A new report from the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA), the organization that manages the .ca internet domain, shows Canadian funders are feeling the urgency to tackle the country’s digital inequities.
Based on in-depth interviews with 20 leaders in Canada’s philanthropic community, the study, titled Getting Connected: Funders and Digital Equity in Canada, finds that while funders have not historically prioritized bridging Canada’s digital divide, they now agree it’s a priority. During the pandemic, funders report being inundated with requests for connectivity and digital tools. They say they saw first-hand how Canada’s digital divide slows their efforts to engage Canadians on urgent social issues like climate change or racial justice.
Momentum among funders to address these gaps has slowly begun to build. Community Foundations of Canada, for example, included a specific focus on digital solutions in their Healthy Communities Initiative, a program funded by the Government of Canada. And Technovate, a consortium of donors, is actively working to mobilize a funding response to the digital divide in the not-for-profit sector.
Funders face barriers when approaching digital
Apart from these nascent efforts by funders, funding for community groups leading digital development projects still remains largely ad hoc and inaccessible. The level of commitment among funders varies and some still remain reluctant to fund digital equity because they say they lack subject-matter expertise and confidence that they will engage at the right level.
“Digital equity is a major social issue and Canadians that lack digital skills and connectivity will be left behind. Funders have long done important work in delivering services and improving the lives of Canadians, and we hope this report can jumpstart a conversation on how to make ‘digital’ a priority within existing funding models and options. CIRA is proud to be a leader in the digital funding space through our annual grants program, but our experience tells us that Canada needs additional resources to solve its digital equity problems. We hope that other funders, philanthropies, and tech companies can step up and help achieve digital equity in Canada,” says Tanya O’Callaghan, vice president of community investment, policy and advocacy at CIRA.
Pooling resources can increase the impact
Funders say they feel there is an opportunity to create a coalition and develop a community of practice and shared vision to fill gaps in the system.
While most funders have yet to step up with dedicated resources, the report lays out concrete recommendations to bring new funders into the fold and increase the resources available for digital development projects. The findings of the study show that an event to focus learning and build a community of practice could include proposals to pool funds and share experts, tools, and resources. For example, funding consultations and initiatives that amplify the voices of rural, Northern, Indigenous and urban equity-seeking communities that are in search of their own connectivity solutions, as well as an opportunity to address knowledge gaps and avoid a duplication of efforts among funders, the report points out.
Many more players need to join Canada’s digital funding effort: community and private foundations, corporate giving programs, and tech philanthropies, to name a few.
With the results of this report, CIRA says it aims to plant a flag for digital equity in this country and encourage Canada’s philanthropic community to make digital equity a strategic priority in everything they do.