Aug. 9, 2021

Combating Digital Poverty in the UK #JoiningtheDots

Combating Digital Poverty in the UK #JoiningtheDots

Learn about the growing movement for digital inclusion and how to get involved.

This week, Freddie Quek, CTO at Times Higher Education, explains how digital poverty can be solved more effectively through a holistic approach.

Listen to the first episode on joining the dots for digital inclusion:

If you are interested in getting involved or sharing information about existing programmes, contact Freddie at or on LinkedIn at

For more information, following along at


  • What the Joining the Dots movement is all about
  • 400,000-500,000 schoolchildren still lack digital access and they're not the only ones
  • Freddie shares updates on the Joining the Dots initiative, including how the National Business Response Network (NBRN) is helping local communities and the emergence of the Digital Poverty Alliance (DPA) 
  • How will the end of the UK lockdown affect the movement?

Meet Our Guest
Freddie Quek is CTO at Times Higher Education, responsible for data-driven products and solutions such as the World Universities Rankings and SDG Impact Dashboard which provides insights into universities’ impact in delivering the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. He is a disruptive, networked and agile leader who thrives in challenging environments and focuses on achieving and celebrating team successes. He is highly experienced and a multiple award-winning global technology leader who has worked in Singapore, US and UK, across automotive, higher education, publishing, loyalty, insurance, travel and financial services industries. As a consequence of Covid-19, he is a Founding Member and ambassador for Project Global Impact, and started the #joiningthedots initiative to address #digitalinclusion for disadvantaged school children in the UK.

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Ryan Purvis  0:00  
Hello, and welcome to the digital workspace works podcast. I'm Ryan Purvis, your host supported by producer Heather Buckner. In this series, you'll hear stories and opinions from experts in the field story from the frontlines, the problems they face and how they solve them. The years they're focused on from technology, people and processes to the approaches they took, they will help you to get to the scripts for the digital workspace inner workings.

Already to go ahead when you're ready, give me a few seconds I want to test is okay. Okay. What is in the background? Okay, apply? Yes. Oh, there we go. I'm surprised you can't actually at this stage of the game have these these almost tagged by by meetings that you're having. So you automatically have the background that you want.

Freddie Quek  1:04  
On the other hand, most people don't even bother to have a background, right?

Ryan Purvis  1:08  
Well, I'm one of those people. I don't really worry about it too much. And I do live at a

Freddie Quek  1:16  
dodgy play sometimes. Because when you have kids around, you got to keep shifting right?

Ryan Purvis  1:23  
Hmm, yeah. Look, I'm upstairs in my study now. So that's fine. But if I'm in the kitchen, sometimes I do.

Freddie Quek  1:30  
But Exactly. I spend a lot of my time in my kitchen. So I need to have a guy

Ryan Purvis  1:39  
like me, he's always nibbling on something. I have to go.

Freddie Quek  1:44  
Well, that's a dangerous thing. I mean, usually it's in the evening. That's where have you been doing any exercises or anything to keep me doing stuff?

Ryan Purvis  1:51  
I'm very religious about it. So every morning, I do half an hour, 60 minutes or something. And then I go for a walk every day to get I aim for 12 and a half 1000 steps a day. So I Wow. They fit as much as I can.

Freddie Quek  2:08  
Yeah. Anyway, I'm I need to do a little bit more than what I'm doing right now. Is Easy, right? It's easy, you know, just because I don't know about you, but I can find myself being in one single sport for an entire day hours on end unless something happens. Otherwise, you just, you just keep going right?

Ryan Purvis  2:29  
Yeah, so I've got a timer set. And when the timer goes off, then it's time to go for a walk and I go for, we're staying in a complex where we are now. So I let you go walk around the complex about I can do that whole conflict to the whole sort of route that I've got in about 12 minutes. If I've got time, I'll do two loops. And then I'll come back and I'll carry on working and then I'll do another timer. And it just it also it also breaks the monotony up. So you actually think about stuff as well.

Freddie Quek  2:56  
self discipline is key. Right? Yeah. You seem to have a lot of good for you.

Ryan Purvis  3:04  
But it took a while to get there now. And that's normal. Yeah. Great. So we last spoke. Was it back in May? Only? I thought it was Yeah. Yeah. So we thought what we do is every couple months, we'd get together and just summarize what's happened with this initiative. Sounds great. You've you've written quite a nice email here of questions, and you've done my work for me to be honest. But maybe it's good to to start on just rehashing what this is, what the joining the dots is, and digital inclusion. And we're in a bit of background, and we'll go into what's happened since we last spoke.

