-connected to the internet, so it didn’t really bother them.”

Esselmann added that people at all levels of economic opportunity and digital accessibility need to be involved in bridging the gap.

“We all need to have a stake in helping people get the tools they need to live a decent life,” he said. “Because when they lead a decent life, it makes it easier for everyone to lead a decent life.”

This story is Ewing Marion Kaufman Foundationis a private, non-partisan foundation that works with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create extraordinary solutions, empowering people to shape their own futures and succeed.

For more information, please visit www.kauffman.org and connect to the following URL: www.twitter.com/kauffmanfdn and www.facebook.com/kauffmanfdn

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