Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Awards

About the Digital Equity Champions Awards

Named for Charles Benton, the founder of Benton Institute for Broadband & Society, NDIA created the awards to recognize leadership and dedication in advancing digital equity: from promoting the ideal of accessible and affordable communications technology for all Americans to crafting programs and policies that make it a reality.

NDIA presents two awards: the Digital Equity Champion Award recognizes an outstanding individual who has made a difference in the field of digital equity, while the Digital Equity Emerging Leader Champion Award acknowledges an up-and-coming leader. The call for nominations usually opens in late fall (November or early December), and the awards are presented during the annual NDIA Net Inclusion conference on February 13-15, 2024 in Philadelphia.

Award Criteria

To be successful, nominees should show:

  • Sustained commitment to digital inclusion programs and an expertise in digital equity
  • Innovation in addressing and solving digital inequities
  • Dedication to serving communities and target populations who are most in need of digital inclusion services
  • Demonstrated leadership and collaborative spirit
  • Prioritization of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their work
  • Use of data and evaluation to shape digital inclusion programs and share best practices
  • Engagement in sustainable work that can be scaled and replicated

Meet the 2024 Champions

 The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) announced the 2024 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award winners: Syracuse Northeast Community Center Digital Empowerment Manager Karimullah Kamwar, EveryoneOn CEO Norma E. Fernandez and Renaissance 21 Founder & Program Director Adrienne Pruszynski

Karimullah Kamwar – 2024 Digital Equity Champion Emerging Leader

Karim brought his wife and five children from Afghanistan to settle in Syracuse. Within one year, he became the manager of the Digital Empower Program with the Syracuse Northeast Community Center. Under his leadership, the Syracuse Northeast Community Center built an inclusive multicultural team including four Digital Navigators. He has integrated this work with other essential services offered through the community center—such as a food pantry, employment program, youth/senior program, and health connections—in order to build true self-reliance.

Norma E. Fernandez – 2024 Digital Equity Champion

Norma joined EveryoneOn in 2013 to increase impact in underserved communities of color by connecting people to the internet. She became CEO in late 2019 and found herself leading EveryoneOn during the COVID-19 pandemic. During this time, she grew and diversified the board and staff, created a strategic framework, and oversaw the implementation of the organization’s first-ever Digital Skills Academy, a training program for individuals and organizations. This has resulted in more funds raised from diverse sources, new partnerships, and expansion in Los Angeles, the Bay Area, and Milwaukee. 

Adrienne Pruszynski – 2024 Digital Equity Champion

Adrienne has been a Digital Equity and Inclusion Warrior for more than 15 years, working to close STEM/STEAM equity gaps for youth at the grassroots level from Seattle to Ecuador. She is one of the three founders of Renaissance 21, and is a founder and Program Director of the lead initiative Star Tech Global Academy (STGA). Given difficulties in her journey as a Black woman learning STEM, she sought to empower other underrepresented youth as a STEM teacher. However, she found that programs frequently suffered from lack of resources and infrastructure. In response, Adrienne founded Star Tech Global Academy (STGA) 10 years ago to provide a novel approach to STEM that focuses on digital skills and access for teens. 

Meet the 2023 Champions

The digital inclusion field is growing fast. Hundreds of leaders and heroes in the movement have emerged – some have been doing digital inclusion work before the term was created, while others are making mid-career moves to digital inclusion. In 2023, the champions selection committee awarded two nominees with the top champions honor.

Angie Cooper – 2023 Digital Equity Champion Emerging Leader

Angie Cooper started in the digital equity space in 2020, a jump from her years as a director at Walmart, Inc. She became chief program officer and, most recently in 2023, stepped up as the executive vice president of Heartland Forward, a “think-and-do tank” based in Arkansas and focused on impact in the middle of the country. She launched the Connecting the Heartland initiative to help communities maximize federal broadband and digital equity investments.

Catherine Crago Blanton – 2023 Digital Equity Champion

Catherine has served for more than eight years as the head of strategic initiatives at the Housing Authority of the City of Austin (HACA) and its nonprofit subsidiary Austin Pathways. In 2014, when the agency launched its Unlocking the Connection initiative, about 4 percent of public housing households in Austin were connected to the internet. By 2022, 78 percent of those households were connected. Catherine is a connector and collaborator who values lived experts and emphasizes the need for government services and corporate technology initiatives to weave in digital equity and community expertise.

Burt Lum – 2023 Digital Equity Champion

When someone talks about digital inclusion or broadband in Hawai‘i, the first name mentioned is Burt Lum, state broadband coordinator in the Hawai‘i Broadband and Digital Equity Office. Burt has been a driving force in Hawai‘i technology and telecommunications for nearly four decades, while valuing equity in his work and becoming a driving force for digital inclusion in the state through the Broadband Hui.

Meet the 2022 Champions

For the first time, we named not one, but two emerging leaders – Erica Camacho and John Torous – for their work together on an outstanding digital inclusion project, centered around smartphone-based digital literacy skills for accessing mental health services. Increasing digital literacy, especially for smartphone devices, is critical to ensuring equitable access to mental health services. As COVID-19 has forced so much of mental health online, those unable to connect are excluded from care. As smartphones are the primary tool people use to access digital mental health (video visits and apps) – these programs are designed to directly teach skills and ‘train the trainers’ to offer that teaching.