Freddie Quek  3:41  
Yeah, sure. So I think you know, like you and I were part of a number of different tech communities. And what is interesting is that, you know, when this topic of digital poverty, including comes out, it sounds very obvious that, you know, it's something that we can do something about, for example, donating, you know, equipment, I don't like equipment. But I think you know, what, at least you know, from this initiative, we found was that by speaking to a lot of people, although there's a lot of desire, a lot of hearts to try and do something, actually, many of us don't really know how and where to start. And for those of us who have started doing this, we realized that actually, it doesn't go far enough. So I think this is where, you know, very quickly turn from, you know, you know, being aware of the issue to now realizing that actually is a much bigger issue. And unless we take a more joined up approach to solving this problem. And this is by no means down to a single body, you know, like the government or individual, but it's more about how across society across, you know, every sector of life, that we can all do our bit. And I think for us as technology leaders, because this is in our domain, right? At least many of us believe that this is a solvable problem. So what can we do to do our best to contribute towards solving this problem and that's it To believe how we all came about together, right? Yeah. And then you asked about me. Right. So So what happened since the last time? I think that was when it was the beginning of a number of things coming together. So I'm pleased to say that one of the things was the the tech appeal. So you know, instead of having, you know, the last time we counted, the, you know, I believe right now, there's more than 85 donation initiatives, just on the BBC website, for example, you know, I spoken to BBC, last month, you realize that he has to go beyond just doing that. So I think, across our NIH, tech leaders, communities, we have sort of come together and say, Look, if we are trying to donate analog equipment, and we don't really know where to start, or we want to contribute in a way that's a little bit more holistic, I can go further than I think that is one of the things that we've managed to sort of bring ourselves together, make that as the first slide both and doing something about it, which I'm happy to elaborate a little bit more in this book.

Ryan Purvis  6:05  
Yeah, so I think that what I remember clearly from our last conversation was you also had the the reporter came out with some action areas, we discussed those action areas, and we'll we'll put a link back to that episode. And then you as you mentioned, there's about nine or 10 groups, communities that are involved. And I think, you know, sort of where we are, or what what I've seen going forward is at least, that you're getting a bit of momentum going. But it's obviously a slow moving game. Well, what do you think's been one of the sort of best and worst of your journey so far in doing this?

Freddie Quek  6:43  
I think the best bit is that, you know, when I speak with one, then it became to me became, you know, 60 leaders initially across my communities, you know, that is where you see the power of networks, right? You see how, actually, you know, you don't really realize, but there's a lot of people out there who like you and want to do something about it. So I got tremendous support, to try and for all of us together to do something about it. So I think that's the best way to do it good to see that there's a real community out there who wants to do something? I think the worst bit is that, you know, despite all the efforts and auditore what we don't realize or maybe we do, right, is that now we have gone beyond more than a year living in this COVID situation. There's still a lot of you know, previously we talked about children, school children, these other school children, there's still a lot, you know, maybe you know, 400 500,000 school children has to be impacted that is yet to have digital access, but equally across the spectrum. What about the other end where you are talking about pensioners? What about them? So then when you understand that you realize, actually, this is a very big issue that Time waits for no person, we got to do something? And the frustration is what else can we do in the meantime?

Ryan Purvis  8:10  
That's for sure. And see that down? June, you've done some work with NB Rn and the DPA Jacobins. I'll be honest, I have no idea what they mean. So maybe let's start with what the acronyms mean.

