Claude Pinard, CEO of Centraide of Greater Montreal, leading the new learning and support path. (Photo: Courtesy)
PHILANTHROPY. If not bridged, the digital divide can become a real divide. This is the unenviable scenario that faces some 8,000 civil society organizations in Quebec in the coming years. Indeed, their technological backwardness is clear compared to other sectors of activity. Quebec’s 11 Centraides therefore launched DATAaide last March, a program that aims to help about 3,000 of them weather the sometimes pronounced curve of the digital shift.
“In our world, it’s absurd that nearly a third of community organizations are lagging behind in digital technology,” laments Claude Pinard, CEO of Centraide of Greater Montreal, who is promoting the new learning and support pathway, the first of its kind in Quebec. The big losers are ultimately the beneficiaries of these organizations, who bear the brunt of the consequences of yet another source of social inequality.
A study by the Quebec Observatory of Inequalities, published in 2019, before the COVID-19 pandemic, already painted an alarming picture. There we read that more than one in two organizations of the 1950s surveyed has a computer fleet that is older than three years. Also, less than half use automation and massive databases, essential tools for taking advantage of the computer data that the vast majority collect. Only 6% of organizations use algorithms.
Lack of technical expertise, time and money is a common reason in survey responses. It is for these elements that DATAide runs. “The program consists of webinars, training to develop speaking skills and leadership support activities. Our goal is to facilitate the realization of digital transformation projects over the next three years,” explains Claude Pinard.
Of course, not all civil society organizations are on the same page in these reflections. While some are already able to innovate, others are committed to digitizing their operations. Between the two lies a multitude of specific cases. Therefore, three types of support are offered, as well as 500 grants to support projects for the purchase of equipment or licenses, its implementation, as well as “innovative initiatives”.
“Participating organizations can […] are even more agile in their ability to support people in vulnerable situations,” said the Minister for Labour, Employment and Social Solidarity, Jean Boulet, in a press release.
A first awareness webinar of two hours is planned for May, which is open to everyone. Subsequently, 180 carefully selected organizations will follow a 12-week training course. The goal is to develop a digital transition plan worthy of the name. “At the same time, we will create a pool of approximately sixty digital ambassadors who will carry the voice of the community sector,” specifies Marc-André Delorme, planning and development consultant for the DATAide project.
All participating civil society organizations will comment on their experience during the duration of the project. “They will gradually help us adjust the shot,” says Marc-André Delorme. We are convinced that this will help us achieve the goals we have set ourselves.” Each organization will also be asked to take a critical look at its own technological maturity, especially with regard to the use of its beneficiaries’ data.
The social enterprise Nord Ouvert from Montreal provides a valuable impulse in this regard. Founded in 2011, this non-profit organization specializes in data governance and management and digital inclusion, among other things. It has a presence throughout Canada and acts as a partner responsible for creating training content. “Nord Ouvert helps us to structure our approach, to make it accessible,” summarizes Marc-André Delorme.
“Depending on the specific situation of the organization, different values of data can be placed. We want students to think about their reality, their context,” says Samuel Kohn, program director at Nord Ouvert. It doesn’t have to be a mountain. “Little things can be posted quite quickly. A simple data-driven monitoring and evaluation strategy can have a huge impact on the services offered.”