Liz Williams House of Lords Speech

At our House of Lords reception yesterday, our Chair Liz Williams spoke about her role at the organisation, and her hopes for the organisation. Her speech is published below. 

"Good afternoon.  Thank you Minister for your insights.  And Lord Knight for your hospitality today.  We are so pleased you were persuaded to become our first Patron.

As you may know, Jim was the founding chair of the Good Things Foundation – in our Tinder days! – and it was a great privilege to be able to serve with him for six years on the board.  And a greater privilege to succeed him as chair and be part of Good Thing Foundation’s continued evolution and success.  

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For those who don’t know me, my name is Liz Williams. In my dayjob I’m a director at BT.  And I cannot tell you what a privilege it is to work with two organisations that have shared commitment to change lives for the better through the power of digital.

Throughout my time at Good Things, I’ve been struck by how it’s a genuine force for good.  A bit of magic, made up of about 50 people in Sheffield championing the positive role of digital and powering up brilliant grass roots organisations who truly understand their communities’ needs.

And this digital thing, it just gets bigger and more important. I may be preaching to the converted but indulge me as I take a couple of minutes to focus on it.

People talk about our digital economy.  Increasingly I question if there is such a thing.  Digital is how we now do things.  Is it simply the economy?

A few facts, courtesy of the latest Tech Nation report:

  • The digital tech industry’s turnover has grown by £30 billion in the last 5 years.  That’s growth of 22%.
  • The number of digital businesses has grown more than twice as fast as non-digital businesses.  InLondon a new tech business is formed every hour.  
  • And by no means is it simply a London story.  Almost 70% of investment last year was in regional clusters.
  • And it pays well!  Tech salaries have seen a 13% increase since 2012, compared with only a 4% increase of non-digital jobs. 

I truly believe digital skills provide one, if not the, biggest opportunity to drive social mobility in the UK.  

But we have an increasing gulf between those of us who cannot live without our devices. And those who have no intention of engaging with the digital world. And you can understand why they might feel like that. They’ve got this far without it.  

But in a world where so much of our life and work depends on technology, it’s a sad truth that the social divide will continue to widen until we bring everyone across the digital one.

It’s also true that a large proportion of the digitally excluded
are older, but the challenge with digital – the fourth industrial revolution – certainly isn’t the preserve of the old.

At BT we also see a paradox amongst the young. Growing up surrounded by tech – they swipe before they can walk.  Described as ‘digital natives’ but actually many are simply passive consumers of tech. Too few know what goes on behind the screen – they are not active creators and do not see being active with tech as being critical to their future.
But it is. Tech is shaping the modern world.  

Providing solutions to the biggest problems.  

  • Driving global economies.  
  • Creating more open government and engaged citizens.  Just think how easy it now is to petition those in this building with your views!  
  • Success for individuals and the UK will depend on our ability to get active withtech at all stages of our lives.


We bring lots of young people often from disadvantaged communities into BT and we see how tech know-how can be a game changer for their future prospects.  

I’ve recently commissioned research looking at the relationship between social mobility and tech literacy. I’m already excited at the prospect of the report back later this Autumn.

But we are still battling stereotypes that tech jobs are boring, nerdy and male dominated.  

Tech needs to be much more accessible and inspirational. We need to help all young people become curious about how tech actually works, confident with it and ultimately active creators. 

There was a great article in the FT recently by the chief executive of Yoox Net-a-Porter. He sees digital skills as important for the future of fashion as design talent and already employs 1,000 digital innovators and will be adding hundreds more in the near future. Fashion is a tech business.

With the world of work changing in a way we couldn’t have predicted when I started my career, we need to make sure that everyone, regardless of age, gender or ability, has the core digital skills they need for today’s world.

The challenge of how to respond to this fourth industrial revolution is real.  We have to learn from the past and avoid the wilderness years that can occur before the new normal is found.  

We have to make sure no-one is left behind.  The social divide has never been in sharper focus.  The skills divide is recognised as a critically important issue for both society and the economy.  And there has been
progress.  

The right to basic digital skills is now enshrined in law. I’m pleased to have played a small part in that.  

And according to the 2017 Lloyds Bank Consumer Digital Index, over a million more people acquired Basic Digital Skills last year.  
But is the UK moving fast enough?  Bringing enough people with us?  

Personally, I don’t think so.  There is much, much more to do.  And it gets harder.

DCMS, The Department for DIGITAL, culture, media and sport – love the new name! – is leading the charge for Government.  They recently announced the formation of the Government’s new Digital Skills Partnership. Both Good Things and BT have been invited to join. I’m looking forward to the first meeting next month and progress being made.

Undoubtedly there is more to do to power us up as a country and as individuals. But today is about celebrating the work of Good Things and our amazing 5,000 strong
network of partner organisations.  

You. The people who are out there day in day out working in their community, helping individuals take their first steps with digital and see where it can take them.  

Each one of those 1.1m people I mentioned earlier that has acquired basic digital skills over the past year is unlikely to have done it alone.
 
They have been guided, coached, cajoled. The powerful combination of local faces and brilliant tools from Good Things (like Learn My Way) are what makes the difference.

You all know who you are. What you do. How hard it can be.  You are truly inspirational.  Thank you.

And although Good Things is synonymous with digital participation; in
truth we all work at the intersection of social and digital inclusion.  Delivering activity that helps people become digitally included, and as a result socially included, tackling issues including poverty, poor health and financial exclusion.  
 
You’ll see more of that work over the coming years. For 
example our work with NHS Digital to test innovative approaches to help people improve their health.  

Across our work, we’ll continue to focus on the hardest to reach, and the most excluded.  Who we know have the most to benefit.   That doesn’t come easily or cheaply.  

Events like this are so important.  To thank the army of people that play a part in each digital journey and to hear from people whose lives have been changed. And to join together with new friends who share our passion.  

We’ve been making lots of new friends recently.  In the UK, some of whom are here today.  But also further afield.  In Kenya and Australia where we have just won a large – massive – contract to run their digital participation programme.  It’s impossible to describe how winning that felt for us all.  They looked for the best in the world and chose us. I’d like to just take a moment to thank everyone at Good Things for their hard work that made that possible.  You are brilliant."