Digital Inclusion North East Report Launch Event

DOT UK has published findings from a research project which aimed to comprehensively understand the needs and challenges faced by displaced youth (age 18  to 35) in the North East of England, in acquiring digital skills and digital inclusion overall.

The findings of the report, were as follows:

  1. Existing  Ecosystem: The research reveals a nuanced landscape of organisational services in  the North East which includes those offering housing, English language services, asylum seekers case support,  refugee integration services, and business and enterprise training.
  2. Ecosystem Gap: Despite the diverse array of services available in the North East, there is a notable gap in terms of organisations offering digital skills training for entrepreneurship, remote work and employability, to prepare displaced youth for a successful transition.
  3. Challenges Faced by Displaced Youth: Mental health disclosure, language barriers, limited access to devices, and connectivity issues emerged as significant hurdles for displaced youth to access and unlock essential digital skills.
  4. Challenges Faced by Service Organisations: Competition for funding stifles collaboration and partnership,  negatively affecting the holistic development of displaced people.

Alongside the above findings, key challenges that displaced youth face in acquiring digital skills were highlighted. These challenges included mental health, language barriers, a lack of access to devices and connectivity and other systemic barriers. A key challenge faced by the organisations serving displaced youth was the competition for limited funding, leading to suspicion and replication of efforts. The current funding landscape doesn’t align with the smaller amounts sought by these organisations.

The report recommended the following short-term and long-term activities to work towards a more holistic and impactful ecosystem to support displaced youth in acquiring digital skills.

Short-mid term

  1. Improving Outreach Methods: Use a combination of mobile technology, community centres, drop-in days and other offline outreach methods to connect with displaced youth and ensure that there is awareness of digital skills programmes for those who need them.
  2. Resource Mapping and Collaboration: The need for a comprehensive database of sharable organisational resources in the North East, whether it is equipment, space, or other assets, will help facilitate efficient collaboration.
  3. Improved Connectivity & Devices: Service organisations need to prioritise access to laptops, phones and the internet to realise successful acquisition of digital skills and support displaced youth’s successful transition to work.

Long term

It was suggested that there was an opportunity for the institutional frameworks of university–industry–government multi-stakeholder collaborations.

  • Government Collaboration: The government collaborates with charities, universities, and the private sector to advocate policy and systems changes and implement strategies. Focus areas include healthcare access, mental health, digital inclusion, and employability.
  • University: Universities leverage expertise for insights and research, guiding displaced youth towards successful transitions in employment and education. Enhances understanding of unique needs.
  • Industry Partnership: Private sector/non-profit, as well as tech companies, contribute resources to address challenges like language barriers and limited access. Support includes training, technology, and remote work opportunities, fostering effective integration for displaced individuals.

In February, funders, displaced young people and charities supporting them gathered to discuss the findings of the report and discuss the next steps. Paul Mpokwa, who led the report research and writing, opened the event.

The keynote address was delivered by Raj Burman, previously CEO of the charity Techfugees. His key message was that working together was key to furthering the mission of the sector. Looking to nature, building bridges to cross chasms and develop solutions, was how bridges got built towards a common goal. He explained the 5 key elements of collaboration: having a common agenda, an agreed measurement of our work, an ability to mutually reinforce each other’s activities, clear communications between separate moving parts and a great backbone structure to centre and drive forward efforts.

Raj welcomed Angelika Sharygina, who was evacuated from Ukraine following the invasion of Russia, two years ago. Angelika, a member of the DOT UK Youth Leadership Advisory Board explained that through her journey of displacement, the community has been supportive and that a united effort is a superpower. Through her experience and witnessing the experiences of others, she realised the importance of information integrity and how it can shape the journey to safety. Now, Angelika is centering her PhD research and built a startup to counter the negative effects of misinformation on communities in conflict and has also joined a startup. She explained there were still a host of barriers faced by forced migrants including misrepresentation of forced migrants, discrimination of refugees, based on their race, colour and creed, a lack of community and resource signposting and barriers to digital skills and devices.

Following Angelika, Morlai Kargbo shared his story of displacement, highlighting the importance of bringing stories and experiences like his to the forefront of these discussions. Also a member of the Youth Leadership Advisory Board for DOT UK, he highlighted the challenges of coming to the UK, and how he faced many doubts and difficulties. He explained the challenges faced without the internet or a device which are key in order to access institutions and services. He explained that after settling in Newcastle, a place he remarked to be welcoming of refugees, he gained some connectivity due to the hotel services and key support from organisations like Action Foundation. He explained that without connectivity, basic things like social media and online research opportunities to find out about important services are hard. Other challenges included language barriers and the need to educate and develop skills to meet the needs of the job market in host countries. Morlai expressed that trust was essential for integration and that a collective effort would help to do more and support even more people.

The webinar ended with a roundtable discussion hosted by Vickie Wambura. The discussion included contributions from funders, displaced youth and support organisations. The key points raised were the importance of collaboration and how this can lead to making change happen quickly. Some participants spoke about how this collaboration would come about, including a concerted effort to build relationships in the ecosystem, as well as celebrating each other and our individual activities, celebrating our small nuances which are sometimes hard to express to funders.

A huge thanks to all those who attended, the Good Things Foundation for funding this vital research and those who contributed to the report.

Following the report, DOT UK is initiating Phase II of the Digital  Inclusion North East (DI NE) project, focusing on the digital skills programme design and delivery for displaced youth in Newcastle,  North East England. This new phase will be guided by the recognition that ensuring access to digital skills necessitates a layered ecosystem approach, substantiating the need to bring together resources and expertise to cultivate an integrated, synergistic environment that enhances collective impact.

We were pleased to present these findings and prompt discussions at the recent Refugee Summit on 25th and 26th February, delivered by the Conduit.

You can read the full report here. If you are interested in collaborating with DOT UK or any of the partners, please reach out to Paul Mpokwa