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Bridging the Digital Divide: The Mission of ComKids with Scott Paterson

In a compelling interview with CanadianSME Small Business Magazine, Scott Paterson, Chairman & Co-Founder of the Merry Go Round Childrenā€™s Foundation, shared insights into his journey with ComKids. He began by discussing his professional career and the inspiration behind starting ComKids, especially considering the critical role of technology in education and growth. Focused on addressing the digital divide, highlighted by CRTC data showing that 11% of Canadian households lack internet access, Scott explained ComKidsā€™ initiatives in providing laptops and internet access and the impact these resources have had. He highlighted how ComKids complements educational trends, particularly in schools adopting ā€˜bring your own deviceā€™ policies, by ensuring students have the necessary technology. Paterson also discussed preparing Canadian youth for a future job market increasingly reliant on technology and computer-based roles. On World Computer Literacy Day, he shared his vision for digital literacy among Canadian youth and ComKidsā€™ role in shaping this future. Lastly, he offered advice to other entrepreneurs and organizations aiming to make a significant impact in digital literacy and access to technology, drawing on his experiences with ComKids.

G. Scott Paterson is a Toronto-based technology and media venture capitalist. Mr. Paterson began his career in the investment industry starting as a stockbroker for Dominion Securities Pitfield in 1985.

Besides Mr. Patersonā€™s successful career, he has also lead many philanthropic endeavors. In 1997, Mr. Paterson co-founded the Merry Go Round Childrenā€™s Foundation. Merry Go Roundā€™s Kids, Cops & Computers program donates new laptops to financially disadvantaged children in Toronto and Mr. Paterson currently serves as the Foundationā€™s Chairman.

Could you begin by telling us about your professional career and what inspired you to start ComKids, especially in an era where technology is so crucial for education and growth?

My career has been mostly centered on financing technology companies. It was clear to me from early days that technology would increasingly become the major driver in world change. Starting ComKids was about ā€œleveling the playing fieldā€ for financially disadvantaged kids who did not have access to technology in their homes ā€“ how could they even complete their homework ?

With CRTC data showing that 11% of Canadian households still lack internet access, how does ComKids address this digital divide, and what impact have you seen from providing laptops and internet access?

The evidence of the efficacy of ComKids showcases itself when our Alumni students tell us how the Program changed their lives. Just recently, Tina Davoudbeiglou, who received a brand new laptop as part of the ComKids program in 2007 reached out to me on an unsolicited basis. Tina made my day by advising that she wants to volunteer for the Program because, as she said, without having been part of the Program she would not be where she is today. Tina graduated from Toronto Metropolitan University with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and today is a practicing nurse helping people every day.

Considering that a vast majority of schools are now using technology for communication with students, how does ComKidsā€™ work complement these educational trends, particularly in schools encouraging ā€˜bring your own deviceā€™ policies?

We are delighted that School Boards across Canada have recognized the need to provide all students technology tools. Twenty five years ago when we started the charity 85% of the kids in the ā€œat-riskā€ areas that we supported were without home technology. Today, that % has declined to 15% because families recognize the criticalness of home technology and the costs have declined for laptops making them more affordable. However, there remains a cohort of kids do not have access other than when at school and, as a result, they are more vulnerable than ever to being ā€œleft behindā€ without home technology. The other issue is that not all School Boards are created equal: youth in disadvantage rural communities often do not have Schools with the same infrastructure compared to urban communities.

With predictions indicating a significant shift in the job market towards technology and computer-based roles, how does ComKids prepare Canadian youth for these future opportunities and challenges?

ComKids contributes to students obtaining competency around utilizing technology which will bode well for these kidsā€™ futures as almost all industries are embracing technology as part of their business plans.

As we observe World Computer Literacy Day, what is your vision for the future of digital literacy among Canadian youth, and how does ComKids plan to contribute to and shape this future?

We hope that ComKids plays a role, however big or small, in helping financially disadvantaged kids realize their full potential. Rich or poor we believe that technology is the great equalizer affording opportunity to as many as possible. This year we will add 1,200 kids to the ComKids program including Indigenous kids (500 in the last three years)

Based on your experiences with ComKids, what advice would you give to other entrepreneurs or organizations looking to make a significant impact in the realm of digital literacy and access to technology?

Bridging the Digital Divide: The Mission of ComKids with Scott Paterson

There are many amazing non-profit organizations that add value to our communities. In the spirit of the old adage: ā€œGive a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetimeā€. This is what ComKids endeavours to do day in, day out.


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