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Elham Fardad | The Shadow Pandemic: Digital Poverty on the Rise

Serial social entrepreneur Elham Fardad discusses social mobility, gender diversity and the disparities aggravated by the rise of technology. Roar writer Kenza Essalama and guest contributor from Unicast Sharif Fatourehchi comment on the interview and Fardad’s myriad programmes, charities and organisations.

Fardad is a serial social entrepreneur with over 25 years of experience in senior leadership in multinational companies including Ernst & Young, News Corp, and General Electric (GE). Her current commitments are to her newly founded organisations aimed at reducing disparities among students and assisting them through their academic and professional journeys.

Throughout the interview, she expands on her “zig-zagging” at the start of her career, and how it helped her to build the skillset necessary to take on her first senior leadership role at GE. She also comments on companies’ maturity curves vis-à-vis increases in diversity and inclusion and the relation between profit maximisation and social impact maximisation where both contribute to the main underlying objective, “value creation”.

Coming from a migrant background herself, she is well aware of the struggles and obstacles that migrants face: from the lack of connections to visa and financial troubles. She is determined to help refugees: through her role as Founder and CEO of Migrant Leaders, she aims to “develop their talents” and encourage them to “achieve their career aspirations.” Alongside extending a helping hand to migrants, she has identified a significant number of technological restrictions and barriers many children in the UK face. Roar writer Kenza Essalama explores this digital divide below.

It is no secret that the pandemic has pushed the world into digitisation. For better or for worse, it is difficult to envision a time where we meet our classmates or colleagues in person when we now have the capacity to conduct all of our interactions online. Most people are also guilty of complaining about this, with the new struggles of Zoom malfunctioning or the constant influx of emails we all seem to be receiving in lieu of face-to-face meetings. But the problems run far deeper than this. Fardad highlights that more than half of the households in disadvantaged areas in the UK alone do not even have computers. It is easy to detach ourselves from that harsh reality, but that is just it – it is a reality, and it is not one that will be changing without serious efforts to rectify this digital divide.

In lieu of her other entrepreneur endeavours, Fardad launched EduTech Kids in December 2020 with the aim of alleviating digital poverty by providing laptops and smartphones to disadvantaged children in the UK. This is an ambitious task, but one that is desperately needed. The fact is, Covid has exacerbated existing issues beyond recognition. Poverty has always existed, but the purpose of the education system is to provide access to resources for all. Now that those physical buildings, housing laptops and iPads and monitors, have closed their doors, who is bridging that divide?

Unfortunately, the answer has resoundingly been no one. It is not good enough for governments to label this an unprecedented event – in actual fact, it has been precedented for years that digital poverty is a real problem. We need initiatives like EduTech Kids to close the gap that is failing to be addressed. Fardad astutely observes that while technology is often hailed as a disparity-mitigating vehicle, it represents one of the most significant emblems of inequality in the world. She points out the irony that the majority of inclusion training and content is delivered digitally; thus, contributing to wider exclusion. If the root issues were tackled, and no child was left behind technologically, there would be far fewer barriers to achievement and aspiration.

We applaud Fardad’s efforts to redress the growing imbalance in opportunity at the hands of the pandemic. It is refreshing to see an entrepreneur use their platform to move beyond meaningless rhetoric and excuses and instead direct their resources to initiatives that make a tangible impact on society. It is beyond question now that digital poverty is the shadow pandemic that needs to be brought into the light.

The full interview is available here.

Comment Writer for Roar News. BA International Relations student.

Sharif Fatourehchi



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