Lili Gangas

Tell us about yourself and your role at the Kapor Center

My name is Lilibeth Gangas and I’m Chief Technology Community Officer at the Kapor Center, an operating foundation at the intersection of technology and racial justice.  My role includes supporting research, operating programs,strategic partnerships and investments to increase diversity across the tech ecosystem–from K-12 education through entrepreneurship and venture capital. The key areas of focus for our organization are on closing the digital divide, increasing access to computer science education and digital skills, improving policies and practices within companies to advance diversity and inclusion, and expanding access to capital for tech entrepreneurs and communities of color.

I lead Kapor Foundation’s work centered on Mobilizing Communities, with a focus on inclusive technology policy and specific interests in closing digital divide, scaling new tech workforce models, and advocating for responsible technology, as well as providing foundational support across civic engagement issues and tech enablement of civic organizations.

More specifically, through our racial justice & tech policy work and associated partnership and grantmaking,  I help advance systems level change across our nine racial justice tech policy issues, tackling barriers to inclusive tech ecosystems and working at the federal, state and local policy levels to address harms caused by unequal access to emerging technology.

Before coming to the Kapor Center, I was an Associate Principal at Accenture Technology Labs Open Innovation team, based out of Silicon Valley, focused on partnerships and programming to connect startups to Fortune 500 clients. I was also a founding member of the Innovation Services team at Booz Allen specializing in crowdsourcing, prize challenges, and open data solutions at the federal level. Before that, I built software and hardware solutions for the aerospace industry as a Senior Multi-Disciplined Software Engineer at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems.

What is the “leaky pipeline”? Why is it important and how does digital equity play into the problem?

The “Leaky Tech Pipeline” at the Kapor Center refers to a comprehensive framework authored and led by our CEO, Dr. Allison Scott, that helps to explain and address the myriad of systemic barriers that are pervasive from early K-12 STEM education through access to venture capital funding that hinder equitable representation and diversity across the entire tech ecosystem. A foundational barrier at the very beginning of the pipeline is the digital divide.

We all know that digital connectivity is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity. In 2020, at the peak of the pandemic, we saw the disproportionate lack of connectivity by race, income, and zip code grow even wider, just as a whole society became more reliant  on digital connectivity than ever before. For many of these reasons, closing the digital divide has become a national priority. Without addressing digital equity as early and urgently as possible, we’ll continue to see consequences of inequitable access permeate throughout the rest of the opportunity journey of underrepresented  communities , continuing to stop them from fairly benefiting from the upward economic mobility of the innovation economy.

Our recent report on the state of diversity in the Black tech ecosystem demonstrates that progress towards an equitable ecosystem has been stalled, and in many respects is regressing. Between 2014 and 2021, we saw only a 1% increase in Black representation in large tech companies. Of the $288B in funding deployed by VC firms between 2020 and 2021, only 1.3% went to startups led by Black founders. Of the many drivers inhibiting diverse communities from accessing these social and economic opportunities, digital inequity is one of the most fundamental.

Commendable strides have been made towards rectifying these issues – the Emergency Connectivity Fund offered schools $7.17B to enable remote learning during the pandemic, for example. The federal CARES Act has funded programs in cities across the country to connect families with laptops and internet access. Most recently, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allotted $65 billion for broadband development, of which every state will receive at least $100 million through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. But to successfully eliminate the access issues we’re seeing, this funding needs to be sustained long term and prioritize the most impacted Black, Latinx, Tribal, urban and rural communities.

What are the key policy imperatives to bridging the digital divide?

The COVID-19 pandemic brought renewed attention to longstanding and significant disparities in access to the broadband and technology devices needed by all Americans to remain connected to an increasingly digitally-driven world. An estimated 19 million Americans lack access to reliable broadband, and low-income households, tribal and rural communities, and Black and Latinx households are much more likely to be disconnected from the critical broadband connectivity they need to learn, work, and thrive. One in three Black, Latinx, and American Indian/Alaska Native families lack high-speed home internet and one in three families who earn less than $50,000 annually lack high-speed home internet. When COVID-19 required a unilateral shift to distance learning, 15-16 million K-12 public school students lived in households without either an internet connection or a device sufficient for remote learning, severely impacting low-income students, students of color, and rural students. Beyond the lack of access to broadband networks, Black, Latinx, Tribal, and rural communities are less likely to have home broadband that is reliable and has adequate speed, and are more likely to face affordability challenges.

