Having encountered many refugees in Luxembourg and abroad, Isabelle and Patrick have seen a high number of competent refugees arriving, motivated to make use of their skills in order to contribute positively to their new homes. Yet, the lack of access to digital equipment, the various language barriers and the foreign cultural environment in Luxembourg presented yet another series of obstacles to be met in the integration process of the refugees.
At the end of the year 2015, Patrick and Isabelle decided to take action. On his own initiative, Patrick started gathering privately computers in order to donate them to refugees. In some cases, he also provided them with internet access at home. Isabelle organised and coordinated the access and distribution of private computers for refugees and provided support for various administrative procedures online.
The demand for access to digital equipment among the refugees was so strong, that in February 2016 we founded Digital Inclusion asbl. Yet, we believe that Digital Inclusion should not be limited to refugees only, but include all vulnerable people living in Luxembourg.
Since summer 2016, Digital Inclusion is supported by the Œuvre Nationale de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte as one of the mateneen projects. This allowed us to cover our material costs and to hire two employees, an IT technician (photo: Aws Alomar, employee 2017-2018) and a project manager (Anna szymanska, Digital Inclusion Project Manager since October 2016). At the same time, more and more volunteers joined the project.
We partnered with Hariko (A Red Cross Project), in the ‘Hariko building’ we have an office (cf. photo above) along with a class room, storage and our makerspace. We received additional support of the US Embassy in Luxembourg, funding additional spare parts for our computer recycling program.
In 2017, the project was further developed by Anna Szymanska and Patrick de la Hamette, and a third part time employee joined the project, helping to prepare our digital skills and workforce insertion project with the Ministry of Labour and the European Social Fund.
At the same time, the ‘Hariko building’ neared its end-of-life, as it was only a temporary solution and the building was to be removed in 2018. Digital Inclusion managed to find a new spot, and again it is a building that we could temporarily (until end of 2018) use and meanwhile has been torn down- this allowed us to get a lot of space while keeping rent costs low. During three months, we prepared the space and then moved in January 2018- You can find more about how we re-used this building space here.
In 2018, Digital Inclusion started its ‘Digi4All’ project (2018-2019), on its new premises in Howald. The project augmented our project by adding a multitude of educational offers, aiming to boost digital skills of people without employment in Luxembourg, and is financed by the Ministry of Labour and the European Social Fund. (more details here) The staff grew to 8 employees (part time).
Later in 2018, Digital Inclusion also started its new circular economy program ‘iCycle‘ (funded by the Oeuvre GD Charlotte in its ‘Yes We Care’ program), with the goal to reinforce its efforts on re-use for smartphones and re-use principles in general. As always, the projects are based on transparent action, allowing to raise awareness, in this case on circular economy. In a collaboration with Caritas, smartphones are now being collected by the ‘mobile bag’, a project developed by Caritas Luxembourg. Caritas also collects older phones for recycling disassembly, and helps allocate smartphones (refurbished and distributed by Digital Inclusion, along with specific training) to people in need, in Luxembourg.
In the beginning of 2019, Digital Inclusion moved again, this time to a non temporary address, just next to Gare in Luxembourg, allowing easy access for our national network of beneficiaries. To cover the new rent, the City of Luxembourg and the Oeuvre GD Charlotte provided extra funding.
While we successfully completed the second half of our ‘Digi4All’ mission with the Mnistry of Labour, numerous Ministers visited Digital Inclusion, including Corinne Cahen, Carole Dieschbourg and Xavier Bettel, and we asked to initiate talks for government support, for a long term funding of the project (the Oeuvre funding being limited in time).
In 2020, Digital Inclusion started it’s new 2-year program ‘DigiCoach’ with the Ministry of Labour and the European Social Fund. This is a follow up to our educational program ‘Digi4All’, and includes new elements, such as a computer software assisted language lab (allowing our beneficiaries to learn on their own pace with state of the art software) and also a direct job search coaching. Other elements, such as our very successful digital literacy classes, were refined. In the beginning of March, EU commissioner Nicolas Schmit visited our project, to see Digi4All (and all of our other projects) in action.
With the Covid related measures, such as the school closure, starting mid March, Digital Inclusion also had to quickly adapt to the new situation. Our classroom and front office were closed at the same time than the schools, and in the following days our operations were shifted into home office.
In the new situation, Digital Inclusion decided to take action and set up an extraordinary distribution to help students in home schooling, when their household could not afford a computer. This was made possible by considerable extra efforts of the staff and by external help of the Lions Club Luxembourg Viaduc, who delivered computers all over the country, while the Automobile Club Luxembourg established a drop off point for donations, allowing our supporters to continue to donate IT devices to us.
A while after Luxembourg’s school re-opened, we also re-opened our class room, but only with a reduced number of students and high safety standards.