The world is changing: the Philippines & digital

Last month I spent four days seeing, listening and thinking about people living in the Philippines.

I’ve found it quite hard to gather my thoughts into a coherent blog, as much of what I saw and thought seemed to contradict each other. Much was shocking and surprising, other things inspiring and familiar.

Yes, I saw abject poverty – young children filthy and weeping by the side of an over-congested road, shanty make-shift homes made of cardboard and scraps. And I heard about poverty, 37% of the population living on less than $3.10 a day. 10 million Filipinos work overseas and send money home, I met a woman on the plane leaving Cebu, she works in Dubai as a Medical Technician and had just had her annual trip home to see her children (aged 7 and 11) – I can’t imagine the pressures on a parent to have to choose to work overseas so her children have a better chance at life. The woman said she lived in one room in a flat with 3 or 4 others (Filipino couples, and families), sharing a home to maximise how much is sent back to the children and elderly parents.

But on the other hand the Philippine Government are well-organised and ambitious for their country. There is a growth in tech hubs and a vision that digital will help their emerging nation grow faster and compete. Part of their goal is more, better paid employment in-country so people don’t have to leave their families behind if they want a decent wage. The Government, with the ITU (the technology arm of the UN), and others signed a pledge for the eFilipino at the event I was at in Cebu. Their plan is that a more successful nation is going to be a digital nation.

So, why was I there?

I was there to talk about digital inclusion of course. To discuss the impact that gaining basic digital skills has on individual lives and on a society, and to see with my own eyes the excellent Tech4ED centres they are developing. That’s ED for Economic Development. They have 300 centres already and more are being established all the time. It was great going to one of their Tech4ED centres in Mandaue – it was really familiar to me. Lots of different people of all ages doing the thing that they wanted or needed – from learning English to applying for a birth certificate.

The Philippine Government are already on the same page as us. They have embedded digital literacy into the curriculum offer they have available in Tech4ED centres which target older people, unemployed people, people needing to do a few basic Government services (such as order a birth certificate), as well as ‘out of school youths’ – that’s children who don’t go to school as they need to work or move around a lot – they can graduate from high school by completing online materials.

Imagining the world in 2030, let alone in 2020, it’s hard to imagine that the Philippines won’t be there competing with us in digital, creating their own digital businesses as well as no doubt supplying other global digital needs. I met a man from Boston via Silicon Valley and Nairobi who has chosen Cebu, Philippines, as the place to establish his social business due to the combination of great need (poverty) and a pool of local digital talent.

Digital literacy in the Philippines is about making sure people don’t leave people behind as the nation accelerate to greater economic development – and they get that. They already have programmes but they think Learn My Way is better than what they currently use and so they will run a pilot to see if and how it’s useful. At the start of this week we made available for use in the Philippines. Facebook is massive in the Philippines.

Key stats Philippines:

  • Population: 100m+
  • 44m use the internet
  • 30m use Facebook

Key stats UK:

  • Population: 60m+
  • 53m use the internet
  • 33m use Facebook

So we’ve introduced a Facebook login to Learn My Way, so that people don’t have to register again if they don’t want to. It’s a trial, and we’ll see how it goes.

Next steps – hard work to making this happen and then learning the lessons. But this is a real partnership with talented, focussed and ambitious people. I look forward to working with them.

Digital inclusion: a very hot topic

Monday this week was a very exciting day for one of our favourite partners – Go ON UK – and for digital inclusion as a whole. Digital inclusion was on the Today Programme, and BBC 5 Live, Guardian and Telegraph, and was trending on the BBC news website and on Twitter – now that’s the sort of noise we really want for digital inclusion. Well done Go ON UK!

BBC 4 tweet

It was the day that Go ON UK unveiled some wonderful new resources to tackle issues of digital exclusion. The resources that Go ON UK have created are a great asset to the sector, and as a stats nerd I’m particularly interested in their Digital Exclusion Heatmap, which allows anyone with an interest to look at the factors most likely to contribute to digital exclusion in an area. By searching for an area, you can pull up a range of stats about broadband infrastructure, levels of internet access and basic digital skills, as well as age, education levels, health and income. Finding out this information means we can determine why people are digitally excluded and then we can really take action and do something about it.

