Casey Myers Doane is the Executive Director of One Digital World, a nonprofit that uses technology to empower refugees with educational access. She founded One Digital World in 2020 after completing a Master’s in Social Innovation at the University of San Diego and drawing on her experiences in 2017 volunteering at a refugee camp in Greece, where she held informal English classes and taught computer skills to refugees. Currently, One Digital World provides computer skills training, English classes, and virtual access to legal and healthcare services to refugee camps and shelters in Mexico, Los Angeles and San Diego, California, enabling individuals to join the workforce and improving their ability to integrate into their new communities post-resettlement.
Meet Casey Myers Doane
Globally, there were 83.4 million forcibly displaced people by the end of 2020, with 26.4 million refugees, 48.0 million internally displaced people and 4.1 million asylum-seekers (USA for UNHCR, 2021). One Digital World works with these migrant populations to provide skills-based solutions which improve their access to job opportunities and assist with community integration.
We prioritize engaging with refugees and learning what opportunities they already have, what their goals are, and collaborating to find innovative solutions to address gaps between their pre-existing services and long-term goals.
Currently our programs focus primarily on computer and digital literacy and English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction to refugees and asylum-seekers in three different shelters in Mexico as well as students living in Los Angeles. Our 30-hour course lasts five weeks and students meet three times a week for two-hour sessions. Participants work with an instructor and an IT support specialist to model skills and provide additional instruction or support if students are having difficulties. All of our instructors have a strong understanding of the challenges the populations we work with face. They are bilingual in English and Spanish and have experience working with refugee populations and are trained in trauma-informed care to provide a safe and welcoming learning environment.
We run two cohorts per month, and they are capped at 12 adult learners (16 years old and above), most of whom are parents. As such, we have arranged for day care to be provided as needed during the course hours to ensure everyone is able to participate fully. The course is also aligned with Microsoft’s digital literacy course, and therefore opens opportunities for participants to earn Google certificates, such as for typing skills or emailing. Through our partnership model, organizations are able to connect us to our target populations and cover participants’ course fees.
Ed. Note: What is digital literacy?
Digital literacy is the ability to navigate our digital world using reading, writing, technical skills, and critical thinking. It’s using technology—like a smartphone, computer, e-reader, and more—to find, evaluate, and communicate information.
Through partners we focus on building upon existing services, rather than starting from scratch. For example, we started working with shelters because we discovered that they included the populations we were targeting with our programming. We have also taken innovative approaches to help sustain our mission, from partnerships to provide resources, grants and regular fundraising, to building relationships with foundations with similar missions and soliciting donations of gently used or older technologies such as computers. With every new relationship, we continue to grow and adapt as we expand.
Impact and Learnings
One example of the impact of our efforts comes from a mother who immigrated from El Salvador and recently took our digital literacy course. She came to the U.S. with her three children, and left school after third grade. She began our course with a limited background in computer skills. After completing the course, she shared that for the first time, she felt like a strong role model to her children. She emphasized to them the importance of staying in school so that they would not experience the same struggles that they witnessed her facing during the course due to leaving at such a young age.
Some key learnings that we have experienced related to working with adult learners include:
- Creating the Right Environment: When working with adult learners, it is key to focus first on creating the right environment. While adult learners may have more real-world experience and understand the value of learning computer and language skills, they also have more responsibilities and time commitments. They often have less formal schooling experience or have had a longer gap since being in that setting and therefore experience higher rates of self-doubt and anxiety about learning something new.
- Motivating Attendance: While many youth are comforted by structure in their education system, adults often need more accommodations and because they don’t have anyone to enforce their attendance it can be more difficult to keep them coming when class gets difficult or stressful. Positive reinforcement and recognition of participation are key factors to motivate regular attendance. The motto for our teachers to repeat in class is “first priority, get them to come to class, second priority get them to learn” because if they stop coming, we don’t have a chance to get them to learn.
Looking forward, One Digital World hopes to expand to South America and the Africa continent. We continue to seek out new partnerships with organizations providing services to refugees and asylum seekers, tailoring our delivery to the needs of each shelter or refugee camp.
Casey is a highly motivated social entrepreneur and we wish her and her team much success!
Paula and Maxie