Digital Inclusion Week Post with Photo of Elizabeth Cooper from Barings

Transformative Association: Barings’ Holistic Approach to Bridging the Digital Divide 

Real change never happens in silos, and change for the better, the kind that makes a lasting impact, doesn’t happen without true collaboration and cooperation. As a global corporation, Barings is a company that understands that and embraces a holistic approach to philanthropy that is evident in its company culture. Collaborative community engagement is at the heart of Barings’ ethos. Here at the Center for Digital Equity (CDE), we’ve experienced first-hand how their give-back goes beyond the customary donation or media campaign.   

As technology becomes increasingly central to education, employment, healthcare, and daily life, those who need digital resources but can’t access them are at a significant disadvantage. It’s a divide that mirrors and reinforces existing inequalities, disproportionately impacting vulnerable communities.  

The Partnership  

Barings partnered with CDE, E2D – Eliminate the Digital Divide, and Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC) to decrease the digital divide in the affordable housing communities Barings has supported financially. They have done this by supplying laptops and offering essential digital literacy training to the residents.  

Barings has adopted a two-pronged approach to its relationship with us. Elizabeth Cooper, who leads Barings’s Corporate Giving & Social Impact team, describes the first prong by stating that the initiative involves external community engagement and working on a project funded by Barings in collaboration with CDE, LISC, and E2D. This collective effort began in late 2021 with a pilot program. It was formally launched in 2022 as a three-year endeavor, with the primary goal being to enhance digital equity and inclusion while reducing the digital divide within affordable housing communities in Charlotte. Notably, these communities have received financing directly from Barings or indirectly through partnerships with LISC and other citywide collaborations. 

“There are even more organizations that have been involved in these distributions,” explains Cooper. “ they are a second tier to create this collective impact in each of these housing communities that it’s not only a collective but a sustainable impact, too. Giving somebody a computer and signing somebody up for the ACP program, or just educating them on the ACP program, is really creating sustainable impact and change for the long term, not just giving somebody a backpack and saying, ‘Hey, you know, well, we’ll come back into you in three months.’ I don’t think it’s something that could have been achieved without these core four organizations coming together and saying, Hey, how do we think about what we’ve done historically and do it differently?”  

Cooper also shares how important collaboration has been in this work.  “When you talk about moving the needle around economic mobility, which is really our mission, globally, as we’re working in this impact space,” she says. “We can’t do that alone. We can’t do that as one company. We can’t do that even in partnership with just one organization. So I think what’s been unique and cool about our partnership with the CDE is that it’s been a collaborative partnership with multiple organizations, all working towards the same end goal and also working in the same space.”  

The second prong to Barings’ relationship with CDE is the organization’s involvement with the Community Council. Sarah Dudley, Managing Director and Head of Client Experience Strategy Enablement at Barings serves as the Policy, Advocacy & Ecosystem Development Co-Chair on CDE’s Community Council.  Dudley brings her professional skillset and talents to the table. 

“I am helping run a workstream on what we’re calling journey mapping, which is something that I do in my job all the time, which is empathizing with who our audience is and then figuring out what their journey looks like and what outcomes they’re trying to get to,” says Dudley. “And then we try to figure out how the assets the CDE has, whether that’s actual laptops, skills, resources, physical spaces and how any of that can help on those folks’ journeys…And so, if someone gets a laptop, my question is, so what? What do they do with that laptop? ​​What does that actually do for them? How do they get connected to the internet? How do they get a resume set up? If they’re looking for a job? How do they get enrolled in local community college classes? How do they learn how to use Facebook so they can connect with their old friends from high school or connect with their grandchildren in other states–things like that? The journey map exercise is really meant to find those outcomes, figure out the journey to get there, and then figure out what resources are available in the community to help support that.” 

Dudley’s role on the council also centers on actively engaging and recruiting other skilled volunteers to support the CDE. The effectiveness of the CDE relies heavily on the ability to gather resources, engage with the community, and address specific needs. 

Dudley continues, “The team I’m on focuses on policy advocacy and ecosystem development. And so, really, what that means is, how do we influence our lawmakers to put in place programs and support the community in the ways they really need? My community co-chair Judith Brown, who runs Project 70Forward, always says it’s ‘your voice, your rights, and your hood.’  I love the way she puts it because (the question is) how do you look at the community around you? I think we fall into a trap a lot of saying I want to be a voice for the voiceless when the reality is those people have voices; it’s more about how do you get them onto the right platforms and in front of the right people to really impact and influence change.” 

The Road Ahead 

Barings’ approach is a solid example of how public and private sectors can collaborate to drive positive change in their communities. In the digital age, where access to technology is synonymous with access to opportunity, their partnership exemplifies what can be achieved when collective impact is at the heart of transformative change. We look forward to what’s next – learning and improving as we go along. This is only the beginning. 


Photo above: Elizabeth Cooper, leader of Barings’s Corporate Giving & Social Impact team