To close the digital divide, we must support infrastructure investments that expand service options and create new competition that results in universal coverage, lower prices, faster speeds, and increased reliability across all zip codes to equitably connect Black, Latinx, Tribal, and rural communities.  While short-term solutions like government subsidies are necessary, many of the most vulnerable will continue to struggle to gain access to subsidies, and dependence on emergency funding is not a long term solution. Without equitable connectivity, the cascading effects of educational and economic gaps will continue, and the impact will be felt across our nation for generations to come.

Some example of policies to advocate for include: 

  • Increased infrastructure investment to expand options for affordable, reliable, high speed (i.e. 100mbps/100mbps) broadband access across all zip codes, specifically prioritizing disconnected communities, Black, Latinx, and Indigenous communities, and communities affected by digital redlining.  More open access middle infrastructure would enable last mile providers to be more competitive and offer better options for all.
  • Increased investment in targeted subsidies to help low-income families with broadband affordability and more streamlined qualification and onboarding processes (including cross-enrollment with eligible families across other agencies including HUD, USDA, DOE) to ensure eligible families benefit from the federal subsidies, and investment in digital literacy programming, and technology devices.
  • Increased investment in rigorous data collection, data transparency, and accountability on broadband availability and affordability to ensure the areas with the highest need are identified, prioritized, and tracked. A current challenge is accurate mapping that impacts know what to fund.  Funding decisions that rely on ISP self reported maps need to be better examined.  The FCC is currently working on providing more accurate connectivity maps. We need to more accurately assess which communities (zipcode by zipcode) are actually serviced and at what varying quality.

The Decade of Digital Inclusion brings together a unique intersection of technology, policy, and digital inclusion perspectives. Why is this interdisciplinary focus important and how does it intersect with your work?

Through my Kapor Center community engagement work, I directly saw the massive need and urgency to help connect my local community – specifically Oakland students and families – through city-wide collectives. I supported targeted high touch efforts with partner organizations and grants to provide internet access and devices at the peak of COVID-19.

My direct grassroots assessments  were also a personal time of reflection as I saw myself especially reflected in the faces of the Latinx immigrant, non-English speaking, single-parent household children attending Oakland schools. I, like them, immigrated at a young age with language, social and economic barriers.  However, because I had access to the internet and a computer at home, I was able to feed my curiosity and learn in a safe environment. This foundation is what ultimately enabled me to pursue studies as an electrical and software engineer, which changed the economic trajectory of my life and of my family. I apply these grassroots insights, all of which are grounded in the experiences and needs of low-income communities of color, to my work at the Kapor Center. I have created and managed programs to help further tech pathways and career mobility for talent of color, led our efforts to increase broadband access and connectivity in Oakland, launched initiatives focused on building diverse technology ecosystems, and am currently co-leading a body of work on racially inclusive technology policy.

By supporting and taking leadership roles in citywide efforts like Oakland Undivided, where I was the co-chair for two working groups focused on policy and community engagement, I’ve collaborated with stakeholders across Oakland and pushed to center our efforts on racial justice. The learnings from this hyper local work inform my advocacy at the state and federal levels. I’m currently an FCC Diversity and Inclusion Working Group member, supporting Digital Discrimination and Digital and Tech Upskilling workstreams. Also, close to my heart as a Latina, I was recently recognized as a 2021 Tech Innovadores  by  Hispanics Technology & Telecommunications Partnership for my work advocating for Latinx families across the nation. I see myself in the faces of those kids who were disconnected, I see my mom and grandfathers in those elders who were unable to get healthcare, and I see my favorite small businesses in Oakland in the business owners who had to close their businesses because they were not ready to operate in a fully digital environment.  I am working towards ensuring that the digital divide ends as soon as possible so that we leverage this once-in-a-generation opportunity to truly level the playing field in tech for all and for new generations to come.

Learn more about DODI