Freddie Quek  8:22  
Okay, so one of the first sort of groups that we've managed to connect with is actually from the business in the community that is set up by the princess for us. And they are nationwide in ratchet national, and as a consequence of COVID, created something called the National Business Response Network, right, which is to mobilize their communities across the country, you know, through businesses to help the local community. So I think this is fantastic. And because of that, they have created a tech platform, meaning that there is a place that you can say, I need help you go and make requests for help. And then people who can offer help this way. So this is one example what I meant by we need to be more holistic. So this is why I'm trying to signpost as many people as possible to be aware of this, right? There are many great initiatives out there big and small. But there are not that many that can scale. There are not many that is National, and this is one of them, which is why it makes sense for people to know that, hey, if you want to approach this in a more holistic way across the whole country, then do something about it. So that is one part. So really delighted that, again, across the UK to leaders communities, for example, I'm sure they will might be mentioning. The Food Standards Agency is one of those from the government that is willing to contribute their end of life equipment towards that effort. Right. So that's the MBI. The DPA. Again, it's something No, this is the digital poverty analyzer. Again, it's something that's emerged during this period, and we're looking for not a single entity that owns everything because there's no such thing anymore. And neither would that work. But to have to have sort of a single place that allows all of us, you know, from big to small, from, you know, government to the personnel to do something that can, you know, provide a framework and a state about who's what is out there who's doing what, then that is what the ditch digital poverty Alliance is about. So I'm glad that you know, that is made up of, you know, big corporations, you know, like nominate like, Carphone Warehouse to also individuals like ourselves.

Ryan Purvis  10:32  
Yeah, I think when we spoke last, we were talking about some way some sort of centralized app even where people could could log their requests or even respond to requests that come to fruition or escalate up in the pipeline.

Freddie Quek  10:45  
Yeah, they're still in the pipeline. So this is an example of what I remember. You know, there's a lot of things have out there. great ideas. I think the challenge is, how do we make them happen sooner? and quicker, right?

Ryan Purvis  10:57  
Yeah. Yeah, of course. So if we look back to last year, March, we all went into a lockdown, where we all worked from home and distributed and those that could, were ready to go. we're now seeing in the UK that the the lockdown is going to end? You know, not even a week from now, once a week, it's next Monday. Do you think that's going to speed things up for you? Or do you think that's going to be? Well purchase? I really,

Freddie Quek  11:22  
I think, actually is a worry, because of the you know, lockdown ending people may think that, you know, partially COVID is over. But the issue of digital inclusion, the issue of digital poverty, that is not ending or why and the fear is that people would take their feet off the pedal, I think this has come into our consciousness, especially at the beginning of this year, you know, and that's something that I've found of interest is that suddenly, everybody's been doing something somehow life is about timing. That was the moment early this year where somehow there was this big, sort of holistic, systemic thing that happens to everybody realized that we got to do something. But then with this event, maybe those people that have been thinking that will start thinking that it's been solve, or let's focus in something else, and I think that will be the worry. Yeah,

Ryan Purvis  12:15  
yeah, he or she say, I mean, it's good that that pressure cooker isn't there anymore. People and God knows you know, what to take holidays, and then all that kind of stuff.

Freddie Quek  12:25  
Anybody may does a good example. He'll be right. The school children, there has been suffering series a COVID. Right. For more than a year, the new school term is going to start in September. Has that problem been solved? I don't think so.

Ryan Purvis  12:41  
No, no, no, it's funny. We're talking about this last week that this this era will be the the COVID era, we're going to hire staff. And you're going to look at them and say, Well, if you did your your high school during COVID, how much did you really learn? how prepared Were you really?

Freddie Quek  12:56  
Yeah. And even like, like the Department of Education, right? Because they actually provided 1.3 million laptops to schools, right. And, you know, that was like everybody out there was a moment where everybody thought they have to do something, and they did it. But you know what? That is pretty much over. Right? So who is going to continue? You know, championing for the rest of the gap? The student?

Ryan Purvis  13:21  
Yeah, it's not just about providing hardware. It's it's all the other things, its connectivity. Its skills and training. I don't know if you've seen the the government's launched a Kickstarter project.

Freddie Quek  13:33  
Not not. Yeah, not not, that was great. But I know, for example, like in London, right, the Mayor of London office, they have this program called the London office of technology innovation, right? And what they've been championing is a whole package of digital access. Right? So it's not just about the device. But it's about the device, as you say, the connectivity, the support, right? The skills, the safety, the training, right? So you can see, it's more than just one thing. And yet, a lot of effort, if you look out there is still mostly about donating equipment.

Ryan Purvis  14:06  
Yeah. Well, that's the easy thing to do, isn't it? Yes, that's a storeroom somewhere that you can just offload to somebody else.

Freddie Quek  14:14  
Right. So now, if you look at the bigger picture, right, it becomes a lot more complex, and how do we solve this complex problem when there are so many parts to it? And who is willing to invest the time and effort to really try and focus on it because it's not a one time thing? I say the device is a one off but you know, if this is going to be over a period of time, what can we do? And by the way, you know, right? Nothing ever stays the same in our industry, right? Even when you think you get on top things, you know, either device or skills or whatever, you got to start over again.

