Moderated by the Institute of Museum and Library Service’s James Neal, Tuesday’s panel at Net Inclusion 2019 on creating and managing digital inclusion partnerships was standing room only. The panel featured Cassie Bair, chief development executive of Mobile Citizen; Krysti Nellermoe, education program supervisor at the International Rescue Committee; Tom Esselman, CEO of Connecting for Good; and Adam Echelman, executive director of Libraries Without Borders.

Panelists shared lessons and best practices about the opportunities and challenges of digital inclusion partnerships. Leading off the group the dynamic Nellermoe reminded everyone that in partnerships, like in all things nonprofit, sustainability is everything. Referencing the oft-repeated mantra “no margin, no mission,” Nellermoe encouraged attendees to use memorandums of understanding (MOU) to make certain that parties know what is expected of them and to keep the goals of the partnership front and center.

According to Esselman, Connecting for Good, which does digital inclusion work in two of Kansas City’s most under-resourced neighborhoods, keeps its core values at the center of all that it does, including partnering with volunteers. Esselman told one story of a volunteer, who after helping applicants to fill out online applications at a job fair and seeing how many were then able to secure jobs, was overcome with emotion at the importance of the work they do.

Bair was next, and despite her slides not being fully available — a testament to the lack of reliable internet access in rural North Carolina where she prepared them — she didn’t miss a beat. Bair reminded attendees of the basics of any good partnership: trust, communication and simplicity. She also challenged the audience to explore more traditional offline marketing techniques when trying to reach communities that aren’t connected — like flyers, brochures, signs and showing up at related events.

Echelman rounded out the presentation with a perfect example of the power of non-traditional partnerships. Providing an overview of the work Libraries Without Borders is doing to partner with all types of organizations to bring libraries directly to community members, Echelman focused on the Wash & Learn Initiative. This partnership with laundromats allows libraries to put the power of the library, including books, story time and digital literacy training right where community members are — the laundromat.

The session wrapped up with Q&A and like most sessions at Net Inclusion conversations continued past the end time and spilled into the hallways — potential new partnerships being brainstormed on the spot.

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