The post originally appeared on Politic365
The Internet is a topic of conversation in D.C. more than ever these days. It has spawned companies like Google and Facebook that have not only changed how we find and share information but have also impacted the economy with job creation and monetization opportunities for companies of all sizes on their platforms. Yes, the Internet has been a life-changing bed of opportunity for thousands of small companies and individuals, alike.
Within all the opportunity, however, there lies a problem that does not seem to be improving, not to mention it’s a little secret that many people just aren’t talking about: the lack of diversity in the start-up technology space.
It’s not a hidden issue per se, as reports from CB insights show us the hard data that less than 1% of start-up founders are African American. Yes, minorities are consuming media (especially those accessible across mobile devices) at alarming rates, but they are not involved in the product creation process in a manner that ultimately yields jobs creation and economic opportunities. The excuse that minorities just adapt to technology later than their non-minority counterparts, which was one of the justifications given when the term “digital Divide” was coined by Larry Irving, no longer can be used to justify this gap. Calling it a “Digital Lag,” as I recently heard on a call, in an effort to show some sort of progress does not mitigate the lack of production on the part of minorities either.
The problem here, is bigger than access or adoption of technology. What we’re facing is systemic, as noted in reports by the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies or the Pew Internet and American Life Project, which find that less that 50% of African Americans and slightly over 50% of Hispanics have adopted broadband internet at home. What, then, does this mean? It means that minority youth are not growing up with the Internet in their home. They are not developing the comfort and confidence with the technology that enables them to realize that they can be producers, not just consumers, of the latest new online gadget or widget; that empowers them to think, “what if I built something”? The result? Many minority youth don’t have access to all of the free online learning that is available to them. Or, if they have access to it, they have not yet learned how to realize the power of technology and leverage it to their own best benefit.
When others talk about this issue they usually place one sided blame on the investors in the space. I don’t really agree with that. Several parties contribute and can help with the situation and receive benefits from helping. An entire calculus is involved in changing the culture from consumption to production and involves everyone from VCs and angel investors, start-ups large and small, minorities themselves and the government.
All of the private entities and individuals mentioned above are already known to our government, which is gradually taking steps toward embracing technology with initiatives like data.gov and the code for America ,but in order for us to create a new level of interest and engagement among our citizenry, we have to do more bring minorities into the fold. Here are a few ideas for what the government can do to further incentivize techonology adoption and use.
- Increase Technology Education in Schools: If you have seen “waiting for Superman” then you know the dire straights our inner city schools are facing. With the wealth of free information out there on sites like Khan Academy teachers can incorporate more learning resources than their budgets allow and also promote self discovery and inspire kids to move toward success in this era of “no child left behind.”
- Subsidize Broadband Access and support Public-Private Partnerships: Whether through neighborhood wifi or discounts, we have to get broadband Internet into the hands of minority youth at home. The library and school are good but they need it in their homes to change the systematic issues associated with non-adoption and hyper-consumerism.
- Offer Digital Literacy Training For Adults: Since this issue is not new, we need to bridge the digital literacy gap with working adults so that they are comfortable with technology at home and can encourage their children and peers to be as well.
- Create Digital Entrepreneurship Incubators: In the Start-up space there are technology incubators (Ycombinator and TechStars are two of many) which help fledgling entrepreneurs get thier company off the ground. The challenge with a lot of these programs is that the entrants come in with a certain set of skills (i.e. usually the ability to code) which causes minorities who lack such skills to shy away from these programs. The government could help by creating entities that train people on the skills they would need to go into one of these incubator programs or even offer similar preparatory programs for people with a different skill set in the technology arena.
- Create More Technology Programs For Kids: Recently the Science and Engineering festival was held on the national mall. This program was a partnership between corporate and non profit sponsors. More of these STEM programs need to happen in inner city schools. These programs show children the excitement of solving problems with technology.
- Continue to Give Incentive’s To Small Businesses: The Small Business Jobs Act that President Obama signed recently was a great first step, they need to continue to give incentives to investors to invest in small business and minority and women-owned businesses as well.
- Focus On The Real Issues: Our government can only do so much at a time, and should focus on issues like these which will have an immediate impact on people regarding job creation and increased economic opportunity. Not that they can’t walk and chew gum at the same time, but while the government is accutely focused on contentions issues like those related to Internet regulation, they are less able to focus on issues such as these that can have more immediate impact on the population at large.
Steps have certainly been taken in the right direction under the Obama Administration, but there is much more the government can do to foster innovation and opportunity in the tech space, particularly among minority populations.
- Bringing Broadband to Rural America (thinkup.waldenu.edu)