Haydn Jones

Three of my colleagues – Vicky, James and Emily – attended the big launch event at the House of Lords, and I was really sorry I couldn’t be there. Vicky’s blogged about the event here.

As Vicky says, it’s a complex issue, with multiple barriers and factors meaning it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint whether an adult in the UK is likely to be excluded or not. However, the heatmap gives us a great starting point – helping us determine where we need to focus our attentions; so we can make sure we’re focussed on the right areas.

Go ON UK also released some new research that shows that 12.6 million people in the UK don’t have the basic digital skills they need to participate in today’s digital society. The eagle-eyed amongst you will have noticed that this number has gone up not down – and of course we’re not saying that people aren’t being helped to get the skills they need. So what’s going on with the numbers? This year the skill of “problem solving” (such as verifying information found online) has been added to the basic online skills we previously had – moving up to 5 different types of online and digital skills (from 4 last year). We’ve now got a baseline we can work with and Go ON UK will be reviewing this data annually so we can measure our collective impact.

Heat Map

I love that the Heatmap creates such a full picture of the whole of the UK, and it’s really user-friendly so can be a great resource for organisations, from local authorities through to the grassroots organisations we’re supporting in the UK online centres network.

Another part of Go ON UK’s big unveil was their new website, Go ON Local. This gives local authorities and others the most useful and relevant resources to help them tackle the digital inclusion issue head on, so it goes hand in hand with the Heatmap. It’s great to see lots of our own resources and others on there.

Rachel Neaman (CEO of Go ON UK) stood up at our conference last November and said that we needed a Heatmap of digital exclusion – this week she unveiled it. She’s a woman of her conviction… I look forward to what she’ll be saying this year.

Get Online Week – when anything can happen

Get Online Week is unpredictable. I saw endless amounts digital inclusion activity, both in person and online, and met a lot of inspiring and wonderful people. Some things I expected – meeting socially excluded learners, meeting the great volunteers who work so hard, and seeing the different things our community partners have to offer – but some things were unexpected and pleasant surprises – such as the popularity of our City and Guilds Online Basics qualification and the success of Exeter Library’s Fab Lab. All in all, it was a wonderfully successful week for me, my team and our vast network of community partners.

The Tinder Foundation team visited almost every corner of the UK. I visited an event in Sheffield at Longley 4G, and went down to Exeter to visit two centres, St Loyes and St Sidwell’s, as well as Exeter Library. I had a very different experience in all of them and it really opened my eyes to the reality of digital and social exclusion and the need for digital equality.

Team work

In an ideal world I’d have been able to visit all the Get Online Week events but unfortunately that’s not possible for one woman to do in seven days, so the Tinder Foundation team were my little helpers for the week and went out in their masses to visit all kinds of centres in different parts of the country.

I can’t stop shouting about the work we’re doing with libraries at the moment – it’s a subject that’s really close to my heart – and lots of my colleagues managed to pay visits to different libraries. Our Finance Director, Margaret, went to Oxford Library to say hello and see what they’re up to; our Head of Digital, James, popped along to Goldthorpe Library to help people try out different devices for getting online; and one of our newest additions to the team, our Research Intern, Sharon (who’s working very hard on our Libraries Digital Inclusion Fund project) visited Chesterfield Library to interview one of their learners for the project. This is just to name a few…

Margaret GOLW visit

Margaret really enjoyed her visit to Oxford Library

Some of us visited familiar haunts – our Senior Learning and Development Coordinator, Alison, went to Destinations@Saltburn for their employment-focussed event – and some of us went to completely new locations – Wider Network Manager, Caroline, visited our new partners, Remploy, in Sunderland to see how they’re getting on.

Some of us went further afield. Our Director of Business and Innovation, Adam, went all the way down to Somerset Media Solutions in Chard for their brilliantly named ‘TechNOphobia’ event, while our Content Marketing Officer, Sam, went to Prestonpans just outside of Edinburgh for their library’s employment drop-in session – and our Head of Marketing, Communications and Bids, Anna, went to Barrow Libraries to see their Digital Surgery with local MP, John Woodcock, in action. She was very impressed with the event, which around 40 people attended.


