Microsoft’s UK local and regional government team has joined with the Shoreditch Trust’s new Digital Bridge programme to provide low-cost access to Microsoft Office tools, in an initiative that aims to help bridge the digital divide for 70,000 residents and small businesses in East London neighbourhood, Shoreditch.
Digital Bridge offers customers a service that includes broadband access, PC capabilities, phone, digital television and various community resources through their television sets. In addition to being able to create and save documents, users can access tools such a benefits calculator, live security footage of their neighbourhood, and programming aimed at increasing community cohesion. Through the partnership, Digital Bridge has become a network service provider, offering a ‘pay per use’ model for Microsoft Office tools.
Nigel Bates of Microsoft’s UK local and regional government team notes that Digital Bridge “is not a community investment project, but neither is it a straight business model.” While the initiative is not an “altruistic” operation, “there are some very good spin-offs from us having a good and successful commercial model. We can use our technology to extend skills, learning capabilities, knowledge, access to technologies through our relationships we have in place.”
Microsoft’s involvement with the Shoreditch Trust was a natural extension of its work with the local education authority in Hackney in promoting home computing initiatives for school children.
Digital Bridge complements what Bates describes as Microsoft’s “Citizenship Agenda”: “We are extremely interested in the impact that a company like Microsoft can have on not just the way it engages with councils, but the way any solutions the councils buy can make an impact on the way people live their lives in a particular region.”
Bates notes that Microsoft’s priority in such cases is to get involved with projects that are self-sustaining and closely aligned with the company’s broader community agenda. The local and regional government team works side by side with the public sector citizenship team and their strategies are “intrinsically embedded and linked with each other”.
Digital Bridge also looked at the possibility of an open-source solution to their needs, but they found Microsoft’s offer to be the most cost effective, while also providing residents with the same products that are available to those in a more fortunate position.
The Shoreditch Trust, one of the UK’s New Deal for Community Trusts, is a community run regeneration agency with a keen awareness of commercial viability. Digital Bridge operates as a social enterprise and will become self-sustaining, returning any of its profits to the trust.
The Shoreditch Trust
Meg Carstens is a researcher for Corporate Citizenship Briefing and The Corporate Citizenship Company.