Combating social exclusion

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A CAMPAIGN to bring IT expertise and sponsorship to voluntary groups will be launched tomorrow.

The initiative, Comm.Unity, aims to persuade firms to donate time, skilled personnel and computer equipment to charities, voluntary organisations and community groups.

The campaign is being organised by Business in the Community, a registered charity set up to encourage social investment by big business. BITC has hundreds of corporate members, including 80 of the FTSE 100 companies.

Comm.Unity will be chaired by Martin Trees, president of IT multinational Experian who says it is all about combating social exclusion in the information age. "Our intention is to forge social change by promoting the widest use of new technologies. We are keen to promote projects that bring communications skills to people who might otherwise be disenfranchised from IT - the long-term unemployed and inner-city kids for example."

The campaign steering group includes British Telecom, EDS, Halifax plc, Hill and Knowlton, ICL, Post Office Counters and the Department of Trade and Industry.

"One of our first projects will be matching business people willing to volunteer their IT skills with appropriate community beneficiaries," said Mr Trees. "IBM has designed and donated an internet-based system, COMMIT, which we will use to build up this time and skills bank nationally.

"The millennium bug is another big issue because charities lacking in IT expertise are at special risk," he added.

The campaign will link with other initiatives such as the BBC's Webwise Campaign, the DTI's Action on IT and Social Exclusion and the government IT For All programme. Many prominent firms are believed to have expressed interest.

Charity leaders hope the campaign will succeed. "Information and communications technologies can be powerful tools for charities but smaller groups may be missing out," according to Dorothy Dalton of the Association of Chief Executives of National Voluntary Organisations.

Action 2000 also welcomes the initiative. "Expertise, experience and best practice are increasingly shared on a business-to-business level and we would like to see the voluntary sector drawn into that net," said a spokesman.

The campaign will be launched at the House of Commons tomorrow by DTI minister, Barbara Roche.