Demand outstrips tech fund for needy

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 December, 2007, 12:00am

A fund set up to give the underprivileged access to the latest technology received a record number of applicants this year but was only able to help 20 per cent of them because of resource constraints.

The Digital Solidarity Fund, established by the Hong Kong Council of Social Service in December 2004 to confront the digital divide, approved just 16 of the 73 applications it received in its third year of operation.

The council received 59 fund requests last year and approved seven, while six of the 58 applicants in 2005 got subsidies.

About HK$2.6 million was distributed to the 16 projects this year - or only 19.5 per cent of total fund requests of HK$13.4 million.

The 16 projects will benefit more than 55,000 people from under-served communities, including the elderly, low-income families, new immigrants, and disabled people.

Council chief executive Christine Fang Meng-sang said the grants approved this year amounted to more than the sum of the previous two years after the Office of the Government Chief Information Officer doubled its contribution to HK$2 million.

But more support from business was needed, she said.

'We want the support from commercial sectors to match the government's contribution but it has yet to be achieved,' Ms Fang said. Commercial donations were roughly half of government contributions.

Microsoft and IBM both contribute to the fund and Ms Fang said this was important.

But she added: 'Apart from cash, we need software donations, technical support and an innovative curriculum to bridge the digital divide for disadvantaged people.'

Ms Fang said the fund had been more concerned with the disadvantaged elderly and disabled people in awarding this year's grants.

One of the seven groups granted a subsidy last year, the Tsung Tsin Mission of Hong Kong Social Service, says it provided 1,733 service hours during the year, with more than 10,000 attendances at its classes.

The group was granted about HK$110,000 to set up a computer centre in Sha Tin to provide basic computer training, including internet browsing and Chinese input to newly immigrated women and families on low incomes.

'Many new immigrants do not even know how to switch on their computers, not to mention surfing the internet or writing blogs,' officer-in-charge Aero Tse Fei-cheung said.

'Conflicts within their families also arise as they do not understand what their children are doing in front of the computers.'

The centre had offered 22 computer-training classes for 3,000 people but there remained a long queue, he said. The group will start digital filming and photography classes for poor families in the coming year, Mr Tse said.

Ms Fang said the applications were examined in terms of the number of beneficiaries, innovativeness, target effectiveness, and experience of the organisations.

Logging on

The 16 projects approved this year will help give computer access to this many underprivileged people: 55,000