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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue

    Premise Five
Report Supplement
Using the Report

Premise Five:
Apply Technology to Help Build Capacity

Once a community has achieved at least a basic level of capacity, technology can be a powerful tool for the next stage of capacity-building efforts. Technology can help in three ways:

  • If we are willing to provide long-term resources and support, targeted applications of technology can help government agencies, community groups, and other organizations deliver services more effectively and at a lower cost.

  • Technology applications can enable certain individuals, especially "early adopters," to spark catalytic change in their communities.

  • Technology applications can help create and sustain online and offline networks that introduce and interconnect people who are working toward similar goals.
Case in Point: Connecting the Hills and Hollows of Appalachia

Communities in the Appalachian countryside of Southeast Ohio have been devastated by the collapse of the mining industries that were once their mainstay. "It’s not only the economic disaster," explains Russ Combs, director of the Technology Ventures division of the Appalachian Center for Economic Networks (ACEnet) in Athens, Ohio. "It’s the emotional disaster." Technology is helping to build the capacity of those communities by strengthening their inherent assets. ACEnet has built a so-called "flexible network" that enables disparate food service businesses throughout the Appalachian region to generate more business by communicating with and learning from each other.

The network—which includes an electronic mailing list, web pages, email, and online databases of vendors and customers—is designed to enable businesses to communicate without centralized control. For example, businesses that make different kinds of food products, such as local bakeries and sausage-making operations, use the network to share information on suppliers and distributors. One Appalachian salsa company used ACEnet’s vendor database as well as other components of the network (e.g., an online forum from which they learned about trade shows) to grow from a mom-and-pop shop with annual sales of $60,000 to an eight-person operation that is expected to rack up more than $600,000 in sales this year.

"There is simply no regimen to it," Combs says of ACEnet’s flexible network. "Everybody contacts everybody, and everybody works together for the common good. If we all work together at it, we all win."

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