Digital skills – best achieved through a process of osmosis “Digital By Osmosis”.

The following is a talk I did for the Milan Expo in July 2015. I was asked to speak at this by the RT Hon Nicky Morgan, Secretary of State for Education and Equalities. I went with 3 wonderful ladies. Kate Doodson @cosmickated, plus Jane Dawson and Alison Pritchard from the Gov Equalities Office.

I hope you enjoy this, it is my journey of learning and the intention of the talk is to help people become Digital Citizens, not digital users.


For the past 17 years I have been an entrepreneur.

I would actually say, of that 17 years it took me 13 years to learn what an entrepreneur was. But now I know what it takes. High levels of passion, tenacity, determination, managing my mind and having people around me that believe in me when the financial world makes me feel like a failure.

There is no doubt in my mind that managing the financial stress of building a business is the tough one to conquer and I imagine some people give up on that journey.

What has kept me going throughout this journey is my business friends. People I connect with online and offline that have helped me to understand what my voice is, understand what I really care about and helped me get up everyday and face good and bad times

My journey into digital started in 1998 when I created Ecademy. A community for small business people, to connect them as friends first, commerce second. This was 4 years before LinkedIn, 6 years before FaceBook and 8 years before twitter. Hard to imagine a life now without those 3 giants.

My husband and I out 14 years of our life into this community We loved it, driven my purpose and the members we committed to the community.

I often said to people that I could feel the energy inside the community. I liken it to Bruce Almighty with Jim Carey who was given the role as God and when he tried to sleep the prayers kept on coming in. I could feel the needs, love, fears and dreams of our 650,000 members across 200 countries.

Ecademy was special as it was a bridge between what we are and who we are, the business and the social side of us. LinkedIN disrupted us as it came to the market and with its $330m of funding it was able to dominate. However as time went on I realised that it wasn’t the money that made the difference. It was that it didn’t challenge the business person to be social.

Business people could stay in their neat world of this is my in business and they didn’t need to share who they were, why they did what they did or be open, random or even supportive to the network LinkedIn even gave their members their own switchboard to block calls! This was achieved by saying “don’t worry, if you don’t know the person, or they don’t know a contact of yours, they won’t get through to you.

A closed, selective and controlling world.

  •  Don’t share too much,
  • Select who you talk to based on their use to you
  • and seek to get the outcome you want, not the outcome the person reaching out is seeking

I understand Business seeks to protect. However my learning on Ecademy was that those members that were a friend and treated others as you would treat a friend did better.

So what has all this to do with Digital Skills?

Motivation and Context.

Digital is disruptive, challenging and is a new business model. It is not a set of keystrokes to learn

In 2011 I wrote Digital Business Britain Manifesto. This was to lead a change in business mindset.

Through this I stepped directly into the Digital Skills agenda and this is what I observed


Stressful rooms of people with a trainer attempting to empathise with their lives and their varying levels of digital skills.

The variance is huge and this alone can create frustration in a room. One person able to cut and paste, add their photo, another not even aware of how to open a new tab in their browser.

These business people then go back to their desk, stressed with what they should be doing and no capacity in their life or around them to advance. Motivated more by fear of missing out than the joy of becoming a Digital Citizen.

I believe that gaining digital skills is best done through a process of osmosis “Digital By Osmosis”.

It should be absorbed into our life through being part of communities that believe in it and use it.

Think of the digital world like a new country. How would you learn the culture, language and ethics and values of that country… you would go and live in it and become a citizen.

I have spent many many years teaching “old dogs new tricks!” Helping Executives to become social in tier attitude so that they can connect and build their online brand and trust.

However, Digital Marketing is seen as something that is in the Marketing Department, and understandably so. However, connecting online is like a telephone for each member of a company that needs to communicate with stakeholders – suppliers, clients, influencers, staff. To limit it to the marketing Department is a limited mindset and shows that leaders of Businesses still have to learn a great deal.

I had to honour this and understand that skills need to be brought into a company and in high volume, so….

As a result of this I created Digital Youth Academy in late 2011 to bring to market a Digital marketing Apprenticeship, enabling us to connect the Born Digital Generation to the needy Business community

Predicated that in the UK we will need 750,000 more people to fill digital jobs by 2015, this is a very demand driven skills world

By embedding a person into your company, this allows them to learn the personality, spontaneity and language and culture of your business and in that way they can learn to socially connect into the social digital communities

In 2014 I was absolutely thrilled to be given the opportunity to work with the Women and Broadband Program.

I want to share how we executed this and how it reflected everything I have learned in my previous 16 years.

My task was to help 100 under employed ladies back into work, self employed or employed and to do this they needed. My project was called-

Surrey WISE (Women in the Superfast Economy in Surrey

  • Confidence
  • Digital Skills

I recruited 10 ladies from across my region who had all dedicated years to the subject of Digital marketing, sole traders, who constantly had to market themselves and be cutting edge.

Critically they had empathy. They were women, they were mothers, they lived in the local towns.

Each of these ladies then were asked to find 10 ladies in their town who would best fit the goals of the program. They had to have access to Broadband, access to smartphone and an laptop or tablet.

We set up 10 groups on FaceBook for each of these ladies Towns,

The ladies then came to 6 two-hour training sessions together.

One the first session they joined FaceBook, joined their Local Group “and began their journey of being OPEN, RANDOM AND SUPPORTIVE “ to each other. Learning what it takes to be a digital citizen.

The following 5 sessions over 5 weeks covered the curriculum that all had learning outcomes.

We connected the 100 ladies up in one SurreyWISE group so they could get to know all the ladies.

When they learnd Twitter, they all helped each other, retweeting, commenting. Same with FB, same with LinkedIn and so on.

They experienced it in practice.

Critically what they learned was THE POWER OF FRIENDSHIP. They advocated each other, shred knowledge, started to buy from each other and tell their friends about one another’s businesses.

They all had confidence as business women as well as the digital skills to share that confidence.

The Celebration event was the most emotional event I have ever experienced. The love in the room, the collaboration and the new found skills.

Learning to be a digital citizen is about manners, attitude, friendship, and buiding a reputation for yourself and your business

It is about what you are as a business person as well as who you are as a person.

The heart and the head of you.

So my drum beat is the power of social. The change that can happen in business when communitoies care about one another and don’t just seek to selfishly grow their own business. Surey this is the best way to build any country

The Internet is a country and we all need to conquer it together.

Thank you – end-

UK Female Entrepreneurship: key facts

  • Women account for under a third of those in self-employment, but over half the increase in self-employment since the recession started in 2008. Between 2008 and 2011 women accounted for an unprecedented 80% of the new self-employed. (Labour Force Survey, Office of National Statistics 2013).
  • There are now almost 1.5 million women self-employed which represents an increase of around 300,000 since before the economic downturn (Women in Enterprise: A Different Perspective, RBS Group 2013).
  • Women account for 17% of business owners, ie. owners/ managers/ employers (Labour Force Survey 2008, in Women in Enterprise: A Different Perspective, RBS Group 2013)
  • UK Women’s businesses have a higher churn rate (ie. more start-ups and closures). But women are less likely to attribute closure to ‘business failure’ and more likely to cite ‘personal reasons’ – which peak at age 25-34 for women. (Women in Enterprise: A Different Perspective, RBS Group 2013)
  • Men are now twice as likely to be entrepreneurially active as women but in 2001 were two and a half times more likely to be entrepreneurially active, ie. involved in the early stages of a new venture. (Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, UK Report 2011)
  • 10% of the female population are thinking about starting up a business (Women in Business: key facts,  Government Equalities Office 2008)
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Post Author: Penny