Towards a more inclusive digital world

Antoine De Clerck

Orange Group is a signatory of the National Digital Inclusion Strategy charter presented on 13 September in Nantes by Mounir Mahjoubi, the French Secretary of State for Digital Affairs. Among other things, Orange will provide financial support to contribute to the launch of the system of digital passes being promoted under the national plan, so as to reach new audiences through a new basic training course and to provide additional training to audiences that have already received help.

Signing the charter confirms the Group’s active commitment and builds on the stakeholder dialogue initiated at the beginning of 2018 about the relationship between vulnerable populations and the digital ecosystem in France.

A major social challenge

At a time when digitalisation, computerisation and e-government are bringing about major societal changes, Antoine de Clerck, Sustainable Marketing Director and Orange Group CSR Manager, describes the way in which stakeholder dialogue affects business activity.

We must first and foremost acknowledge the facts: our society is digitising extremely rapidly and large parts of our lives – both private and professional – are now computerised. From declaring and paying taxes to looking for a job, requesting administrative documents and accessing social benefits, many activities are now carried out online. This is for the better, since these changes make users’ lives easier and speed up the handling of their requests. However, this sometimes comes at the risk of causing a form of exclusion.

According to the French National Institute of Statistics (INSEE), nine million people are in a position of financial insecurity and, according to the French Digital Agency, 13 million people are estranged from the digital world. At the intersection of these groups, it is estimated that five million people experience both forms of exclusion. The social, or even societal, challenge is enormous. We believe that digitalisation is a tool for simplifying daily life, but these figures reveal that, for a large number of French people, it represents a problem or difficulty in terms of access or independence. The aim of this dialogue is to understand who the affected populations are, which services are critical to them and what solutions we can develop to mitigate this twin hardship.

A difficult issue to address

The populations in question have very diverse profiles and ages and live in very different areas. They include senior citizens on small pensions and young people seeking employment, together with people who find it difficult to find employment at all and vulnerable families with children or even employees who are “digital dropouts”. The diverse nature of the audiences is the first problem which must be dealt with when it comes to addressing the issue. Indeed, each of them expresses their own specific requirements and different wishes and measures regarding support, which can vary depending on whether they are in an urban area or rural region. We are, therefore, dealing with a fundamentally human issue which, in effect, requires local, high-quality support. This leads to a second difficulty, in the sense that people are not necessarily counting on Orange in this respect and we are not known as an actor in the social sphere. As a result, even though Orange is already working with players in the non-profit sector, the goal is to create new gateways, and dialogue with stakeholders is helpful in order to identify them.

We have therefore chosen to select a larger panel of the communities affected by the subject of this dialogue: actors on the ground (particularly, local non-profit organisations), people who influence Orange employees (such as experts and the media) and, of course, people in vulnerable situations. In total, we consulted and listened to 160 stakeholders throughout France.

Acting as close as possible to the stakeholders

Following the consultations on vulnerable populations and digitalisation, Orange is putting into practice three main lessons from this dialogue.

  • Firstly, the Group reaffirms the value of the work carried out by its Foundation, which supports the non-profit sector and works to support communities that are vulnerable and/or which are estranged from the digital world. The intention is that this commitment will be strengthened in coming years and that the Orange Foundation’s activity will take place in the context of the “national digital inclusion strategy” launched by the French government.
  • It is then crucial that the Group speed up the implementation of a “social business”, a model that combines both commercial activity and a strong social impact. A concrete example of this ambition is the forthcoming launch of a service aimed at young people who are being supported by local branches and which includes spreading payments for the purchase of a computer over a year and taking responsibility for providing them with digital support.
  • Lastly, the dialogue has also highlighted the problems encountered by many public service organisations (job centres, benefits offices, etc.) in correctly guiding and advising their users who are struggling in the face of paper-free services. Through its Orange Business Services subsidiary, the Group is carrying out specific training for social workers and practitioners who are in contact with the audiences in question. Green light for job centres and their more than 50,000 employees

The last great lesson of this dialogue lies in the fact that Orange truly does have a legitimate role in this area: through its “connectivity” business activity (services and equipment), of course, through its local role (regional presence) and also through the role that the incumbent operator is able to play in providing a bridge to digital support services.

A new relationship with the non-profit sector

Although Orange is seeking to reinforce its cooperation with the non-profit organisations that are active with vulnerable people, particularly through its Foundation’s sponsorship activities, the Group is also adding a new dimension to this relationship. Implementing the “social business” which is, among other things, taking shape through the launch of the “helping hand” service for young people in vulnerable situations, involves making available to non-profit organisations a new approach to the support that is offered to their communities. At the same time, Orange is departing from its traditional commercial model via its network of stores and online, in order to reach out to new categories of people and potential users of digital services through the non-profit sector.

This example underlines the strength and appeal of stakeholder dialogue while providing a relevant illustration of the creation of shared value.

Image credit: old hands on a keyboard on Shutterstock.

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