Digital Excellence Initiative

Building a strong, equitable, and resilient digital community in Greater Cleveland

We launched our Digital Excellence Initiative in 2017 to ensure all residents can successfully participate in the digital world and economy, and to elevate Greater Cleveland’s infrastructure, talent and research prominence in digital technology and innovation.

Map of digital access in Northeast Ohio

Areas of high and low internet adoption in terms of home broadband and mobile service in Greater Cleveland.

According to a 2018 report by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, Cleveland was ranked the fourth worst internet-connected city in the United States. Closing the digital divide support the foundation’s work across all program areas, from workforce development to education to neighborhood revitalization. We work to position Greater Cleveland as a leader in digital innovation and access by investing in five areas:


Creating a more connected community

We work with our community and corporate partners with the goal of every household in Greater Cleveland having affordable internet access. Efforts in this area include:

  • Establishing the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Fund in partnership with Cuyahoga County and T-Mobile.
  • Deploying more 1,000 4G unlimited data hotspot devices across all 28 Cleveland Public Library locations, four Cuyahoga County Public Library branches (Garfield Heights, Warrensville Heights, Maple Heights, Southeast/Bedford Heights), and East Cleveland Public Library since the initiative’s launch in 2017

Supporting digital skills development

We aim to close the gap between those who are connected to the internet and those who are not through digital inclusion activities like:

  • Devices and Tech Support: In 2018 and 2019, we announced a series of grants to bring PCs for People to Cleveland. Also located in Minneapolis/St. Paul and Denver, the organization allows residents to purchase refurbished computers and provides flat-fee tech support and repair services. We also work with local libraries and other community-based organizations to ensure their public-access computer labs are advertised to people who may need to use them.
  • Digital Skills Development: We helped establish the Spectrum-Cleveland City Council Neighborhood Technology Fund, which has granted nearly $5.5 million in grants since 2001 to establish and support neighborhood technology centers around the city.
  • Digital Ambassadors: We helped facilitate the formation of the Digital Ambassadors, a consortium of local digital skills trainers who work together to ensure they are following best practices and helping to support each other’s programs.
  • DigitalLearn: In the fall of 2019, we worked with the Public Library Association to bring to Cleveland. DigitalLearn is a collection of self-directed tutorials for users to increase their digital literacy, and a community of practice for digital literacy trainers to share resources, tools and best practices.

Improving digital civic engagement

We strive to use technology to encourage more residents to participate in civic engagement. Efforts include:

  • 2020 Census Advocacy: The Cleveland Foundation and its partners offered micro-grant funding to support local, community-based organizations that advance the work of the 2020 census — the first census to be answered online — with populations identified to be at risk of an undercount in Cuyahoga, Lake and Geauga counties. We helped ensure that community-based organizations were prepared to aid residents without internet respond to the census and we helped advocate for digital inclusion efforts to supplement census outreach efforts to ensure that residents could be civically engaged digitally for years to come.
  • Ctrl + Alt + CLE: Launched in 2018, this collaborative effort provides resources and opportunities for individuals and organizations to find innovative solutions to community needs through the use of data and technology, through special events, access to co-working space at the DigitalC MidTown Tech Hive, hands-on data and skills training, and challenge grants.

Elevating regional digital leadership

We are working to poise Greater Cleveland as a digital leader. Efforts include:

  • Sponsorship and Participation in Data Days CLE: Data Days is Cleveland’s gathering of public, private and social sector data practitioners. It is focused on promoting the use of data in the civic and nonprofit sectors. In cultivating a greater connection between community members and data-use best practices, we can strengthen our region.
  • Working with local governmental organizations to implement digital and human-centered smart city strategies.
  • Helping establish the Internet of Things Collaborative in 2017.

Encouraging technology innovation for social good

We hope to encourage technology to open up more opportunities for underserved residents. Efforts include:

  • Sponsorship of GiveBackHack Cleveland: This hackathon brings “community together to talk about social issues and come up with innovative solutions,” launching projects with seed funding and ongoing support and resources.
  • Sponsorship of Accelerate Cleveland: We sponsored the “Technovation” category in this pitch competition, which gives individuals across Northeast Ohio the chance to win seed money to help launch their idea to make the region a better place.
  • CUTgroup Cleveland: Our Civic User Testing Group is an opportunity for all public, private, and social sector partners who have civic technology projects to test their projects in an authentic way and ensure they are human-centered and designed with the user in mind.

Want to learn more about digital equity efforts in Greater Cleveland? Check out our Digital Equity e-newsletter archive: 

Digital Equity Announcements 

Cleveland Foundation, Cuyahoga County and T-Mobile partner to launch the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Fund

On July 16, 2020, the Cleveland Foundation and its partners announced the creation of the Greater Cleveland Digital Equity Fund, which will be used to address the digital divide throughout Greater Cleveland. View the full release

Cleveland Foundation announces additional digital equity funding

In 2019, the Cleveland Foundation board of directors announced $452,000 in digital equity grants. The initiative will provide continued support for the free library hotspot lending programs and PCs for People location in Cleveland, while providing education, advocacy and awareness support to residents to engage with technology. Recognizing the importance of ensuring all members of the community have equitable access to the digital future, AT&T contributed an additional $150,000 to the effort.

Cleveland Foundation announces initial funding to reduce Cleveland’s digital divide

On Oct. 9, 2018, the Cleveland Foundation board of directors announced $488,000 in grants that encourage digital inclusion in Cuyahoga County. The initiative will establish free library hotspot lending programs and a PCs for People location in Cleveland, while providing education, advocacy and awareness support to residents to engage with technology. Recognizing the importance of ensuring all members of the community have equitable access to the digital future, Huntington National Bank is contributing an additional $50,000 to the effort. View the full release.

A History of Support 

The Cleveland Foundation has a long history of support for technology, innovation and connectivity in Greater Cleveland, including:

  • The 2017 launch of the Digital Excellence Initiative, including $200,000 to Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland State University to establish an “Internet of Things” (IoT) collaborative and $250,000 for Digital C’s ReStart program, which will provide digital literacy skills leading to in-demand jobs for Cleveland’s underemployed residents. Learn more about these grants here
  • More than $380,000 in grants to support CS4All, a partnership launched in 2016 to provide computer science classes to all Cleveland Metropolitan School District students. 
  • The foundation also supported the opening of CMSD’s John Marshall School of Information Technology, one of three new high schools on the John Marshall Campus.
  • The Northeast Ohio CyberConsortium, a collaboration supported in 2015 to address and mitigate escalating cyber threats across regional industries.
  • The Time Warner-Cleveland City Council Neighborhood Technology Fund, which has granted $4.38 million since 2000 to promote computer equipment and services for Cleveland residents.
  • The 2010 launch of the Health Tech Corridor, a business district fostering Cleveland’s growing community of health-tech and high-tech enterprises.