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Creating Opportunity Through Digital Connectivity

With the launch of 15 STEM labs, ATC CSR Foundation India has reached the significant milestone of 200 Digital Communities across 17 Indian states.

As digital transformation accelerates around the world, inclusion needs to be the guiding star. Digital tools help every business, from the start-up to the established organization, but they must also be in the service of the child pursuing an education in a remote village, the teenager looking for skill training to get a job or the rural dweller trying to access needed government services.

Recognizing the opportunities at hand, our two organizations, American Tower Corporation (ATC) and the American India Foundation (AIF), have placed a priority on accelerating the benefits of connectivity, providing or expanding access to education and other services, and amplifying our own strengths through the power of partnership. Our goal is to improve the quality of life for communities that are disadvantaged or underserved, offering solutions guided by local needs.

AIF is committed to catalyzing social and economic change in India and building a lasting bridge between the United States and India through high-impact interventions in education, livelihoods, public health and leadership development. AIF’s Digital Equalizer program, part of its education pillar, utilizes technology to bridge the digital divide in India and transform under-resourced schools through collaborative, project-based learning. Today, 700,000 public schools in India lack technology. Digital Equalizer’s goal is to help children have access to high-quality educational opportunities and gain critical life skills alongside 21st century knowledge to prepare them for success.

Digital Eqalizer

AIF’s Digital Equalizer program uses technology to bridge the digital divide in India and transform under-resourced schools through collaborative, project-based learning.

ATC is a corporate partner of AIF and one of the largest global operators and developers of multitenant communications real estate. The company entered India in 2007 and has grown its communications site count to more than 76,000, representing the most sites in any market across ATC’s global portfolio. ATC is particularly proud of its Digital Communities program, which started in India a decade ago. The program recognizes that the reach of connectivity, and the benefits it provides, remains limited in many countries due to cost, scalability, power outages and educational barriers. To help overcome these limitations, the uninterrupted power supply and broadband connection from ATC’s nearby tower sites provides local communities with free ICT education and training. ATC does this together with local partners, which in India include the NIIT Foundation and Hole-in-the-Wall Education Limited (HiWEL).

“We have achieved much through our Digital Communities program but are nowhere near where we want to be. We know that embracing technology and digital literacy can support learning and skills development from childhood through adulthood. Our hope is that our program will be a valuable contributor to life-long learning in a world where digital transformation is only accelerating.”

— Amit Sharma

On December 20, 2021, ATC CSR Foundation India (ATC CSRFI), the social impact arm of ATC India, reached a significant milestone of 200 Digital Communities across 17 states in India with the opening of 15 ATC STEM Labs in the government schools of Bihar. By launching ATC STEM Labs in collaboration with AIF’s Digital Equalizer program in more than 50 schools in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, ATC is advancing its mission to improve digital literacy and enhance employability through connectivity.

Both AIF and ATC have benefited from community buy-in for our respective digital programs given the direct impact on lives. Such buy-in has proved to be a powerful determinant of the success of the programs. Our work in India also benefits from the supportive environment for digital inclusion fostered by the Government of India, whose flagship Digital India initiative seeks to transform India into a digitally empowered society and knowledge economy.

Jay Gullish, Executive Director, Digital Economy, Media, Entertainment, and Satcom at the U.S.-India Business Council and a former digital policy officer at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, said the Indian government recognizes that full participation in today’s economy requires a reliable broadband connection and the digital literacy to access needed public and private services. “Through Digital India, the Government of India aims to promote universal access to mobile connectivity and give its citizens the tools they need to thrive. In 2018, I had the opportunity to visit an American Tower Digital Community in Gurugram, Haryana. I saw firsthand the impact of these communities, and their role as a powerful driver supporting India’s digital transformation.”

“Classrooms should not just be a place for theoretical learning, but a collaborative and interactive space for students to learn through hands-on activities that prepares them for a successful future in this rapidly changing 21st century. Millions of young Indians come to cities from disadvantaged backgrounds with little to no prior education and lack the basic digital skills to obtain gainful employment. At the same time, the expansion of India’s high-growth industries calls for a skilled workforce. Skills development and efforts to promote digital equity are critical to India’s ability to activate the vast potential of its young people and drive inclusive growth.”

— Nishant Pandey

The digital divide exacerbated by the pandemic has severely affected children across rural India. To implement technology-based interventions for school children and ensure continuity of education is imperative. Much work remains ahead, but the landscape is ripe with opportunity and we are optimistic that remote and direct learning strategies are a right blend for children’s future. ATC CSRFI is seeking to collaborate with corporations, nonprofits, NGOs and other trusted partners to not only promote digital literacy, but also support other essential services, such as healthcare and financial inclusion. AIF also welcomes new NGO, corporate and foundation partners to help maximize its impact and reach while sustaining its work for the long term. There is no limit on the return on an investment in people and their futures through digital empowerment. Public companies like ATC, non-profits like AIF, and national and state-level governments all have important roles to play in expanding the internet’s reach and impact.

Amit Sharma

Amit Sharma is Chairman of American Tower Corporation's Digital Communities Governing Council

Nishant Pandey

Nishant Pandey is CEO of American India Foundation

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