Digital equity and literacy are the blueprints that help refugees thrive

The right technology can accomplish far more than drive modern business, educate and inform, or enable social connections - it can actually change lives, helping build digital literacy, connect families to social services and healthcare resources, and prepare workers for the jobs of the 21st century. Yet, even though more than 90 percent of the world has access to 3G coverage or better, half the global population lacks the means to connect. 

As part of our corporate mission of social responsibility, World Wide Technology (WWT) is committed to making a positive impact on the planet by taking care of people and communities. The best way we can "Make a New World Happen" is to take what we're best at - deploying transformational technologies - and collaborate with our like-minded partners on bold initiatives for the greater good. Our technology partner, Intel, embraces a similar culture. Together we support such endeavors as the N50 Project to extend digital literacy to the remaining 50 percent of the world. 

Intel's John Kariuki (left) delivering a new laptop

One recent collaboration with Intel and the Intel RISE Technology Initiative, the Digital Equity Institute (DEI), Geeks without Frontiers, and Arizona State University (ASU) to bring connectivity to tribal lands and rural areas revealed another, different kind of population in need: refugees who have been relocated to Phoenix. This led to an alliance with a private refugee support organization, the Welcome to America Project (WTAP). Our group - consisting of WWT, Intel and ASU - worked with WTAP to evaluate refugees' technology challenges and assemble a plan that would: 

  • Place modern, reliable hardware in the hands of those who needed it most.
  • Provide training and other resources to establish and accelerate digital literacy and digital equity among users of all ages.
  • Enable job seekers to find and prepare for employment opportunities.

Our goal: to create a blueprint that can be leveraged and scaled to serve refugee communities nationwide. 

Supporting the WTAP mission: identify and address key refugee challenges 

The idea for WTAP originated in October 2001 when Phil and Carolyn Manning - who lost a brother, Terence Manning, in the Sept. 11 terrorist attack - read an account of an Afghani refugee family struggling to resettle in Phoenix. Seeking to give meaning to Terence's death, the Mannings began collecting donations of clothing and household goods for the family. And so began their refugee assistance organization, creating good from tragedy. In the two decades since, the network of WTAP volunteers has aided more than 2,000 displaced individuals and families, offering essential resources such as English as a Second Language (ESL) classes through ASU, so that refugees can flourish as successful community members. 

The initial challenges were daunting: refugees spoke as many as 12 different languages but little to no English. Setting up 1:1 English tutors over Zoom was problematic: what few computers they had were old and slow, and the refugees themselves were required to configure them unassisted after watching an instructional video. Moreover, the donated desktop PCs and peripherals had to stay in one place, making it difficult to escape from family distractions in an often-crowded household. And even if they could manage to set up, log in and join the Zoom meetings, technical glitches constantly frustrated the learning process. 

Once WWT, Intel and WTAP determined these challenges, they recruited additional team members, such as Dell, from among WWT's many technology partners. Everyone set to work on creating a solution blueprint that was practical, effective and scalable to other refugee populations in need. 

A holistic solution becomes crucial to helping refugees integrate into American life  

Working together, our WTAP team has already begun the process of introducing the refugees to this transformational technology. A critical first step was to arrange for language-appropriate training, whether through 1:1 tutoring, instruction labs, or learning apps on their devices.

To relieve non-tech (and often non-English-speaking) refugees from the ordeal of configuring their own devices, these newer, faster laptops arrive pre-configured by WWT, ready to go out-of-the-box. WWT has ordered more than 100 Dell laptops powered by the IntelCore i5 processor, with accelerated and intelligent performance for learning, plus hardened security to help protect less experienced users. In addition, the highly portable form factor with wireless connectivity, built-in camera and extended battery life means they can use their laptop wherever they can be most productive without distractions. 

After configuring the initial 100-laptop order, WWT has begun delivering them to WTAP for distribution to refugees. Among the first laptop recipients are two brothers who intend to use them not only to improve their literacy (in language as well as technology) but also to obtain employment. One brother is studying to go into business while the other has a passion for music. Their laptop from WTAP will enable them to build a solid foundation for their new livelihoods and interests.  

Watch the story in this video

Creating a proven and scalable blueprint 

Phoenix-area refugees are fortunate to have support from WWT's technology alliance with a local volunteer organization such as WTAP, but there are more than 50 such refugee assistance groups across the U.S. that could benefit from a similar approach. With that greater need in mind, WWT is carefully defining the necessary metrics to measure, analyze and quantify WTAP outcomes, including the ability to achieve: 

  • Improved local government participation.
  • Job searches and employment.
  • Navigation of public transportation.
  • Access to healthcare and telehealth.
  • Economic well-being.
  • Social interactions, in their new community or anywhere else.
  • And, crucially, digital equity and literacy through technology, which influences those other factors.

We will be collecting feedback from all stakeholders and will revisit the impact of this program after six months. Our goal is to create a blueprint for success that can be emulated in other refugee communities and scaled according to need. 

Making a new world happen - one community at a time 

Technology assistance to refugees plays a critical first-step in helping them begin their new lives in the United States.

Answering a challenge like this effectively can't be done with simple fixes here and there (connectivity, devices, applications, etc.). To help refugees acquire digital equity and literacy means looking at the picture as a whole and bringing all necessary elements together to create a complete, coordinated solution. That is what our team has accomplished, each participant playing an active role in delivering the elements of a scalable blueprint: WWT and Intel for their technology expertise; Dell for its product support; ASU for its leadership, research, commitment to solving the digital divide and classroom and virtual instruction; and WTAP for being the driving force behind it all. 

WWT and our ecosystem partners, including Intel and Dell, are all passionate about solving big problems with technology - not just for business customers but in ways that enrich lives; that includes the displaced and disenfranchised. 

Transformational technology and caring support resources can provide a second chance for political refugees wherever they may find safe harbor. It's all part of our larger commitment to responsible citizenship to make a new world happen.