Little Taos, New Mexico beat out national competition from several big cities to bring home a $100,000 grant that will jump-start a program aimed at giving Taoseños high-tech computer skills for better jobs.
And their winning pitch attracted corporate and foundation attention as well. “Way more important than the money ... was the exposure,” said Nina Gonzales, director of the UNM-Taos Education and Career Center, who heads the HIVE project.
The Hub of Internet-based Vocations and Education (HIVE), a project designed to help local residents acquire internet-based livelihoods, prevailed over nine other finalists at the Minds That Move Us conference in Miami last week (Aug. 6-8) in a nationwide competition that sought out innovative educational solutions.
After delivering their pitch at the conference, the Taos team was approached — even before they won — by Digital Promise, a national initiative that promotes public-private partnerships involving technology and data. “They want to fly their whole team here from D.C. and make HIVE one of their special projects,” said Gonzales. “That kind of exposure — to suddenly have Taos on the map at that national level — certainly has paid off.”
Johan Uvin, director of the Institute for Educational Leadership that sponsored Minds that Move Us, also approached the HIVE team before they’d won the competition, praising their project as “hugely innovative.” An educational adviser in the Obama administration, Uvin wants to bring his team out for an up-close look at HIVE and has even offered to brief the project to Governor Lujan Grisham and the media.
“To have somebody of his stature endorsing our project makes all the difference,” said Rose Reza, HIVE project manager. “For example, it puts us in a position to go back to the LOR Foundation, a founding sponsor that gave us a modest amount of seed money, and make our case for more funding.”
What makes HIVE such a big deal for the Taos community? The project will provide training and credentials that allow local residents — young, old, disabled, disadvantaged — to acquire an internet-based job or start an internet-based small business that lets them “live local ... work global,” as HIVE’s tagline puts it.
This gives them a chance to break out of the local economic conditions that keep Taos wages low without having to physically relocate.
How will HIVE accomplish this? It will offer adult-education and college-credit courses that lead to certifications in computer help-desk support, medical data entry, online customer service and other online vocations that can be done from anywhere — typically for nationwide employers that pay national-scale wages. It will provide office space and workstations at the downtown UNM campus for those who need them as well as online supervisory and technical support.
HIVE will also serve as an incubator for those who want to launch an internet-based business or take an existing business to the next level by tapping into the global online marketplace. It will provide computer training, digital marketing skills and entrepreneurial support.
As for the $100,000, what will the HIVE team use it for? “Funders typically specify that grants like this are to be used solely for student services or equipment,” Gonzales explained. “But not in this case, so we can put it where we need it right now — toward operational costs and salaries.”
HIVE derives its mission from a nationwide movement to generate internet-based jobs as a key economic development strategy for rural communities with few financial resources. The team plans a “soft start” in January of next year and expects to go live a year from now in August 2020.
While she said it’s challenging to build viable collaborative partnerships in Taos, Gonzales credited HIVE’s success in large part to the support it has received from its partners: the Taos Community Foundation, the town of Taos, Kit Carson Electric Cooperative and Internet, the LOR Foundation, Taos Works, FatPipe and the Northern Area Local Workforce Development Board.
“We heard ‘collaboration’ a lot in Miami,” Gonzales said. “In a lot of circles, that seemed to mean ‘we met once, we did one thing.’ To actually collaborate means getting your boots muddy and your feet wet. Our partners have demonstrated incredible skin in the game and incredible commitment to actually roll up their sleeves and jump into the project.”