Some of the wonderful people Adam met at Somerset Media Solutions

Even the Ministers were getting involved

We weren’t the only ones enjoying the fun. I was thrilled to see Minister of State for Culture and the Digital Economy, Ed Vaizey MP, out and about, visiting Erith Park in Bexley, part of housing association, Orbit Group. I think it’s important for the government to acknowledge digital inclusion, after all, they are the ones who can make the big things happen, and the fact that Ed took the time to get involved with our campaign was wonderful.

He showed his support by taking part in their innovative Walk the Talk tour which helps build community engagement through the use of a ‘digital suitcase’. Residents can get involved by passing the suitcase from person to person and using an old-fashioned telephone inside to record stories.

Orbit Group are also doing other wonderful things. The residents said that they love where they live but find it difficult to get to know their neighbours, so interactive screens have been set up in stairwells for neighbours to take selfies, leave messages and introduce themselves to kick-start interactions with their future friends.

They’re doing some really great and innovative work in the field of digital and this was recognised by the Minister: “The work being done in Erith Park is brilliant and it’s great to see Bexley taking part in the nationwide Get Online Week initiative. Getting online and embracing new technology is becoming more and more important in this digital age, and I congratulate all involved in this innovative scheme aimed at using technology to build community engagement.”

12-10-2015 Picture shows : Ed Vaizey MP tours new development Erith Park in Kent. Carl Fox 07966 349 562

Ed Vaizey MP tours new development Erith Park in Kent. Image courtesy of Carl Fox ( via Digital By Default News

Dare devils

To top off the week, in a big end of campaign twist, our Director of Business and Innovation, Adam, along with TalkTalk CEO Dido Harding and Go ON UK’s Rachel Neaman, abseiled 120ft down TalkTalk’s Shepherd’s Bush office – all in the name of digital inclusion.

I applaud their bravery and the fact that the promise of the Get Online Week abseil encouraged hundreds of TalkTalk employees to share their digital skills as volunteers at local UK online centres. A big pat on the back to all!

Adam gets ready for the abseil

Adam gets ready for the abseil

I think this has been one of our most successful and eventful Get Online Weeks to date. The #GOLW15 hashtag was used almost 2400 times over the week and our social media campaign, #EasierOnline, almost 1200 times. On top of that #getonlineweek was used almost 900 times. I really enjoyed seeing all your pictures and posts. Here are a few of my favourites below:

Thank you to everyone who posted on Twitter and Facebook

Thank you to everyone who posted on Twitter and Facebook

Next year’s campaign will be our ten-year anniversary, so we’ll be aiming to make that our biggest and best Get Online Week yet, but if this year is anything to go by it’s going to be a hard one to beat. Maybe I should encourage the Tinder Foundation team to do a Get Online Week skydive…

Another great (and informative) Get Online Week day

Wednesday’s theme was all about affordable access for people who just don’t have the money to spend on equipment and broadband at home. Plus the value of qualifications, and the huge contribution of volunteers. A great Get Online Week day.

I was in sunny Exeter and made three visits to three of our partners, who I think represent three aspects of the diverse network we’re working with.

St Loyes

My first stop was St Loyes, a well established charity with a real focus on hard-to-reach people – be that unemployed, people with disabilities, people who are housebound. I was impressed at their breadth of delivery and, in particular, how they support housebound people and are planning more distance learning support for people living in rural areas around Devon using Learn My Way. St Loyes also talked to me about the importance of the Online Basics City & Guilds Qualification from Tinder Foundation as the first qualification for many people, and the importance of having a qualification on your CV when looking for jobs.

St Sidwell’s

Next, I visited St Sidwell’s Centre, a great community centre with a buzzing cafe, and a room full to bursting with people learning English as a second language, all in the middle of conversational practice.

St Sidwells

Lots of co-location, the English class was run by a partner organisation; the job club this afternoon is supported by the YMCA, and the Recovery College was there with a Recovery Library and craft activities for mental wellbeing. The place was clearly a safe space for anyone who needs it, and volunteering as a pathway to developing skills and social interaction was key.

I met Pauline a volunteer who had so many different volunteering jobs I couldn’t keep track; although she’s a volunteer she is leading the Learn My Way delivery. We had a great conversation about how to use basic digital skills as a platform for resilience for life: be it employability, coping with money, improving health, or combatting isolation. As part of that springboard for more resilience, Pauline thinks the Online Basics City & Guilds Qualification is important to show future employers the validity of what always starts as very informal and personalised learning. Pauline is going to charge learners who can afford it to take the qualification, and will provide bursaries for those who can’t – she says this will show everyone that this qualification has a value.

