May 31 is Digital Literacy Day: Councillor Michelle Holland Brings Technology and Innovation to Communities Across Toronto

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Michelle Holland is City Councillor for Scarborough Southwest-Ward 35, Chief Advocate for the Innovation Economy for the City of Toronto and champion of technology, entrepreneurship and diversity. In our interview, she passionately discusses one of her initiatives, Digital Literacy Day. This ground-breaking project, which has gained tremendous momentum and support, will see companies, consumers, and communities across the City come together to learn, connect, and share. Follow Michelle on Twitter at @hollandmichelle and join the conversation using the hashtag #DLDayTO.

What is Digital Literacy Day? Who is it for and when is it happening?

Digital Literacy Day (DLD), taking place on May 31, 2018, is an initiative launched by me as the City of Toronto Chief Advocate for the Innovation Economy.  DLD will bring events to all parts of Toronto to raise awareness of the importance of digital literacy, inform residents and businesses about education and training programs and digital access, and celebrate the partnerships our City has to offer.  It is for everyone in the City of Toronto of all ages and from all socio-Economic backgrounds especially those who are most marginalized in society.

How did the idea emerge and how has it evolved?

In working within the tech ecosystem on behalf of the innovation community, I identified the need to promote digital literacy and to educate residents and businesses about the vast digital opportunities that exist in our City.  These range from programs for the very young to seniors.

We are in the Fourth Industrial revolution, a new innovation economy in a rapidly evolving time that will see the most advanced velocity of change in the history of our modern world. We know this from the many reports on the future of work and the vast changes in technology that will greatly transform our workforce. We know that some aspect of digital literacy is now required in every single job presently and in the future. I want to prepare our residents to be full participants in all that our City has to offer in terms of education, employment and day to day living.

My idea was to start the conversation with a day that was designated to address the need to promote digital literacy in order to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the new economy so that no one is left behind. I commenced with a motion to designate the day DLD at Toronto City Council. Everyone from City staff and private sector partners to educational institutions, financial services companies, and tech companies is involved and excited to bring this idea to light with the help of a dedicated DLD Working Group, the hub of planning and preparation.

You’ve said that part of your mandate for Digital Literacy Day is to "promote diversity and inclusion in tech and advance the status of girls and women in the STEM sector at the education and employment levels.” Tell us more about what’s driving this mandate and what success looks like.

In working with the tech ecosystem, our lead City agency the Toronto Public Library, and others we have ensured that one of the focus points of DLD is to include and encourage girls and women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math). DLD will feature Coding for Girls, for example, and will provide opportunities for girls and women at a wide range of events across the City.  Success will mean conveying a message to girls and women that the tech ecosystem is a place where they not only belong but where they are needed.

Tell us three things you want to see come out of this day.

First, we want DLD to raise awareness among all residents of the City regardless of age and socio-economic background that there is a great deal of opportunity for them to engage in the digital world.  Second, we want to highlight all the fantastic programming that is available through our libraries, our City services, our educational institutions and our business partners and encourage their interest to go beyond the day itself.  Third, let’s highlight and celebrate the fact that our City has incredible partnerships between all sectors, public and private, within our tech ecosystem. The planning for DLD has confirmed this as so many diverse groups, businesses and public sector agencies have come together to plan out the day.  The theme of Digital Literacy Day is “Connecting to Opportunity” and this is exactly what the day is going to achieve for so many.

You’ve been rallying organizations of all shapes and sizes to get involved to help bring this vision to life. How has the response been? If organizations still want to get involved, what’s the best way to do that?  

Indeed, I have been encouraging organizations of all types to become partners in DLD and the response has been overwhelming and amazing.  The participation of many diverse and wide-ranging groups has established a plan for DLD that will make it a transformative day for our City.  Any organization wishing to get involved can contact my office at councillor_holland@toronto.ca and we will connect them with the appropriate leads within the Working Group.

What types of activities and events should we look out for?

Quite frankly, everything is on the agenda for that day. Financial organizations will be offering programming in the context of financial digital literacy; cyber security programs will be available; the Toronto Public Library will offer programming in their Cicso-partnered Net Academy programs; and every major tech company will offer open doors or programs to students, seniors, people at job-risk due to technological transformation, low income and marginalized communities. The list goes on. There truly is something for everyone. All the programming information is available on our website: www.toronto.ca/DLDayTO.

How are you and your team working in collaboration with #movethedial and other forward-thinking organizations?

#movethedial under the leadership of Jodi Kovitz is offering programming in a local school that day specifically, collaborating with The Knowledge Society (TKS) and TD, and featuring a senior executive who will be speaking from Google. This is sure to be an incredible program, and the first of its kind at an entire school reaching over 400 students. This is exactly what we are looking to replicate across the city at every school next year! In broader terms, we have involved a number of forward thinking organizations who have been part of the DLD Working Group and they have helped to establish the day’s events.  Within the City itself the Toronto Employment and Social Services Division have prepared a full agenda as has the Toronto Public Library – with programming that is forward-thinking, inclusive and innovative.

Finally, how do you see this Day evolving in the future?

This will not be a one day event.  We are planning and working to ensure that what occurs on Digital Literacy Day will transform into programming throughout the year.  Of course, I am planning to ensure that DLD is an annual event and I will be moving a motion at Council to invite the provincial government to make this a province-wide event.  In short, Digital Literacy Day is just the beginning. Let the collaborating and connecting begin!

Guest writer: Jori Lichtman

 
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