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Covid19 has accelerated the digitisation of every aspect of our lives. We’ve been forced into sudden digital usage in education and work, access to social networks, health services, cultural activities, banking and shopping. Our increasingly digital world has the potential to leave behind the most vulnerable of society. The inability to engage with digital media can accentuate disadvantage and exclusion for those with fewer opportunities. This is particularly evident among senior adults, migrants and refugees, even young people where a lack of digital skills is synonymous with social isolation and loss of autonomy. Rather than combating digital exclusion by more simply offering more digital opportunities, BESTIE will offer the most natural and socially beneficial method: community-based exchange in creating human interpersonal connections! The partner organisations will use the project to create the digital inclusion learning environments in their own organisations and develop digital and social skills of their own staff.

While some programmes have been developed to assist vulnerable community members to improve their digital skills, the pandemic has accelerated the speed of change and the need to help our at-risk groups is greater than ever before. To complicate issues, the social distancing rules and economic downturn caused by the pandemic now mean that when the need is greatest, many adult learning community centres are working with reduced staff and limited physical capacity.

Europe is ageing fast, and in the same vein, digitization is moving very quickly into citizens' routines. Our seniors are the largest group of citizens who are info-excluded. This reality is worrying because it will quickly make them socially excluded (Source: MEDCRAVE). BESTIE will benefit seniors with few opportunities to acquire the digital skills for better functioning in ever increasing digital world, as well as by developing social ties to the community, overcoming threats of loneliness and exclusion.

The pandemic has made displaced persons more vulnerable than ever with refugee and migrant communities suffering from the deterioration of their economic situation and lack of social connections in their new communities. The digital skillset of migrants & refugees is varied and greatly depends on their understanding of their new community’s language and access to learning pathways. Even when their digital competencies are high, digital exclusion of migrants and refugees still happens. Differences in the system in which their digital skills are now applied when combined with difficulties with the new language and a decrease in the accessibility to the digital world mean that they too experience digital exclusion. BESTIE will benefit migrants & refugees in two ways (i) by taking both roles of learners, they improve their digital competencies and social links, (ii) and mentors with advanced digital skills will. They will establish new befriending ties and links to the community, thus advancing their inclusion and integration processes and securing overall wellbeing.

Particularly vulnerable because of Covid19 impact, across the EU, 49% of young people have their working hours reduced, over 23% lost their jobs and 50% are at risk of depression. While vulnerable in many ways, young people often have developed digital competencies. In 2019, 4 in 5 young people (80%) aged 16-24 in the European Union (EU) had basic or above basic digital skills. This was 24% higher than the share of individuals aged 16-74 (56%). Young people will benefit by building their communication skills, leadership and mentorship skills, acquiring a reputation as educators and community support implementors, as well as build their networks and boost their confidence, which leads to better employment prospect in the future and better links to the community

The BESTIE - Befriending for Social and Digital Inclusion project will evoke cooperation within the community on an intergenerational basis, bringing together seniors, migrants and young people, with the help of adult educators, to overcome the digital and social exclusion of these groups, by allowing them to work together on bridging key skills gaps

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