The Digital Equity Initiative at Fortune and Its Impact

The Digital Equity Initiative at Fortune and Its Impact

Digital literacy has become a prerequisite for navigating the world. It is critical to have an understanding of technology and the internet to do basic things such as communicating with others, ordering a meal or finding a job. The Fortune Society’s Digital Equity Initiative provides support for participants looking to gain knowledge of technology and prepares them for a world where it has become a part of everyday life.      

“There’s a huge need in training from a life skills perspective just to be able to function from day to day,” said Simon Horwith, Fortune’s Chief Technology Officer and one of the driving forces behind Fortune’s Digital Equity Initiative. “Then there’s the employment aspect of it; whether you’re going into an IT career or not, most jobs, even some of the hard skills jobs, a lot of occupational areas require some level of comfort with the internet and equipment.”  

For participants without technology access, it may be more difficult to find resources and even apply for jobs. Much of the job application process takes place online, and it is common practice to create digital resumes and send them via email to an employer. A lack of access to technology, or a lack of digital knowledge, can hinder career success.   

To address these needs, the Digital Equity Initiative offers numerous IT services to participants. The effort includes the distribution of devices for qualified individuals, digital literacy workshops, and other certification and career opportunities.   

Every Tuesday and Thursday, IT staff set up a Support Desk in the common area of the Long Island City office where participants can come with questions. Simon explained that there is an open-door policy for any concerns, and the digital literacy workshops are often based on participant questions and feedback.  

“We talk with them about what they need. So, ‘What would you like to learn about? What classes would you like offered? When are good times for us to offer them?’ That’s how we come up with some of the curriculum we're writing and how we come up with the schedule. It’s based on their feedback,” Simon said.   

Nelson Rivera, a former Digital Equity Initiative participant, found the digital literacy workshops very informative. He had some familiarity with email before attending the classes, but Nelson now feels more comfortable using technology in everyday life. He appreciated the hands-on approach of the classes: “We were provided with laptops and that provided us with the chance to practice [what we were learning] ourselves. I thought that [the class] was good – I thought it was fundamental, basic stuff.”

Nelson took advantage of nearly every digital literacy class that Fortune offers: he participated in Introduction to PowerPoint, Word, Excel, and Outlook courses as well as an overall introduction to computers.

Nelson also attributes what he learned in these digital workshops to his eventual full-time hiring as a Recovery Specialist in Admissions at Fortune and his success in the position.

When asked about how the skills he picked up in the workshops have helped him so far at Fortune, he exclaimed: “Well, here I am on Zoom with you!” Without the Digital Equity Initiative, Nelson may not have been able to transition into Fortune’s hybrid working model as smoothly, as comfort with Zoom and Microsoft Office are central to his job duties.

Simon and Nelson both have big dreams for where the Digital Equity Initiative at Fortune can go: Nelson would love to continue learning in these workshops and hopes to soon see offerings in coding and computer science. Simon notes that as the initiative expands, there will be more opportunities to get students matched with careers in IT, either at Fortune or other companies:

“Because taking a class and getting a certification is one thing, but having real-world experience and a reference from somebody that you worked with makes a huge difference, especially in IT.”   

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