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Meet Bob Smith, the man behind Comcast’s $1 million investment for digital inclusion in Philadelphia

July 23, 2019 Category: FeaturedMediumPurpose
At a seminar for non-profits working in digital literacy, hosted by Comcast, representatives from the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Association Coalition explained how online skills are further exacerbated with a language barrier.

After learning more about their needs, Comcast worked with the organization to create a computer lab for their users to attend digital literacy and English as a Second Language classes.

“We would not have a computer lab if it were not for Comcast’s support,” said Andy Toy, the development and communications director for SEAMAAC.

In fact, Comcast invested about $1 million last year in Philadelphia to increase tech accessibility in the form of digital literacy classes, computer labs and other online programming.

Pulling the strings behind it all is Bob Smith. He’s the vice president for community investment in the company’s Freedom Region which includes Southeast PA, New Jersey and New Castle County, DE.

Smith has worked for almost a decade with the local nonprofit sector to see where Comcast can partner and support the community. While Comcast invests in scholarship, veterans and other initiatives, the company has recently taken a greater look at digital inclusion.

“We are in a unique position, given the type of company that we are, to make an impact … in the digital literacy space, more so than in a lot of others,” Smith said. “It’s a natural progression, that we’ve got resources and skills in the digital space, and there happens to be a significant amount of need there.”

Being able to use a computer is one of the most important skills employers from large companies are looking for, Toy said.

“Bob has been the most important person that we’ve worked with,” Toy said. “[He] understands what we do, has been here and has seen what we do, so understanding the value that we bring is really important.”

“We don’t have to explain everything to him,” Toy added. “He gets it.”

A digital literacy training for older adults at Lutheran Settlement House with instructor Kwaku Boateng. (Courtesy photo by Joseph Kaczmarek)

Organizations Smith has fostered relationships to help fund digital programming in the Philadelphia area include People’s Emergency Center, Lutheran Settlement House, the Center for Family Services and Philadelphia OIC.

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Comcast has also supported digital inclusion for those with disabilities at nonprofits like Special People in the Northeast, The Arc and Easterseals.

“The most important thing to me about doing this job is showing up and spending time with the nonprofit organizations that we work with, at their locations with their clients,” Smith said. “Just trying to understand what the needs are, how we can help.”

At Philadelphia OIC, Comcast sponsored a class for students who either dropped out or were kicked out of high school. Twenty students received 100 hours of digital media training. Smith spent a day with the students halfway through the semester.

Seated at a table with a few of the program’s teen participants Smith said: “Tell me something you learned during this class that has nothing to do with pointing a camera or editing sound or video.”

In response, some said public speaking, teamwork, collaboration, planning and the ability to present your ideas in front of a group.

“So, whether or not they pursue digital media after this program… and go to trade school or go to college, if they never touch a camera again they will have learned all of these skills that will serve them well no matter what they do,” Smith said. “And that gets me excited.”


Digital Divide Month 2019

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