The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) announced the 2019 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award winners: PCs for People CEO Casey Sorensen and San Antonio Housing Authority Digital Inclusion Program Manager Munirih Jester.
Sorensen has headed PCs for People for over 11 years and crafted a self-sustainable, scalable social enterprise that is a national leader in digital inclusion. Under Sorensen’s leadership, PCs for People has grown from concept to a network of 300 nonprofits, 12 affiliates, and physical offices in three states that are working together to solve the digital divide. As a result of Sorensen’s efforts, over 250,000 people now have home computers and 128,000 people can access the internet in their home. PCs for People is based in St. Paul, Minnesota.
Munirih Jester serves as the Digital Inclusion ConnectHome Coordinator for the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA). Originally from Brazil, Munirih’s professional background is in Public Policy, Nonprofit Management, and Urban and Regional Planning. In her role as ConnectHome Coordinator, she has been able to deliver digital literacy skills training to nearly 2,000 participants, award nearly 900 free computers, and help connect 1,069 homes to the internet.
The Digital Equity Champion Awards will be presented on April 3 at Net Inclusion 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina. Named for Charles Benton, the founder of the Benton Foundation, the Digital Equity Champion Award was created by NDIA in 2016 to recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans in crafting programs and policies that make it a reality.
The National Digital Inclusion Alliance is a unified voice for home broadband access, public broadband access, personal devices, and local technology training and support programs. NDIA works collaboratively to craft, identify and disseminate financial and operational resources for digital inclusion programs while serving as a bridge to policymakers and the general public.
Benton — a non-profit, operating foundation — believes that communication policy – rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity – has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides. Our goal is to bring open, affordable, high-capacity broadband to all people in the U.S. to ensure a thriving democracy.
2019 Digital Equity Champion: Casey Sorensen
In 2008, Casey Sorensen left a consulting career with Deloitte to launch the nonprofit PCs for People in St. Paul, Minnesota. Over the last 11 years, Sorensen has crafted a self-sustainable, scalable social enterprise that is positioned as a national leader in digital inclusion. Under Sorensen’s leadership, PCs for People has grown from concept to a network of 300 nonprofits, 12 affiliates, and physical offices in 3 states that are working together to solve a national problem of the digital divide. The result is over 250,000 people with home computers and 128,000 people with a home internet connection in all 50 states and Puerto Rico.
PCs for People works with individuals below the 200% federal poverty level to provide
internet, computing devices, training and ongoing support. The average recipient is a family of 3
living on $14,000 per year and at this income level most families are not able to afford or
maintain a computer and internet connection. Even in 2018, 60% of recipients have never owned a computer and 58% report they are unemployed.
PCs for People’s success, sustainability, and scalability rely on a variety of innovative approaches:
- Ongoing Support: Once computers are in a home, PCs for People delivers free ongoing support, training and low-cost repairs.
- Eco-friendly: Every year, PCs for People collects more than 1 million pounds of electronics through a free end-of-life asset management service delivered to over 800 businesses across the US. According to the Environmental Protection Agency the reuse of one computer system will save $670.00 in natural resources verses end-of-life recycling. Using these numbers in 2018 alone PCs for People helped save over $10 million in natural resources.
- Community Impact: PCs for People was awarded employer of the year from Midwest Special Services (MSS) and Ramsey County. The Ramsey County recognition was awarded because of the organization’s function as a transitional work site, where it trains workers who are currently on Government assistance and don’t have the skills or experience needed to find employment. With MSS, PCs for People trains and employs people with disabilities to sort, organize, and troubleshoot technology. It is able to help workers build their resume, gain employable skills, earn a living wage, and transition from receiving Government assistance, therefore lessening taxpayer burden.
PCs for People launched a new location in Denver, Colorado to see if the Minnesota model could be replicated and sustained in a new region. Two years after opening, in 2018, Denver was able to be self-sufficient. With the ability to replicate the sustainable model proven, PCs for People launched a third major metro location in Cleveland, Ohio in partnership with the Cleveland Foundation. This location has distributed over 1,000 computers in the first six months and is well on their way to self-sustainability.
In 2016, PCs for People created a program in partnership with Mobile Beacon called Bridging the Gap (BTG). Rather than starting a digital inclusion program from scratch, PCs for People has created a free platform that allows nonprofits to offer low cost refurbished computers and unlimited, high-speed internet service directly to constituents
Casey has shown leadership at the local, regional and national level. Locally, Casey has grown a team of 70 staff dedicated to digital inclusion. Casey and the PCs for People team have created recycling partnerships with over 50 City and Counties including the City of Minneapolis and City of Denver. Regionally a program created by Casey called PCs for Kids, where PCs for People aims to equip every kid in a low income school with a home computer and internet connection, has been executed in over 150 schools in Utah, Colorado, Texas and Minnesota. Nationally, Casey was invited to speak at President Barack Obama’s Connect All Summit as an industry expert and serves on AFTRR.org advisory board, a national association of 90 nonprofit computer refurbishers working to share best practices.
“Casey has built all technical systems at PCs for People, wrote the business plan, executed every job role in the business, purchased abandon commercial properties, renovated those properties (including electrical work), went two years without pay to start PCs for People, built and lead our board of directors, forged national partnerships and grown the organization to 62 dedicated employees with national impact of over 250,000 people. He has dedicated his career to being a digital equity champion and it’s safe to say the nonprofit refurbishing industry would not be the same without him.” — Andrew Elofson, Chairman of the Board at PCs for People.
2019 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Emerging Leader Munirih Jester
Munirih Jester serves as the Digital Inclusion ConnectHome Coordinator for the San Antonio Housing Authority (SAHA). Munirih is originally from Brazil and has an educational background is in Public Policy, Nonprofit Management, and Urban and Regional Planning.
Munirih has been responsible for developing the program to serve SAHA families that on average earn less than $12,000 annually. In her role as ConnectHome Coordinator, she has been able to deliver digital literacy skills training to nearly 2,000 participants, award nearly 900 free computers, and help connect 1,069 homes to the internet.
She also hires and trains local Housing Authority residents as Digital Ambassadors and has demonstrated how initiatives can not only be inclusive but also empowering for those affected by the digital divide.
Some of her other innovative initiative includes the creation of the Digital Literacy Passport Program which allows the flexibility for residents to complete the computer training not only at the housing authority locations, but also at the local and county Public Libraries as well as other local partner organizations in order to ultimately receive free computer.
She helped SAHA win $100,000 from Mozilla’s Connect the Unconnected Challenge that will enable SAHA to build a free, solar-powered Wi-Fi network for 1,818 residents at one public housing community.
In addition, Munirih has worked creatively with a local bank to provide funding for her digital inclusion efforts, which in turn, has helped the banks receive Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) credit. She has also contributed to the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas publication “Closing the Digital Divide: A Framework for Meeting CRA Obligations”.
Munirih has demonstrated leadership in the digital inclusion community by planning and coordinating the City of San Antonio first Digital Inclusion Summit in 2017, and by providing leadership in the formation of San Antonio’s Digital Inclusion Alliance, which now is comprised of over 30 member organizations including local businesses, nonprofits, ISPs, public education organizations, and government.
“Munirih demonstrates what it is to be a true public servant.” — Adrian Lopez, ConnectHome Coordinator at San Antonio Housing Authority (supervisor to Munirih)