Ryan Purvis  14:45  
So So I mean, are they are there solutions coming into play? I mean, are they are they organizations offering training and skills for people or during the provisioning of laptops, make sure they are suitable and usable.

Freddie Quek  14:58  
So this is The better I mean by, you know, joining the dots, right? What is great that there are many, many people organizations doing many different things. But I've not yet come across those that are able to join them in a holistic manner. So I mentioned about the Mayor of London initiative that is one effort Where is supported by the local governments or boroughs in London, right. So this is where it's sort of a sort of a holistic approach, right with with funding to make that happen. So if you have the right idea, which is from the mayor's office to then the money that backs up what they do, you stand a chance. Yeah, but if you but if you look at that across the rest of the country, have you got the same approach? Have you got the same matching of thinking and matching of funding? Because I don't think so especially if you look at the sub, the most deprived part in the northeast, those are the ones that requires a lot of help and support. And I know a lot of people are trying to help, but it's been very hard to try and bring them all together.

Ryan Purvis  16:03  
Yeah. And that's why I kind of mentioned this kickstart program, because that's, that's also government funded, the government will pay, I think it's department of works and pensions are paying for it out of their budgets, they will pay I think it's up to 25 hours per week, for a person to work at minimum wage, depending on the age. And that's only, that's only people between 18 and 24. But that's to get them work experience. And I'm just thinking that that's not not potentially a marriage in the sense that if you needed people to do the servicing the setup of the devices, all that kind of thing, you could hire them through the problem of expansion, I don't ever say new, but I'm saying an organization, they could then I mean, this has been paid for by the government. So they can be spend the time setting up the devices, learning how to do their stuff, you know, with with the right kind of guidance or coaching, to for other people to use, which kind of you know, feeds, it feeds a solution to the problem.

Freddie Quek  17:00  
Yeah, so yeah, so another explainer for the Yes, I've heard about this, as you can see, there's actually quite a number of schemes similar to these two, for example, at the apprenticeship Levy, right. There's actually a lot of money out there. Right. But again, you know, how are we, you know, who's been doing all that thinking to sort of try and bring it together and make it real? And again, you know, having asked that question, I know that many organizations are trying to so I think it's about how do we find a way to raise that visibility consciousness so that, you know, we all know, you know, who's out there doing what, you know, and this is why this whole thing is all about signposting. Right. It's not about necessarily solving all the problems, per se. But if you start with like you, and I, you know, one one of the things that you and I are doing in in in according to the six key action areas that we've identified, right, is communications, it's about socializing, mobilizing. Right. And I think we can do that first bit. That is to start, right.

Ryan Purvis  17:54  
Yeah. I mean, ideally, you just want to I mean, in my head, I'm thinking this is a program, a program with a whole bunch of project managers organizing, coordinating that kind of stuff. I mean, if we had to fast forward for our next chat, and sort of three months time mode, what would you like to say has happened?

Freddie Quek  18:09  
So, you know, sometimes you got to, you know, look back just to know where you are, and see where you can take it into the future. Right. And although we've identified six key action areas, you know, the one that I keep saying that is the most obvious, and it sounds like we are doing exactly that, which is, you know, action area, one about device provisioning. And that's the one that has been the most progress. So for example, you know, a couple of things, if you don't mind me mentioning them. Yeah, one of them is the detect people from that, that we've just discussed about the National Business Response Network together digital property Alliance. So I would again, appeal to any tech leaders at any organizations out there, if they're looking for something to you know, to, you know, something more tangible, more holistic to contribute to them, please have a look at that solution. That's good. Now, the other one is that because of that, we're able to get the the NBI and the DPA to join forces to work together. So not only do we have the demand method, meaning that we know that there's a lot of people who wants to do the end and that platform, I've just seen the report of who wants what, there's a lot of demand across the entire country. Right, but the supply has been lacking, right, and the supply has been very piecemeal, which is why you can't really solve the problem when you give people a myriad of different devices and therefore leads to other types of problems that support the DPA by his partners are able to now become a regular contributor to to that sort of solution. So that again, we can do a better job of matching the demand and the supply. So I think that is a great thing. And I would like to see that to be real. I would like to see those numbers on that list to go down. The list may grow before it goes down, right, as we all know, right? But to making something real, something impactful, I think there has to be a start. And if we can just focus on one thing To make it real, that that will be my advice. But it doesn't mean that the other five areas, we should not do something about it. Right. So I think sometimes we keep the consciousness about this going. Hopefully, it's not just about you and i doing our bit is about everybody doing their bit to contribute towards this right?

