How to close the global digital divide and level the playing field
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In the last 20 years, the internet has become almost as essential as water or air. Every day, many of us wake up and check it for the news, sports, work, and social media. We log on from our phones, our computers, even our watches. It's a luxury so often taken for granted. With the COVID-19 pandemic, as many now work from home and children are going to school online, home access is a more critical service than ever before.

On the flip side, some 3.6 billion people live without affordable access to the internet. This digital divide — which has only widened over the past 20 years — has worsened wealth inequality within countries, divided developed and developing economies and intensified the global gender gap. It has allowed new billionaires to rise, and contributed to keeping billions of others in poverty.

In the US, lack of internet access at home prevents nearly one in five teens from finishing their homework. One third of households with school-age children and income below $30,000 don't have internet in their homes, with Black and Hispanic households particularly affected.

The United Nations is working to highlight the costs of the digital divide and to rapidly close it. In September 2019, for example, the UN's International Telecommunication Union and UNICEF launched Giga, an initiative aimed at connecting every school and every child to the internet by 2030.

Closing digital inequity gaps also remains a top priority for the UN Secretary-General. His office recently released a new Roadmap for Digital Cooperation. The UN Foundation has been supporting both this work, and the High Level Panel on Digital Cooperation co-chaired by Melinda Gates and Jack Ma, which made a series of recommendations to ensure all people are connected, respected, and protected in the digital age. Civil society, technologists and communications companies, such as Verizon, played a critical role in informing those consultations. In addition, the UN Foundation houses the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL), which advances digital inclusion through streamlining technology, unlocking markets and accelerating digitally enabled services as it works to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.


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The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic only further exposed the global digital divide as schools and universities all over the world shut their doors and sent their 1.5 billion students (roughly 9 out of 10 students worldwide) home. The sudden nature of the pandemic provided educators little time to plan for sustained distance learning.

According to UNESCO, about half of all students — roughly 826 million children — kept out of classrooms lack access to a household computer and 43% do not have the internet at home. This means that low-income or disadvantaged students are falling even further behind their wealthier peers. While the gaps are particularly acute in low-income regions, such as in sub-Saharan Africa, no country is spared from this issue — including the United States.

"COVID-19 has exposed that many of the systems designed to support the most vulnerable, are broken, exacerbating the divides that already existed in education, economic development and workforce mobility, among other areas," said Rose Stuckey Kirk, Chief Corporate Social Responsibility Officer at Verizon. "Large global enterprises have a responsibility to help solve these issues and build opportunities for individuals to thrive in a digital economy."

To address emerging education inequalities in remote learning, communications companies are stepping up. For example Verizon has scaled up its long-standing Verizon Innovative Learning program, unlocking online tools and unveiling new resources from expanded data plans, hotspots and devices for Title 1 middle schools and high schools to teacher trainings and parent resources for STEM. This work to address digital inclusion is part of Citizen Verizon, the company's responsible business plan for economic, environmental and social advancement that will empower the technology leader to deliver on its mission to move the world forward.

"The digital divide in our country is very real, and we need to make sure every student has the device and internet access they need to be connected with their school community," said Los Angeles Unified School District Superintendent Austin Beutner.

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By partnering with school districts, such as the Los Angeles Unified School District, and state bodies, such as the Georgia Department of Education, the Texas Education Agency, and the Oregon Department of Education among others, Verizon is making discounted connectivity to 4G LTE internet plans available to more than 38 million students across 40 states and the District of Columbia.

Programs such as Education Cannot Wait, which Verizon recently supported with a $1 million contribution, are making learning more accessible and connected for children globally, especially those in crisis by catalyzing funding and investment in quality education during humanitarian and other crises.

"During this critical moment, technology, innovation and connectivity are more important than ever and we are doubling down on our commitment to transform education by providing technology resources and the networks that will give underprivileged students the vital tools they need and the education they deserve wherever they are," Kirk said.

Achieving "a future with one world, one net, one vision," as UN Secretary-General António Guterres said, and closing the digital divide will require companies, educators and international bodies like the UN working closely together.

That is how we can level the playing field for students across the globe.

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When a pet is admitted to a shelter it can be a traumatizing experience. Many are afraid of their new surroundings and are far from comfortable showing off their unique personalities. The problem is that's when many of them have their photos taken to appear in online searches.

Chewy, the pet retailer who has dedicated themselves to supporting shelters and rescues throughout the country, recognized the important work of a couple in Tampa, FL who have been taking professional photos of shelter pets to help get them adopted.

"If it's a photo of a scared animal, most people, subconsciously or even consciously, are going to skip over it," pet photographer Adam Goldberg says. "They can't visualize that dog in their home."

Adam realized the importance of quality shelter photos while working as a social media specialist for the Humane Society of Broward County in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"The photos were taken top-down so you couldn't see the size of the pet, and the flash would create these red eyes," he recalls. "Sometimes [volunteers] would shoot the photos through the chain-link fences."

That's why Adam and his wife, Mary, have spent much of their free time over the past five years photographing over 1,200 shelter animals to show off their unique personalities to potential adoptive families. The Goldbergs' wonderful work was recently profiled by Chewy in the video above entitled, "A Day in the Life of a Shelter Pet Photographer."

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Dr. David McPhee offers advice for talking to someone living in a different time in their head.

Few things are more difficult than watching a loved one's grip on reality slipping away. Dementia can be brutal for families and caregivers, and knowing how to handle the various stages can be tricky to figure out.

The Alzheimer's Association offers tips for communicating in the early, middle and late stages of the disease, as dementia manifests differently as the disease progresses. The Family Caregiver Alliance also offers advice for talking to someone with various forms and phases of dementia. Some communication tips deal with confusion, agitation and other challenging behaviors that can come along with losing one's memory, and those tips are incredibly important. But what about when the person is seemingly living in a different time, immersed in their memories of the past, unaware of what has happened since then?

Psychologist David McPhee shared some advice with a person on Quora who asked, "How do I answer my dad with dementia when he talks about his mom and dad being alive? Do I go along with it or tell him they have passed away?"

McPhee wrote:

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When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!