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Connecting Our Community & Closing The Digital Divide

Connecting Our Community & Closing The Digital Divide

Most of us couldn’t imagine life without the internet – but that’s the reality for an estimated 10 per cent of all New Zealanders.

Tū Mai Digital is helping Western Bay of Plenty residents who are ‘digitally excluded’ from society because they don’t have an internet connection or an appropriate device to use.

The organisation’s Digital Inclusion Coordinator, Brett Bailey, is currently working with over 50 families in Te Puke alone to bridge the gap and provide basic training on how to use laptops and smartphones.

“Connecting a family to the internet opens up a whole new world. It provides employment and education opportunities, connections to vital services like banks, and the ability to stay in touch with family through things like Facetime and Zoom. It closes the gap in terms of those who ‘have’ and those who don’t because it does create more of a level playing field.”


Overcoming Barriers

Tū Mai Digital is the collaborative brainchild of many different community organisations and providers including SociaLink, Mercury Energy, Western BOP District Council, Katikati Community Centre and Accessible Properties, just to name a few. It officially operates under the umbrella of Poutiri Trust.

“When COVID hit, we became aware there was a whole group of people that were hugely disadvantaged by being locked down,” Brett explains. “They had no internet so couldn't access banking or shopping or education. So we felt it was a good idea to run a pilot and see if connecting families and providing laptops and training would be of any benefit.”

Te Puke has been a core focus area but Tū Mai Digital is available to anyone in the Western Bay who is disadvantaged by digital exclusion.

“Some families are connected, but they might only have one cellphone amongst the whole family which makes life very difficult. Then you’ve got families who just don’t have the internet and that’s about affordability. They're making decisions about whether to put kai on the table or to have the internet which costs around $90 per month. That’s a lot of meals. Some of them are on a pre-paid system which was fantastic, but they don't always have the money to top it up.”

A generational digital divide also exists where grandparents are raising grandchildren. “The grandparents aren’t always connected to the internet, don’t have the skills and so can't see the value in it,” Brett says. “So there are numerous ways in which people end up being excluded.”

While there’s no hard data to prove it, Brett believes the rate of digital exclusion is higher in the Western Bay than the national average of 10 per cent, and the current cost of living crisis is making the problem worse. “The cost of living is impacting everybody. If you're making a decision whether to have the internet running or put food on the table, some families are making that hard choice because they can barely keep afloat.”


Funding Support

Brett is working part-time to establish, progress and oversee Tū Mai Digital including training, responding to queries from the community, reporting and sourcing devices. “It’s a large role for one person,” he admits. Donations of old laptops (particularly from local businesses who regularly update and replace their technology) are always welcome, and a new $25,000 grant from BayTrust will now be used to help scale-up the initiative.

“We will look to take on an intern who has good technical skills and can help collect, clean-up, wipe and re-set devices ready to be handed out. As we grow, they may also be able to jump in and help with training,” Brett explains.

Tū Mai Digital is thrilled to receive the BayTrust grant which will ultimately help more families get connected. “And there’s plenty out there who need help,” Brett says.

“This grant is absolutely huge for us. We're so grateful for any help we can get. And this is a big grant. It will keep us going for months. We run on the smell of an oily rag and these grants are crucial to the life of an organisation like ours.”


Holistic View

Training will be promoted more in 2024 to help people understand the basics of how to switch devices on, use browsers, save phone contacts and use apps like FaceTime or Zoom. In keeping with Poutiri Trust’s holistic approach, additional wrap-around support is also provided where there’s an obvious need. A recent training session at a marae near Te Puke incorporated health checks for participants as well as basic digital education.

“We’ve had really good success and I think we’ve got the right delivery model. We work with community partners like social workers who already have trusted relationships in the community to find out who needs digital help and training, and then we work to support them. I believe that people are people. It shouldn't be hard to help somebody else.”