Minneapolis Unwired: Tell us how to digitally include everybody

With little fanfare, the Minneapolis Digital Inclusion Fund Advisory Committee has released it’s RFP with responses due by September 14. (Background info on the fund is here and the application form is here.)

I sit on the committee. It is a donor-advised fund of the Minneapolis Foundation. There is about $200,000 available in this round and grant awards will run from $5,000 to $30,000. US Internet will be paying another $300,000 after the City signs off on the network plus a percent of their revenues in upcoming years. Barring unforeseen circumstances, there will be another round coming in 2008.

Here is a list of a few examples of “eligible activities” for funding that the committee put together:

  • Supporting technical literacy programs and initiatives
  • Developing economic opportunities through digital access
  • Using digital access for civic engagement and supporting accessible government
  • Using digital access to aid in community and neighborhood collaboration efforts
  • Distributing assistive technology to people with disabilities and the elderly to ensure equal access to digital content
  • Distributing hardware to low-income households
  • Providing relevant and engaging content in multiple languages
  • Finding new and innovative methods to spur digital inclusion
  • Implementing web-based English language training
  • Closing the educational achievement gap between white students and students of color

Only nonprofit organizations are eligible for the funds. But don’t let that stop you! If you think you have a good idea, look for a nonprofit to “sponsor” you and act as a fiscal agent. (I would make sure they talk to the Minneapolis Foundation about the responsibilities of becoming a fiscal agent as they are completely responsible for the funds.)

Many current projects within nonprofits that may not seem digital could actually benefit from a shot of Internet and could easily become an inclusion activity. Look closely at what you’re doing. Talk to some Internet geeks. (Most of us love talking about this stuff, especially if you buy the beer or coffee.)

Ideas…

How about a single mom project? Devise a program to provide at-home telecommuting jobs to young single moms. Provide hardware, training and the job itself. Find a corporation to work with and get some matching funds for the digital inclusion money.

How about a community economic development project where you set up an ecommerce server to sell over the Net? Free entry to the server for any qualifying business and then they pay a small percentage of sales. Again, make sure you train everyone in how to use those computers! This would have the potential of funding itself as more businesses became involved.

English as a second language… I have heard that classes are full and there is a waiting list. So use the Internet for some distance learning on demand. Team up with grad students at the U for a research project to provide curriculum and metrics. And budget training funds!

Those are just a few ideas and they are pulled out of my brain. I’m on a committee so you would have to convince us all (or at least most of us) to get anything funded. But the Internet space really lends itself to brainstorming like this because the potential is almost limitless.

I would love to see you add ideas in the comments. Maybe some of my sisters and brothers on the committee will also drop by and and add to the conversation.

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