How we can bridge the digital divide in Central and Eastern Europe

Matt Brittin, Anna Korzeniewska / January 2021

Technology has been a lifeline for European businesses and communities throughout the pandemic — from helping people find accurate health information and buying groceries online to finding new ways to learn and stay connected with loved ones.

But equally, the pandemic has also widened the digital skills gap and social divide, putting disadvantaged groups at risk of being left further behind. As economies embark on the path to recovery, creating an accessible digital future for everyone is vital.

To help bridge the divide, Google launched the first Google.org Impact Challenge dedicated to Central and Eastern Europe (CEE). With this initiative €2 million in grants will be distributed among organisations that are working to overcome the differences and promote inclusive economic growth and recovery.

As economies embark on the path to recovery, creating an accessible digital future for everyone is vital.

Making sure CEE has access to digital opportunities

The digital divide in CEE is narrowing but more needs to be done. Governments, businesses and communities have outlined their ambition to make digital a driver of economic prosperity for the more than 100 million people who live in the region. The CEE countries are working together as part of the Three Seas Initiative to make that vision a reality.

How we can bridge the digital divide in Central and Eastern Europe

On a country level, initiatives like Digital Nation help to facilitate remote employment in disadvantaged areas across Romania, offering a virtual training programme tailored to IT jobs and supporting small businesses through digital upskilling. Other organisations, like the Czechitas initiative in Czechia, Women Go Tech in Lithuania, and Riga Tech Girls in Latvia, are working to build a digital future for all and helping connect women to professional opportunities in tech.

Embracing social engagement

“Philanthropy in CEE 2020”, a study conducted by Kantar for Social Impact Alliance for Central & Eastern Europe, shows that involvement in social issues offers encouraging prospects for businesses. 48% of the respondents prefer to buy products and services from socially committed brands and 44% are willing to pay more for such products and services.

Treat philanthropic efforts in the same way you would approach other business matters ⁠— strategically

According to the same study, not only do stakeholders increasingly expect businesses to become more involved in socially responsible activities (66% of respondents), but these actions have to be honest, authentic, and consistent with their business mission and strategy.

“When the social involvement of a company adequately reflects the values of its brand, and the actions undertaken have a sufficiently long timeframe, such engagement has the potential to increase the competitiveness of the enterprise on a given market and bring about lasting, systemic social impact,” explains Anna Korzeniewska, Founder at Social Impact Alliance for Central & Eastern Europe.

So how can companies ensure these efforts benefit their company and society as a whole? “Treat philanthropic efforts in the same way you would approach other business matters ⁠— strategically,” says Korzeniewska. “The reward for companies engaged in philanthropy is the favour of customers, consumers, employees, and investors. And in the future, the more sustainable development of their business and the world.”

Closing the digital divide is essential for further recovery and growth in Central and Easter Europe. Social innovators across the region need to think big about how they can use technology to help individuals and communities thrive in a digitized economy.

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