Study conducted as COVID-19 pandemic forces Canadian society to shift online finds that funding for digital development projects are piecemeal, ad hoc and unorganized
October 1, 2020 – OTTAWA – As Canadian schools, non-profits, and community groups pivot to online services, the Canadian Internet Registration Authority (CIRA) has released a landmark study detailing the funding shortfalls facing organizations that work to improve the quality of Canada’s internet. Based on 50 in-depth telephone interviews conducted in April and May, the study finds that resources are scarce for not-for-profits, charities and researchers working to connect Canadians to high-quality internet that is affordable and secure during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated Canada’s digital divide.
Study participants argue that while ensuring all Canadians are digitally connected has never been more important, Canada’s “digital philanthropy” sector is ill-defined when compared to other well-developed philanthropic sectors such as the environment, poverty and public health. The research finds that funding for internet-related projects is limited, complicated, and difficult to access, which leads to competition for resources amongst groups who share the same goals. Study participants also fear that the COVID-19 pandemic will place new pressures on the small number of funders in this area, stretching already thin funding across other needs and priorities.
- Funding for internet-related projects is scarce both in terms of absolute dollars available for non-profits, charities and researchers, and in the breadth and depth of granting sources.
- Funding is most needed for digital literacy, infrastructure and community leadership to support work that increases equity and skills, builds network infrastructure, and enables policy advocacy.
- The larger philanthropic community that provides grants in other sectors such as health and education does not prioritize digital development work.
- Funding is complicated and difficult to access, especially for not-for-profits and charities without the resources to hire specialists to assist in the application process.
- These obstacles contribute to a policy advocacy stakeholder imbalance that favours industry participation over communities, civil society groups and non-profits.
- COVID-19 is expected to make the situation worse by placing new financial pressures on the small number of existing funders in this area.
Examples of Digital Development Projects:
In June of this year, CIRA’s Community Investment Program announced funding for 20 projects. Past projects include:
- Mamawapowin Community Network is expanding and maintaining an accessible wireless network that will reach every household in the community of Samson Cree First Nation in Central Alberta.
- ACORN Canada has carried out groundbreaking research on digital equality for low-income Canadians, underlining the need for affordable internet as an essential service.
- Actua developed an AI Education Handbook and curriculum, accessible learning tools on the basics of artificial intelligence created to help educators bring AI learning into classrooms across Canada.