How business leaders can help connect underserved communities to the digital world

Business leaders have a unique ability to make things happen. We make decisions each day that guide our people and shape the direction of the companies we lead.
We also have the means to try to effect positive change in our communities. During the pandemic, we saw K-12 students in underserved communities across the United States without proper tools — from laptops to stable internet connections to access to mentors — to fully participate in remote online learning. This is a serious problem for the future of our communities.
The onset of COVID-19 exposed our nation’s lack of connectivity, tech support and mentorship in low-income communities. It’s the digital divide that is keeping the next generation from developing the skills and education it will need to find employment and succeed in the workplace of tomorrow. Computers and internet connections are critical learning resources that should be available to all students.
As business leaders, we have a responsibility to try to make our communities better. We need to do what we can to give these young people, the future drivers of our economy, the opportunity they deserve to pursue their dreams and reach their full potential.
EY has joined forces with leaders across the nation in the private and public sectors to bridge this gap. The goal is to facilitate access to connectivity and hardware for underserved students and develop a virtual mentoring approach that addresses students’ immediate needs, ultimately providing future skills-readiness support.
Ernst & Young LLP has raised almost $150,000 just in Northeast Ohio and, working alongside United Way, we are committed to using this money to directly address the digital divide in Cleveland’s most underserved communities. Now is the time to break down barriers and develop solutions that deliver a more equitable pathway to success for students.
Bridging the digital divide is an opportunity for those of us who lead companies in Northeast Ohio to make a difference. It must be more than something we casually talk about in the hallway or at a networking event, and then quickly forget about as we shift back to matters that directly impact our business.
In fact, the digital divide is an issue that will impact our business. If left unaddressed, it will reduce the talent pool from which we hire future employees and leaders.
There is talent, ingenuity and creativity in young people that can take our companies to new heights. But if we don’t solve the digital divide, some will never get the chance to prove themselves and make that contribution. We owe it to the people in these communities, and to our own futures, to do what we can to help.
Hardware, connectivity and mentorship are the three critical elements to solving the digital divide. Students need computers, the ability to get online and people who can help them grasp the world of opportunity that exists through that connection.

We all have the resources to help in each of these areas. If we all do our part, the digital divide will hopefully become a distant memory.

Monte Repasky is Cleveland office managing partner at Ernst & Young LLP