Tobey Gordon Dichter is founder and chief executive officer of Generations on Line, an award winning national nonprofit dedicated to internet literacy and access for older adults, serving about 200,000 low-income older adults over the past 21 years. 

Erica Camacho

Erica Camacho

Emerging Leader Winner

John Torous

John Torous

Emerging Leader Winner

Tobey Dichter

Tobey Dichter

Digital Equity Champion Winner

Meet the 2021 Champions

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) announced the 2021 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award winners: Geoff Millener, Senior Program and Operations Officer at The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Monica Babine, Senior Associate of the Program for Digital Initiatives at Washington State University Extension’s Division of Governmental Studies & Services.

Geoff Millener, 2021 Emerging Leader, is the Senior Program and Operations Officer at The Enterprise Center in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which has a growing reputation as one of the best-wired cities in the country. But Geoff realizes that Chattanooga can’t reach its full potential unless it is a digitally equitable city. During the COVID-19 emergency, Geoff collaborated with the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools, and the municipal broadband provider, The Electric Power Board (EPB), to map out areas with the highest needs and then implement 125 new Wi-Fi access points. He has been a driving force in Hamilton County Schools EdConnect which brought no-cost high-speed internet to 13,000 students’ homes. Geoff has also pushed for the use of data to understand the impact of EdConnect. He is part of a small group collaborating with a research team from Boston College to collect baseline data and monitor how the program impacts education, health and other aspects of life. And he helped to raise more than $8 million to support local digital equity efforts in the last year.

Monica Babine, 2021 Digital Equity Champion, has worked for Washington State University Extension’s Division of Governmental Studies & Services as Senior Associate of the Program for Digital Initiatives. She created the Broadband Action Team model and serves as a valuable resource for local leaders interested in broadband planning. These teams are growing across Washington State, engaging people to identify local digital divides and make plans to bridge them. Recently the State of Washington highlighted Monica’s model as a best practice, and Governor Jay Inslee included funding in his biennial budget to develop a formal statewide program. Monica focuses on rural communities, working tirelessly to bring together citizens that need service with policymakers at the local, state, and federal levels to make ubiquitous broadband access a reality. Monica organized several rural broadband summits in 2019 with the State of Washington and the U.S. Department of Agriculture after the passage of legislation establishing Washington’s Broadband Office and infrastructure program. And Monica was instrumental in providing input to Senator Patty Murray’s staff as they drafted the Digital Equity Act of 2019.

Meet the 2020 Champions

The National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA) announced the 2020 Charles Benton Digital Equity Champion Award winners: City of Long Beach’s Economic and Digital Inclusion Program Manager, Rebecca F. Kauma, and Co-CEO og Tech Goes Home, Daniel Noyes.

Rebecca F. Kauma is a passionate equity-minded digital equity and inclusion leader. In June 2023, she was appointed as the first-ever Director of Digital Equity for the County of Los Angeles. In this inaugural role, she is ensuring that low-income communities and communities of color across the Greater Los Angeles Region have equitable access to and use of digital inclusion opportunities, resources, and power they need to thrive in democracy, society, and the economy. Rebecca strives to uplift and empower communities most in need through equitable, inclusive, and culturally relevant programs, practices, policies, and systems change efforts. She previously served as the first Digital Equity and Inclusion Officer for the City of Long Beach where she led the City’s Digital Inclusion Initiative for five years. In that role, she deployed more than $2.7 million in Federal digital equity grant program funding in collaboration with 11 community partner organizations. This included the administration of free internet connectivity services, technology devices, digital literacy training, and digital inclusion navigation services for Long Beach residents, businesses, and non-profits most impacted by the digital divide during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Dan has been involved with TGH since 2002 and on staff since the summer of 2010. After spending several years as a Legislative Aide to a U.S. Congressman in Washington, DC, he returned to Boston as the Technology Director at Fenway High School. In 2006, he was hired by the Lilla G. Frederick Pilot Middle School in Dorchester to help implement the largest middle school 1:1 laptop initiative in New England. Nothing is more important to Dan than his two adorable little girls (and the Sox winning the WS in 2004).

Meet the 2019 Champions

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.

Casey Sorensen

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

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.

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Meet the 2018 Champion

Deb Socia

Deb serves as the founding Executive Director of Next Century Cities, a national nonprofit that supports community leaders working to secure fast, affordable, and reliable Internet for their localities. With more than 180 members, Next Century Cities brings visibility to broadband issues and informs policy at multiple levels, celebrating local initiative and successes. Before joining NCC, she directed the Tech Goes Home program in Boston, a carefully designed digital equity program that became a national model for linking parents, children and schools to technology resources.

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Meet the 2017 Champion

Emy Tseng

Since joining the NTIA in 2009, Tseng has worked to increase broadband access and adoption in underserved communities throughout the United States. From 2009 to 2014, she managed a portfolio of local government and K-12 education grants for the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program. She was a major contributor to the Broadband Adoption Toolkit published by NTIA in 2013. She continues her work with NTIA’s BroadbandUSA program providing technical assistance to local and state governments that foster digital equity.  Read More…

Meet the 2016 Champion

David Keyes

Over nearly 20 years of public service in Seattle, David Keyes has used data to document community needs and direct programs, been committed to racial and social justice, and built a movement over time by engaging local elected officials, businesses, education partners, and community organizations in solutions. Read More…