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Advancing Digital Citizenship – Oregon Digital Safety Net

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Digital communications have become an integral part of our lives, enabling us to navigate and participate in mainstream society. However, marginalized populations often face significant barriers in accessing these essential tools. The Oregon Digital Safety Net (ORDSN) initiative aims to bridge this digital divide and enhance digital communications for marginalized individuals in Oregon.

Oregon Digital Safety Net (ORDSN) is a continuity of communications platform aimed at improving the life of people in marginalized populations – and improving the efficiency of the agencies that serve them. The ability of people and institutions to reach a person over time – even if the device they use or their physical address has changed. At the forefront of this transformative project is Sarah Koski, the Development and Partnership Coordinator, whose dedication and expertise have been instrumental in driving positive change.

In a recent white paper, Carol Coye Benson, ORSDN Manager, writes,
“The problem, it turns out, is not having phones. Most people in these groups have phones most of the time. And it is not primarily online access. The problem, which is under-appreciated, is that people living in poverty and experiencing disrupted lives do not have the same phone numbers for continuous periods of time. The phones they do have are stolen or lost frequently, or purchased under short term plans, or provided under temporary programs. They are not purchased under continuing carrier programs in such a way that they can be (or are) “rolled over” and the old number continued. As a result, any person or institution that a person has given the old number to has lost contact with that person. And frequently, of course, that person does not have a stable physical address. They become invisible.”

Bridging the Digital Divide:
The Oregon Digital Safety Net initiative aims to enhance digital communications for marginalized populations by providing enduring (“Evergreen”) mobile phone numbers and versatile digital addresses compatible with any device. By eliminating the barriers caused by frequently changing contact information, marginalized individuals gain stability and consistency in communication. This empowers them to maintain vital connections with employers, service providers, and support networks, access job opportunities, receive important notifications, engage in online services, and stay connected with their community.

A Leader Committed to Social Justice:
Sarah Koski’s impressive background and commitment to humanitarian activism make her a perfect fit for the Oregon Digital Safety Net initiative. She earned recognition as one of Estée Lauder’s Top 100 Global Women Leaders and became a Vital Voices Visionary Fellow in 2022. Sarah’s passion for social justice and humanitarian work emerged through her experiences with the American Red Cross and as chair of the Lane County COAD during Oregon’s devastating wildfires.
Sarah Koski’s dedication to social justice and her passion for making a positive impact on marginalized communities were further solidified during her tenure as the sole case manager for St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, Inc.’s 410 Garfield Safe Sleep Site in 2022. This shelter, which was Oregon’s largest and lowest barrier indoor facility, provided a safe haven for individuals experiencing homelessness and facing numerous challenges.

“For ten months in 2022, I was the sole case manager for St. Vincent de Paul of Lane County, Inc.’s 410 Garfield Safe Sleep Site — Oregon’s largest, lowest barrier (indoor) shelter in state history. It was the hardest, most rewarding job of my life. I cried nearly every night.No one can prepare you for the realities of life on the street.” – Sarah Koski

Sarah’s Role in the Safety Net Initiative:
As the Development and Partnership Coordinator for the Oregon Digital Safety Net, Sarah brings her extensive experience and knowledge to secure essential funding for the Stage One Pilot. Her primary focus lies in identifying potential funding sources, engaging with philanthropic organizations and foundations, seeking government grants or contracts, exploring corporate partnerships, and conducting impactful fundraising campaigns. Through her strategic approach and compelling proposals, Sarah strives to secure the necessary resources to propel the Safety Net forward.

Target Groups and Collaborations:
The Safety Net initiative prioritizes specific target groups or communities within Oregon based on their vulnerability, communication needs, and existing service gaps. To effectively engage and collaborate with these groups, Sarah plans to conduct comprehensive community needs assessments, establish partnerships with local organizations and community leaders, involve affected individuals in the initiative’s design and implementation, and ensure diverse representation and inclusivity in decision-making processes.

The Power of Partnerships:
Partnerships and collaborations play a pivotal role in the success of the Oregon Digital Safety Net. Organizations like the Technology Association of Oregon (TAO) are actively supporting the initiative. TAO’s expertise in technology, extensive network, commitment to fostering innovation and digital inclusion, and previous involvement in communication services and marginalized populations make them valuable partners.

In a recent article with the Eugene Chamber of Commerce, Skip Newberry, CEO of the Technology Association of Oregon, states, “The impacts of houselessness impact businesses. It’s not like we lack resources. We have an unprecedented amount of resources available in the past couple of years. Housing is not enough. They [vulnerable community members] need to have the tools and resources needed to become successful. Part of that set of solutions should include things like being able to establish credit, banking services, and managing the documents they need to function as a contributing member of our society.”

Through strategic collaborations, the Safety Net initiative can leverage shared resources, knowledge exchange, and joint efforts to address the multifaceted challenges faced by marginalized populations.

“I’m excited for this solution-based idea to truly make an impact on this most vulnerable community with the help of our members,” says Tim Winner, Vice President of Operations and Strategic Partnerships at the Technology Association of Oregon.

Measuring Impact and Future Goals:
To measure the effectiveness and success of the Stage One Pilot, the initiative will track metrics such as the number of individuals gaining access to digital communication tools, the frequency and quality of their interactions, improvements in socio-economic conditions, and feedback from users and service providers. Looking ahead, Sarah’s long-term goals for the Oregon Digital Safety Net initiative include scaling the program, expanding services based on user feedback, advocating for policies supporting digital inclusion, fostering sustainable funding models, and establishing the Safety Net as a best practice model for other regions.


Want to learn more about the Oregon Digital Safety Net? Contact Sarah Khoski

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