A vicious cycle

Both of these centres said that they had lots of users who just didn’t have the money to buy a laptop/tablet or broadband. There was the dreadful and now common story of people coming to them having been sanctioned for not using the internet and the Universal Jobmatch service. It feels like a vicious cycle. If people don’t have the money to buy access to the internet then they don’t practice the basic digital skills they gain from Learn My Way and other tools. If they don’t practice the skills then they don’t become digitally literate and confident. And in some cases this leads to them not being online enough to apply for enough jobs, and then they’re sanctioned so they don’t have any money. Or they can’t apply for the right job at the right moment and don’t have work so they don’t have any money. We need to do something about this.

Exeter Library

My afternoon was quite different

I visited the lovely Exeter Library on the day they were put onto the Monopoly Board for Exeter – launched yesterday by Mr Monopoly. It’s a lovely, bright and welcoming space (that makes four so far this week), and there were lots of people doing lots of different things. The outside is a austere 50s design but inside the recent refurbishment entices people into the library – the business zone, the wonderful children’s zone, the teen zone complete with PS4 (banned for use by people aged 20+), and the Fab Lab.

I met Jim in the Fab Lab – a man in his 60s who a month ago had never touched a computer, and during that month he’s been motivated to learn 3D drawing to print something on the 3D printer. He showed me his prototype – a badge with his name on it. To be honest I’d never seen a ‘fab lab’ so busy and I doubted its wider appeal to people with no or low digital skills, but Jim showed me that with the right leadership and the right promotion a ‘fab lab’ definitely has a place in the wider digital offer, even for people just starting out on computers. I wanted to take Jim’s photo but he didn’t want me to, unfortunately.

We need equality in this digital world

Of course we need places – such as libraries – that can afford machines like 3D printers and laser cutters. But the sad reality that there are so many people who cannot afford a cheap tablet or refurbished laptop, nor a broadband connection, is something we need to do something about if we’re really going to get equality in this digital world.

It was a volunteer who was helping Jim one-to-one to learn how to use a computer and 3D drawing. It was a volunteer who showed me around the Fab Lab, and explained all the machines to me. It was a volunteer – Pauline – who explained how St Sitwell’s uses the internet to help people to build their resilience.

I’m so pleased that Get Online Week has made me go out and meet so many committed and interesting people. One more visit today (Thursday) after talking to people in the housing sector about the importance of digital inclusion.


There has been even more brilliant additions. Who’d have thought creating props and practicing face painting could be made easier online? Keep them coming – I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.

GOLW15 Wednesday

A touching trip to Longley 4G

This morning I went to my first Get Online Week event of 2015 at Longley 4G Community Centre in Sheffield. It was a truly touching and enlightening experience.


There were a lot of people there who regularly attend the centre. People of different ages, from different backgrounds but for many of them the story was the same: they were unemployed and struggling to find work.

It was heartbreaking to hear some of their stories. The gentleman with me in the picture below is called Phillip. He is in his early 60s and suffers some health issues. He worked the same job for 25 years, a job which he enjoyed, and unfortunately was made redundant from. Since coming to Longley 4G he’s been applying for several jobs each week, sometimes as many as 20, but he never hears anything back.


Stories like this are the reason why we do what we do. Get Online Week is about having fun, a chat and a cup of tea, but it’s really about informal events that are welcoming to everyone – including those with very real challenges, such as unemployment. Campaigns like Get Online Week highlight these issues and, more importantly, encourage people to start their journey to a more positive future – to really grab hold of what they want.


To the learners and team at Longley 4G, thank you so much for having me today and for telling me your stories. Not only did I enjoy meeting you all and spending time in your company, but it also made me more determined than ever to make sure everyone has access to equal opportunities in life.


Your pictures have been flooding in. You’re all so creative, and I didn’t know there were so many things that can be made much simpler by using the internet. Here are some of my favourites from the past 24 hours:

GOLW15 Tuesday

I’m looking forward to seeing even more of your #EasierOnline pictures posted on social media. Don’t forget to post pictures of your events too using the #GOLW15 hashtag. I’m visiting two centres tomorrow – St Loyes and St Sitwell Centre – and Exeter Library to meet everyone there, including Ciara Eastell, whom I mentioned in my blog yesterday. I cannot wait!

