In July 2020, Ernst & Young LLP (EY US) launched our Bridging the digital divide initiative, a journey to support underserved students and other populations by joining forces with organizations to facilitate access to devices, broadband internet service and mentoring.
Too often in the US, a student’s or worker’s potential is limited by geography or economic circumstances. Bridging the digital divide isn’t just about opening doors; its purpose is much bigger. The initiative is an integral part of EY US’ social justice commitment, which is to take decisive action to eradicate racism and discrimination by leveraging our influence to drive strategic change in our firm, in the communities where we work, and support policies that promote digital readiness.
This report summarizes the progress we’ve made in our first year of bridging the digital divide, including our greatest challenges, successes and the impact we’ve made on our communities. We don’t purport to have all the answers, but we want to be leaders in the public discussion by asking the right questions and facilitating much-needed collaboration between the public and private sectors.
Whether you’re part of an organization looking to make an impact or stepping up as an individual, there’s an opportunity for us all to make a difference. When it comes to the pursuit of racial and social justice, there’s no finish line, just a long-standing commitment to build a better world.
Bridging the digital divide: the journey so far
Systemic racism, discrimination and injustice are a human rights crisis. We vow to continue to be a force and a voice for a more just and equitable world.
EY US is taking action to eradicate racism and discrimination by leveraging our influence to drive strategic change within our organization, in the communities where we work, and through public policy.
One area we feel passionate about addressing is the digital divide that disadvantages so many underserved communities, making it impossible for people of color to fully participate in the modern economy and society.
With the assistance of dedicated staff and resources, we empowered 80-plus EY US offices across the country to study the problems and work to effect change in the best and most impactful way for their communities.
What is the digital divide?
The digital divide describes the gap between households with and without access to computers and broadband internet connectivity. This problem became more apparent and aggravated during the COVID-19 pandemic as schools, jobs and business transactions migrated to online platforms. Many students simply did not have the hardware and connectivity needed to learn and perform to their full potential.
- 35% of low-income US homes with children do not have high-speed internet.
- 25% of students do not have a desktop or laptop computer at home.
- 17% of students lack computers needed to complete their homework.
EY US’ Bridging the digital divide initiative launches
As part of our social justice commitments, EY US began reaching out to clients and not-for-profits in July 2020 to create powerful public and private sector coalitions. Our goals were:
- To provide devices and broadband for students to connect to the internet.
- To engage our professionals as virtual mentors focused on navigating education disruption brought on by COVID-19.
Virtual mentoring includes helping underserved students and their families to manage online connectivity and new devices, maximize online learning, apply to and navigate financial sources to pay for college (including EY College MAP scholarships) and connect with socially distanced internships.
EY US’ Bridging the digital divide initiative follows a “now, next and beyond” strategy that applies our consulting acumen with an eye toward social inclusion. “Now” focuses on working with other organizations to support students, families and educators to provide digital devices and broadband access. “Next” is a stabilizing phase in which virtual mentorship creates a path to training skills and future life readiness that can be elevated to transform communities for the “beyond.”
With the help of our corporate, public and nonprofit collaborators, the impact so far has been inspiring:
- 80+ cities where EY US has established Bridging the digital divide coalitions
- $4.3 million raised through public-private coalitions
- $1.5 million contributions to the United Way from our EY people to address the digital divide
- 75,000 underserved students connected to the internet via subscriptions or hotspots provisioned
- 72,500 hours of online mentoring to underserved students since the start of the pandemic provided by EY community mentors through programs such as EY College MAP (exceeding our goal of 40,000)
- 78,000 laptops delivered to underserved students through our EY College MAP program and Bridging the digital divide initiative
To read EY’s “Bridging the digital divide: FY21 year in review” progress report, click here.