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Bridging the Digital Divide

  • 2 Nov 2023

Fostering equality in NZ’s future tech sector

For many of us, having access to a laptop or smartphone is something we take for granted. It’s how we engage with modern life, complete our daily work, communicate with loved ones and grow our skills and knowledge. 

But for many Kiwi kids, such access is out of reach. Even second-hand devices are too expensive, and access to digital education is limited through the school system. 

New Zealand’s tech sector has been growing at a rapid pace over the last decade, but it shouldn’t only be the kids who can afford it who get to participate in the digital world. Here to solve that problem: meet Digital Future Aotearoa.

Their mission is simple: to bridge the divide between the haves and have-nots, enabling Kiwi rangatahi and tamariki of all backgrounds to access not only devices but also education - including coding and engineering. 

Crew became aware of Digital Future Aotearoa at 2023’s Hi-Tech Awards. Let us tell you about the awesome work they’ve been doing, and how we can all help.

Changing lives one device at a time

As a not-for-profit, Digital Future Aotearoa channels its budget and efforts into its mission rather than shouting about itself online – hence why you might not have heard about it, despite its almost decade-long history. 

General Manager Bronwyn Scott explains: “We started out in 2014 as Code Club Aotearoa. A few people could see there was going to be a talent shortage in the tech sector in years to come, so they decided to start sharing some digital skills with young people, to start them at an early age. There’s lots of research into when’s the best time to capture the hearts and minds of young people, and it’s that 7 to 13-year-old age bracket that’s key.”

“By 2018 we realised we had a bigger mission, so we changed our name and started offering more programs including Recycle a Device (RAD) – where donated laptops are refurbished by and given to kids who need them.” 

In 2018 Code Club Aotearoa rebranded as Digital Future Aotearoa, with the goal of raising the digital capabilities of all New Zealand tamariki and rangatahi through initiatives such as Code Club, Recycle a Device, and digital readiness programmes. They also run programmes for school teachers, to better enable them to pass on the necessary digital skills to their students.

Their growth goes to show how necessary they are: 

  • There are now 396 Code Clubs across Aotearoa encouraging and inspiring over 5000 tamariki to learn code, supported by almost 2000 volunteers. 
  • So far this year, 645 rangatahi have learned tech engineering through Recycle a Device, wherein students take an active role in refurbishing a donated laptop, which they then get to keep at the end. 
  • This year, Digital Future Aotearoa and Recycle a Device took out two awards at the Hi-Tech Awards in Christchurch – Best Contribution to the NZ Tech Sector and Best Hi-Tech Solution for Public Good. 

But it’s the feedback from the kids that has been most encouraging: 

“Receiving a RAD laptop has been a life-saving change for me.” 

“This was the best day of school ever.” 

“I can make much more complex projects now in Python than in Scratch, this is going to help me get a job when I’m older!”

How we are helping - and how you can too

After seeing Digital Future Aotearoa at the NZ Hi-Tech Awards, our team knew we had to reach out and see what we could do to support them. Rachael Tobeck, Dev & Data Practice Lead in Christchurch, took the lead:

“Ralph and I met with Bronwyn, and it was amazing listening to their story. Surprisingly, they don’t get a lot of support from the tech sector! But they’re always looking for developers who can help teach coding, or businesses looking to donate old laptops. There are so many ways to support the awesome work that they’re doing.” 

Here are four ways that you can make a difference: 

1. Spread the word 

Digital Future Aotearoa doesn’t have budget for a marketing person, so all their growth so far has been down to word of mouth. Crew is lending support by using our own channels and connections to spread the word about their work, doing what we do best – connecting our tech communities, businesses, and workers. 

Even just the act of sharing their story or helping raise awareness for their cause can help – maybe there’s someone in your network who can donate their time, money, or devices even if you currently can’t. 

2. Financial support 

“All of our programmes are entirely free for children, whether it’s Code Club or Recycle a Device. There are a lot of Kiwi kids who can’t afford to get involved in the digital world, and we’re trying to reduce that divide to create a more equal future for tech in Aotearoa.” 

One-off or recurring financial donations are greatly appreciated to help cover the ongoing overheads of running the operation. See more about donation options including sponsoring a local Code Club here.

3. Donate a device 

Think twice about what you do with your used laptops! Most businesses and organisations are on a device refresh program where they get new laptops every 3-5 years, but couldn’t tell you what happens to their old ones once they’re taken away. With RAD, those devices gain a new life and make a difference for someone who really needs them to participate in education, the economy or everyday life. 

“We look for organisations that are upgrading their devices, with laptops no more than 10 years old, and in working condition. We run workshops with rangatahi to pull apart these old laptops and refurbish them, and the kids then get to keep them afterwards.”

Got laptops to get rid of? Give them to RAD.

4. Volunteer for Code Club 

“We are always in need of volunteers to teach Code Club. It’s a simple commitment of one hour a week teaching kids how to code. You don’t even need to be able to do it yourself – you can learn alongside the kids as a facilitator! We have a full onboarding programme to ensure all volunteers are comfortable and supported in the process, so you won’t get thrown in the deep end.” 

Find out more here.

Reach out and support Digital Future Aotearoa today 

Crew believes in diversifying our tech sector with fresh talent and unique perspectives, which means everyone needs to have the same access and opportunities to learn and engage with tech. Together, we can support New Zealand’s young people to gain the skills they need in a tech-centric world and propel our country into the future. 

Make a difference today.