Get Online Week begins…

I woke up this morning feeling really upbeat about the week ahead, because today is the start of our ninth annual Get Online Week and there’s lots of exciting things happening all across the country.

I cannot believe our big digital inclusion campaign is in it’s ninth year already – doesn’t time fly when you’re having fun? And speaking of fun, I have a busy calendar of events lined up, that I can’t wait to get started on. This is what I have planned so far:

Helen's calendar1

I love visiting our network of community partners and the best thing about Get Online Week is that it gives me the perfect excuse to spend an entire week out of the office meeting centre staff, volunteers, and learners.

One event that I’m particularly looking forward to is Wednesday’s trip to Exeter Library. I am a big fan of libraries (my colleagues here at Tinder Foundation can vouch for that) and I firmly believe that they play a very important role in communities across the UK. In order to support libraries to deliver digital inclusion activity, we recently launched a new project called the Libraries Digital Inclusion Fund, where we awarded funding to sixteen libraries to deliver innovative activities with the aim of reducing digital exclusion in their communities.

The project is giving us a great opportunity to work with libraries and I believe it will do a fantastic job raising awareness of the great work that they do. For me and my team, Get Online Week is the perfect excuse to go out and visit a library. I am certainly looking forward to mine, as I’ll be meeting up with Ciara Eastell the President of the Society of Chief Librarians and the Head of Libraries, Culture & Heritage for Devon County Council. You can be rest assured that I will be discussing all the great work being done in libraries, across the UK online centres network and beyond.

As usual one of the biggest parts of our campaign is social media. Anything you do this week that’s even slightly Get Online Week-related, I want to see it on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or whichever channel it is that you use. Post it with the hashtag #GOLW15 and we’re guaranteed to see it.

Last week I posted my #EasierOnline photo too. I’m sure you managed to see it, but if not I’ve posted it here below, along with a couple of others from my team.


As part of the campaign we’re asking everyone to get involved and post a picture on social media of something that’s much easier online. Whether that’s booking your cinema ticket, buying pet food, catching up on TV shows or chatting with family abroad; if it’s easier online, post it with the hashtag for the whole world to see.

I’ll be blogging about my visits to fill you in on my experiences. I’ll let you know where I’ve been, what I’ve seen, who I’ve met, and my thoughts on the campaign so far. I’m off to Longley 4G here in Sheffield tomorrow, and I cannot wait.

Until then…Happy Get Online Week!

My visits to the party conferences – mixed weather but positive messages

When I arrived at the Labour Conference in Brighton the sun was shining and I immediately saw Jeremy Corbyn being chased by a small number of people wearing “I love Jez” t-shirts and running after him shouting “I love you Jeremy”. Overall the conference felt very upbeat, the small number of MPs and Shadow Ministers I heard speak were full of a renewed energy, and new ideas.

When I arrived at the Conservative Conference in Manchester it was raining and cold, and the demonstrators were loud and hurled abuse at everyone in the vicinity of the conference secure zone with the hope that some of the people were Conservatives with some power. Inside however, and in the Fringe events, MPs and Ministers were confident and bold. And, of course, their ideas are becoming policy.

Helen's Blog

Two themes that emerged from both conferences were digital and poverty

Tinder Foundation doesn’t just work to close the digital divide – we’re working to close the opportunity divide as well. We work with local partners deep in communities to ensure that people aren’t excluded from jobs, skills, health care, human contact, savings, social mobility and other opportunities due to their lack of internet knowledge and confidence. In 2015, in the UK, not being able to use the internet deepens exclusions that already exist, and the people most affected are poor or elderly and often isolated.

I went to a Fringe session on Child Poverty at the Labour conference and on the Working Poor at the Conservative conference. A common message from both is about facing up to the reality of poverty in our communities. And of the importance of joining up across departments, across sectors and across local (and hyperlocal) organisations – which is easier said than done!

In fact “joining up” was a big message from (now Lord) Francis Maude, who appeared to me like a man proud of what he’s achieved in the past five years with GDS (Government Digital Services) and a bit more open now it’s not his ministerial post.


