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Upcoming conference hopes to unite people around digital inclusion

As recognition around digital inclusion increases, the Net Inclusion 2019 conference in Charlotte brings people together to tackle the issue.

The conference founder believes Charlotte citizens and digital inclusion stakeholders who participate will move beyond an understanding of the issues, making the connections to land on an actionable plan. The event is scheduled for April 1-3.

“This year is important because we have increased recognition around the issue of digital inclusion — more recognition than we’ve had before,” said Angela Siefer, executive director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. “There are more folks trying to figure it out and more industries coming, so the opportunity to create new partnerships and learn from others is greater than it’s ever been.

“There’s so much going on in the city of Charlotte around digital inclusion and there’s so much going on in the state. Charlotte is really unique in that aspect that we’re going to have all these fabulous examples close by.

“The greatest benefits we’ve heard from previous attendees of Net Inclusion is that they gain from being able to connect with their peers. Because a lot of folks are working on digital inclusion issues at a local level and they feel a bit alone, that they’re kind of doing it without having a peer support network, and so this gives them a chance to talk to others who have had the same challenges that they’ve had. The joke we heard the first year was, ‘I found my people.’”

“We don’t have a national strategy which results in grassroots solutions which in one part — hooray, right! — folks at the local level are saying we have a problem and we’re going to address it. That means they address it a variety of ways so there’s a huge variety of different ways of going at the issue. That’s what we are sharing. The challenge is that because we don’t have a national strategy, we don’t have money. So that’s a big problem and being able to talk about funding sources together is also really important.”

The annual event covers topics that include local, state, and federal policies affecting digital equity; sources of financial and program support; and effective practices from around the country. The event begins with pre-conferences and site tours on Monday, April 1. A full schedule of interactive sessions takes place on Tuesday, April 2, and the event wraps up on April 3. A full schedule is available on the Digital Inclusion website. First day events start at the Federal Reserve building on Monday, but most conference events take place at the Harris Conference Center on the CPCC campus. The conference is being funded in part by the Knight Foundation. An early bird discount is available until Feb. 14, and NDIA members get an additional 15 percent discount. Registration is available on the Digital Inclusion website.  

“There’s an opportunity to make connections with different categories of participants within this spectrum of people and organizations interested in this topic,” Siefer said.

“This is our fourth year for Net Inclusion. Traditionally our content has fallen into two buckets. One bucket is the peer-to-peer learning from each other about how to run a successful digital inclusion program. What partners you might want to engage, where the funding comes from.

“The other bucket is more on the policy side. This very much represents who NDIA is, the work that we do year-round. So the policy side is more what’s happening at the local, state, and federal levels.”

“We very much welcome everyone to join us. Young folks in particular. If they’ve thought about the issue of digital inequity and they’re not sure what it means, or how they might get engaged, then come in. We would love to have you. This field is growing and there’s an increasing understanding that digital inclusion is something that needs to be addressed.”