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Digital Inclusion and the Third Sector Doctor Project at AVOW

At Digital Communities Wales, we’ve been hearing from a number of organisations that have signed up to our Digital Inclusion Charter, to demonstrate how they are promoting digital skills and helping people to do more online. This blog post has come from AVOW, in Wrexham.

Due to the increasing demand on charities and social enterprises to become sustainable, AVOW’s Third Sector Doctor Project sees it as extremely important, that to compete for funding, organisations are able to understand and use technology.

AVOW – Association of Voluntary Organisations in Wrexham – helps organisations to be sustainable by moving them away from the reliance on grant funding and instead, get them working towards delivering a service or a product. As such, they support organisations apply for funding, procurement and tendering, which is playing a much greater role in sustainability.

Social enterprises and other organisations should not be strangers to the concept of trading in goods and services; procurement in this sense actually goes further, in that organisations seek to obtain contracts to deliver public services to their local community and to the wide range of public sector customers and users. Therefore, being digitally savvy and ready is most important.

For instance, Local Authorities promote contracts on the Sell2Wales website and if organisations are not digitally aware or registered, they will not be able to take advantage or be included in the process.

In order to build capacity, the Third Sector Doctor project provides intensive support by working closely with committee members and management to help them gain the necessary skills needed to improve the health of their organisation and the services delivered.

To begin, ‘health checks’ and a training needs analysis are conducted. This establishes a training programme based on the findings, and very often, weaknesses are found in ICT skills, like using programmes for financial controls accounts for example. The Third Sector Doctor project also support groups regarding their legal framework and charity registration procedures, including Charity & Company Law, business planning and project management. All these areas require good digital skills.

To meet these challenges, AVOW works with further education establishments and puts on courses to develop digital skills for the Third Sector across Wrexham and Flintshire. These courses prepare organisations and individuals to meet the challenges of the digital age.

All staff within the organisation are also given the opportunity to participate in training to enhance their own personal skills and knowledge, thus ensuring that AVOW is delivering the best service to our clients.

Volunteers are heavily involved in many projects and are vital to the services delivered by AVOW. It has a volunteering policy which demonstrates the commitment to volunteers and the equality of opportunities available to them. Examples of roles include volunteering at Ollie’s Snax (café providing volunteering opportunities for individuals experiencing substance misuse or unemployment), peer mentoring roles (support roles to people experiencing substance misuse) as well as general administrative duties and community engagement. All these roles require some form of ICT in their delivery.

One of AVOW’s volunteers, Natalie Griffiths, who is undertaking a BSc in Creative Computing at Glyndwr University said; “I fully understand how important ICT is, as I have seen first-hand how many do not have the skills to undertake even simple tasks. As a volunteer at AVOW, I have taken on the role of being a “Digital Champion” and am constantly requested to aid many people across the organisation. Many of my fellow volunteers that come to AVOW are working towards gaining employment, and, as employers are increasingly looking for good digital literacy skills; it is vital for them to learn or improve theirs.”

Being able to use digital technology and electronic devices is very important to many of AVOW’s clients, especially to transfer and access information across a range of platforms. For example, they promote a ‘Toolkit for Good Governance and Charity Health Checks’, as a way to help them; however, these tools need to be installed on a computer and they are usually sent on a portable storage device, or via email. Without the knowledge and skills or even the equipment to download files, they cannot use the toolkit and it can leave them very much in the dark.

Organisations such as the Charity Commission have also moved over to sending and receiving information by email, and registrations of charities are now completed on websites. The National Lottery also utilises digital technologies and applications are mainly made online.

Therefore, on an end note, it is extremely important that organisations and the individuals within are not isolated from the digital world and have the skills to meet the new methods and challenges of working.