Rachel Neaman from Go ON UK was also speaking, and usefully exploded some myths about digital exclusion. Many young people can’t fill in forms online or complete a CV, so we do have a problem with some young people – they’re not all digital natives. And almost half of those lacking basic digital skills are of working age – either stuck in low paid jobs or stuck with no job and no digital skills to apply for them. Rachel also said it’s not acceptable that people suffer from poor bandwidth, and that real affordable solutions for the people who can’t afford a connection need to be addressed and fast. We can’t accept the stereotype that people’s grandparents are the only people who remain unconnected and under skilled. It’s a much bigger problem than that. It’s a 10 million people sized problem.

Both Parties were clear that jobs are the way out of poverty, but they have to be jobs that pay a decent wage

People who are in low paid work in their 30s and 40s are likely to stay in those jobs for at least 10 years. I’d like Tinder Foundation, and our excellent community partners, to continue to work to build people’s resilience and to more explicitly show how basic digital skills can be a platform to many important pathways out of poverty. Yes, it’s about building skills to help people get work and to get a better job, and it’s about linking people to the partner organisations who can help them with the complexity of their lives.

The good news is that Matthew Hancock (now Minister for the Cabinet Office and in charge of GDS) in his closing remarks in a Policy Exchange fringe event about ‘digital opportunities and threats’ said that digital inclusion was extremely important, he said he was committed to the “massive liberation new technology is bringing …. services must remain universal, and available to everyone”. Well, you know I agree with that.

The Government is clearly committed to increasing the number of great quality online public services available and to increase the number of people using them. Everyone who can now, or could with support, should also see the value, convenience and quality of these services. This will help save money, but also the experience is usually better than other channels. Digital inclusion can save the Government money, and improve information and transactional services for everyone.

Going back to the opportunity divide

For those on the wrong side of the opportunity divide there’s a danger that if we don’t keep working as hard as we can and in as targeted a way as possible, the digital divide will exacerbate the exclusions that already exist in our society.

Although their drivers may be different to mine, the great news is that both the Labour Party and the Conservative Party seem to agree that digital inclusion is important to our economy and our society. So, we’ll keep working hard, with partners, to help provide a solution to close that digital divide – and opportunity divide – as fast as we can. It’s good to know we’ve got the politicians behind us.

People with disabilities excluded from web opportunities

Yesterday an interesting report was published by Ofcom (“Disabled consumers’ use of communications services”) looking at the take-up and use of the internet by disabled adults. It provides much needed insight into the similarities – and the differences – between those who are offline and have a disability, and those who don’t.

Late yesterday I got a phone call asking me to appear on this morning’s edition (Friday 2 October) of BBC Breakfast, to talk about the barriers that disabled people face when getting online and to highlight the consequential exclusion to savings, discounts, and the convenience of internet services.

Helen on BBC

The report suggests that demographic differences offer only a partial explanation for differing levels of communication device and service take-up. Other factors, perhaps related to the disability itself, may affect ownership and use of key communication services such as the internet.

Over three million people with disability do not use the internet, and only 55% of disabled people have internet access compared to 83% of non-disabled people.

Some of the barriers that disabled people face are the same as those of non-disabled, such as lack of skills or affordability. We also know that some disabilities occur due to ageing, and older people are more likely to lack basic digital skills than younger people. People on low income are also more likely to be non-users of the internet, and disabled people are more likely to be unemployed than non-disabled people. This all makes it hard to discover which demographics are the causal link to being offline. However, the report does show that when all other demographics are removed, there is still a higher probability for a disabled person to lack basic digital skills. Accessibility is a barrier for some, and the report also highlights that people with disabilities are more likely to live alone and that also leads to less shared internet access.

Tinder Foundation’s network of community partners are working hard to make sure everyone has an equal chance to get online, and we’ve created a range of resources and support to help our local partners do more to help disabled people – and to make sure we can really make an impact on these figures.

Lian Pate and the team at Banbury SWITCH in Accrington are one of the centres doing just this, and they were kind enough to step up at the last minute and let the BBC Breakfast crew film at their centre. It was great to see their story on prime-time morning TV, which really helped illustrate the real impact that the internet can have on making disabled people’s lives easier – so I’d like to say a big thank you to them for all their help last night, and to all of our local partners for the fantastic work they do every day.

And it was nice to be on the telly to talk about the urgency to create a more equal nation, even though I had to get up super early.