Ryan Purvis  20:16  
Yeah. Have you received any any stories that you want to share with us of successful device sharing or, or upskilling, an area or a school or something like that was that we still waiting for something to come?

Freddie Quek  20:29  
Yeah, so we're waiting for something like that to happen. But the one one other news that I can share with you, which I've been really pleased about is that just last month, in June, of calm, and DPA has got together to organize a Research Symposium. So this is about people who are in this country, who are doing research about poverty, you know, they all came together. And he was delighted to see that because you need to know what the problem is, you know, to know, you know, if you don't even come paint a picture, how can you know that whatever you do is going to be people purpose and impactful. So I think the fact that it's coming together, you know, all across, you know, universities and, and even, you know, smaller organizations is it is a really great,

Ryan Purvis  21:14  
fantastic, fantastic. Well, I mean, how do people get involved with you to contact you directly comes to the LinkedIn page, or how do you want them to get in contact?

Freddie Quek  21:24  
Yes, so So please, get on to the LinkedIn page, as we mentioned before, and it's where you get to know all the information, of course, you know, contact me directly, because I think part of this, you know, joining the dots is to truly join the dots here to find out what's going on, and how do you then connect one thing to another one person to another, and, you know, if we can just not just media, but if we, for example, Ryan today and with the community, if we all know, the same information, and then we share it with others, then hopefully, everybody will start from that place rather than

Ryan Purvis  21:57  
definitely, definitely. Thanks for coming on again. And I'm glad to hear that we are progressing forward. And I'm interested to see, when do you think this research will come out?

Freddie Quek  22:06  
I believe it should be this month in July. Oh, fantastic. So next time we speak, we can go through. Yes. And hopefully, we'll have a few more updates for you too. Fantastic. Thanks. Very appreciate. I appreciate the opportunity.

Ryan Purvis  22:21  
Thank you for listening today's episode. Here the big news, our producer editor. Thank you, Heather. for your hard work for this episode. Please subscribe to the series and rate us on iTunes or the Google Play Store. Follow us on Twitter at the DW w podcast. The show notes and transcripts will be available on the website WWW dot digital workspace that works. Please also visit our website www dot digital workspace works and subscribe to our news. And lastly, if you found this episode useful, please share with your friends or colleagues.

Transcribed by

Freddie QuekProfile Photo

Freddie Quek

Freddie Quek is CTO at Times Higher Education, responsible for data-driven products and solutions such as the World Universities Rankings and SDG Impact Dashboard which provides insights into universities’ impact in delivering the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals. He is a disruptive, networked and agile leader who thrives in challenging environments and focuses on achieving and celebrating team successes. He is highly experienced and a multiple award-winning global technology leader who has worked in Singapore, US and UK, across automotive, higher education, publishing, loyalty, insurance, travel and financial services industries. As a consequence of Covid-19, he became an ambassador for Project Global Impact.
He started in publishing and has worked for Reed Elsevier (FTSE 100), Wiley (Fortune 500) and Solera (S&P400) as well as various startups. He helped transformed the publishing industry from print to digital, pioneered the use of NoSQL technologies, and achieved large scale agile implementations. He took on an additional dimension to his role to “deal with the unexpected” to execute strategic yet unplanned initiatives to handle merger integrations, partnerships and competitive threats. His team received the IT Project Team of the Year award at the UK IT Industry Awards. He received three Wiley President's Award in 4 years, a Pacesetter Award for delivering a ground-breaking multi-million licensing deal, and MarkLogic’s Customer Excellence award for achieving "Mission Impossible" with its NoSQL technology.
Freddie is a Fellow of BCS and judge for the UK IT Industry Awards. He has Master of Science degrees from the London School of Economics and Henley Business School, and is an alumni of Oxford University. In his spare time, he is a Research Associate at Henley Business School pursuing a Doctorate of Business Administration degree in studying how technology leadership can help organisations run and change the business at the same time, and also a member of the London Multimedia Lab headed by Professor Patrick Humphreys, LSE.