May 28, 2018

Guest blog: Digital competences help to build more equal societies

Elisa Vepsäläinen

Excutive Director, StartUp Refugees

The internet has affected democracy in a large scale. It helps us spread and receive free information, enables discussion, and can be used to promote human rights and government accountability. However, digital democracy isn’t evenly distributed across the globe, and some nations and demographics are much better positioned to utilize its opportunities. There are differences within societies, too, with a growing digital divide and polarization.

People arriving from abroad to Finland have their bags full of experience, skills, and knowledge. This applies to those coming from conflict areas or escaping persecution. The Startup Refugees network is mapping the background of asylum seekers and refugees as well as their skill levels and required support. In the course of two and half years, over 2 000 profiles have been created, and job opportunities are always matched with those who can most benefit from them.

Almost all immigrants need some level of assistance to find employment, be it obtaining a hygiene passport or contacts in their field of expertise in the new country of residence. Digital capabilities are also of increasing importance in pretty much any profession, and the lack of them might hinder the chances for many newcomers.

The problem is global: in the world, 3,2 billion people have access to the internet, but 4,3 billion don’t. Many international organizations have recently taken a firm stance to boost digital equality. For example, Google has promised to teach 10 million Africans online skills, and Berlin-based NGO Kiron offers web-based higher education for refugees all over the world. The city of New York has set up thousands of Wi-Fi kiosks to let everyone surf the web regardless of their income level. All this implies how the access to the internet has become almost a fundamental need, which should be ensured to everyone just like clean water, protection and primary education.

The digital gap between refugees and the rest of the society is still wider and more complex than just a Wi-Fi password, be it in Finland or elsewhere in the world. In addition to accessibility, it’s about how and what for digital skills are used. What’s needed is not only a basic level of skills, but also the ability to notice the opportunities brought about by digitalization to make sure everyone can take advantage of it.

Although many asylum seekers can use mobile internet and social media, for many some task are difficult to execute, for example, job seeking independently. There’s a big need to teach practical skills, such as how to look for information, open an email account, use maps or translation applications, or fill out job application forms. We take most of these things for granted, but we shouldn’t forget this isn’t the case with everyone – and these skills have a significant impact on the everyday life as well as the future of an individual in a new country.

To meet this demand, Tieto and Startup Refugees have embarked on a joint journey. In honor of Tieto’s half-a-century, the two organizations will provide over 100 asylum seekers and refugees with digital skills. Tieto’s employees will also be able utilize their expertise to help to battle the challenge.

Closing the digital divide will help us build bridges, which will be beneficial not only on an individual, but also on a societal level. Let’s get everyone involved.

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During its 50th anniversary year, Tieto is focusing on delivering digital democracy. This means driving inclusiveness and increasing digital equality: shaping a smarter society and building a better future through its core expertise, standing up for equal opportunities.

Startup Refugees network supports asylum seekers and refugees in finding employment and entrepreneurship. Currently, the network comprises 500 different organizations. Tieto and Startup Refugees collaborate to increase digital equality in Finland.

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