Established in 2017, 4-H Tech Changemakers trains and equips teens to teach adults digital employability skills that include online job seeking, social media marketing, software use, and more. Today, National 4-H Council announced a major expansion of its 4-H Tech Changemakers program, which is supported by Verizon, Microsoft, Land O’Lakes Inc., and Tractor Supply Company. The companies invested $8.5 million to allow 4-H teens to bring vital digital skills to more than 50,000 adults across 164 communities, with a focus on rural communities and communities of color.
The 4-H Tech Changemakers program seeks to close this opportunity gap by making digital skills accessible to those who need them most. “This program empowers young people to identify which skills are most needed and by whom in their community, and then to go out and teach them,” explained Jennifer Sirangelo, President and CEO of National 4-H Council. “In this model, teens leverage their digital skills to give back to their communities while building critical leadership and organizational skills.”
Inequitable access to the internet and digital skills are contributing to a growing opportunity gap in areas like education, employment, healthcare, social fulfillment, and entrepreneurship. The FCC estimates that more than 21 million people don’t have access to high-speed broadband internet, with other recent reports indicating the issue may be significantly more wide-spread. This lack of access has a substantial negative economic impact on affected communities — which are disproportionately rural and those of color — including decreased job readiness and fewer opportunities for employment.
4-H has the ability to reach young people in every state, territory, county, and parish across the country. The 4-H Tech Changemakers program will be implemented by 23 land-grant universities, of which 11 are Historically Black Land Grant Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). This localized approach will ensure maximum impact in the communities that need it most.
“At Verizon, we see digital inclusion as a necessary building block for creating greater societal equity.” said Rose Stuckey Kirk, chief corporate social responsibility officer for Verizon. “This program is innovative in the way it equips 4-H’ers — who are both digital natives and trusted voices in their communities — to not just teach digital skills but build the vision for what a more inclusive future looks like.”
Through 4-H Tech Changemakers, teens become credentialed through formal training in how to teach digital skills to adults. They also receive technology to support their projects, assistance from 4-H professionals and coalition partners, and training in ways to effectively engage their communities. To date, this powerful, youth-centered program has reached more than 10,000 adults with digital skills training.
Unfortunately, rural Americans are 10 times more likely to lack high speed internet access than their suburban or urban counterparts. Research indicates that roughly 60 percent of farmers in the U.S. lack sufficient connectivity to run their business, while 25 percent of farms have no internet access whatsoever. That means that many farmers, ranchers, and agricultural workers are being left behind.
In 2021, the program will engage youth through Cooperative Extension at the following land-grant universities: Alcorn State, the University of Arizona, Arkansas State, Auburn University, Alabama A&M, Florida A&M, Georgia State, Indiana State, Kentucky State, the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, North Carolina A&T, Prairie View A&M, Southern University and A&M College, Texas A&M, Tennessee State, Tuskegee University, Virginia State, Virginia Tech, Washington State, West Virginia University, West Virginia State, and the University of Wisconsin.