Boston Foundation Funds “New Economy Initiative” to Increase Digital Equity

April 30, 2002

Boston, MA -- The Boston Foundation has announced the first formal round of funding for the Foundation’s “New Economy Initiative,” a five-year, $2.5 million program designed to increase “digital equity” and build the technology capacity of the nonprofit sector. This funding reflects the Foundation’s renewed focus and commitment to support the creative ideas and innovative uses of technology that will help Boston’s individuals and organizations compete effectively in the information age.

At a recent meeting of the Board of Directors, the Boston Foundation approved seven grants totaling $250,000 in a highly competitive process to the following nonprofit groups: Camfield Tenants Association, CitySkills, Human Service Providers Charitable Foundation, Massachusetts Easter Seals, Metro South/West Regional Employment Board, Timothy Smith Network, and University of MA/Boston –CSPTech Project.

“Our goal is to empower individuals, but you can’t do that without helping them gain access to the information they need to make their own choices,” said Paul Grogan, president of the Boston Foundation. “Today, technology is the link between information and individuals, and it’s also the best way to link people and organizations together. This New Economy Initiative addresses the need for better access to technology in three key sectors of Boston -- our youth, our adult workforce and our nonprofit service providers.”

The Boston Foundation increased the pool of funds for the first round of the New Economy Initiative grants by reaching out to donors with Donor Advised Funds at the Boston Foundation. This innovative co-funding model yielded an additional $85,000 for the New Economy Initiative.

Under this Initiative, the Boston Foundation is funding grants in each of two categories: innovation and capacity building. Grants in the innovation category focus on two program areas, technology for education and youth development, and technology for adult workforce and skills development. Grants awarded in the capacity building category fund the strategic uses of technology to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of nonprofit organizations and advance the nonprofit sector.

Proposals received in the category of technology for education and youth development demonstrate the increasing fascination of young people with technology and the opportunity it offers to engage them in constructive activities that also build life skills. Research shows that girls and minorities — particularly Latinos—are lagging behind their peers in areas of science, math, engineering and technology fields, and that interventions at the high school level are often too late to attract their interest in these careers. A grant to the Metro South/West Employment Board, working in partnership with TechBoston, is an initiative of the Boston Public Schools. This urban-suburban partnership will develop a model curriculum in web design and robotics, teacher training, and career awareness for middle school students. Machine Science can pick up these interests in high schools and help develop an understanding of abstract concepts through hands on learning in machine science labs where students build actual projects that demonstrate concepts learnt in the classroom. The funding will help establish a pilot lab at the John D. O’ Bryant Math and Science high school. Funding to the Camfield Tenants Association will be used to hire a coordinator to work with the neighborhood’s almost one thousand young people, mostly minority, on developing technology programs, and the Hispanic Office for Planning and Evaluation will develop a Youth Tech Corps to service local organizations, develop work skills and follow college tracks for Latino youth. Studies on the digital divide indicate that Latinos have lower levels of digital access and skills compared to blacks, whites and Asians.

One of the most critical needs in the area of workforce development is the need for sustained relationships between the employment sector and community-based organizations providing training to un- and under-employed people in the Greater Boston community. Currently the relationships that exist are ad-hoc, and employers express concerns about inconsistent standards of training. CitySkills is a start-up intermediary organization aimed at developing the infrastructure that will help the smooth transition and placement of inner city residents to new economy jobs. They will work with the employer base to understand industry needs and develop standards, and with the training organizations on standardization of training and job placement. Massachusetts Easter Seals, on the other hand, will provide training and placement of people with physical or learning disabilities for information technology jobs in the healthcare sector. Currently, there is no facility in Boston to meet the needs of this sector of the population.

In addition, a special project contract was designated by the New Economy Initiative Steering Committee to Jewish Vocational Services to research the potential of distance learning for educational advancement and work force training, in order to maximize the potential offered by the increasing digital access in people homes and communities. This research project will focus on successful approaches, which could be adapted to meet the education and training needs of working people in a self-paced model.

Proposals received in the category of capacity building leveraged the existing investments and infusion of technology or sought to develop collective solution to benefit multiple organizations. These include projects such as Human Services Providers Charitable Foundation, which aims to engage 50 organizations in strategic planning for technology, working with them at their level of readiness and offering a one-day, a twelve-week and an eighteen-month strategic planning process. The Timothy Smith Center’s project will build the capacity of 37 different organizations in the Greater Roxbury area. These beneficiaries of the City’s Timothy Smith Fund will receive technology upgrades of hardware, software, and furniture every three years till the year 2019. Building the capacity of the Timothy Smith Centers will also help several community based adult workforce and youth development programs that meet the objectives of the New Economy Initiative. Developing the capacity of the CSPTech project at UMass Boston’s Center for Social Policy will increase the capacity of over 150 shelters and homelessness programs in Massachusetts to improve services to the homeless population, by developing an electronic resource eligibility directory that links the population to un- and under-utilized services such as food stamps, medical benefits and detox services. CSPTech provides free MIS services to the programs through a government funded initiative.

The Boston Foundation, founded in 1915, is one of the oldest and largest community foundations in the United States. The Foundation currently holds more than 650 separate charitable funds, established either for the general benefit of the community or for special purposes, and the endowment has grown over the last decade from $250 million to $630 million.