The Orange Digital Center (ODC) aims to provide digital training at all levels, from helping the elderly get online to training the next generation of digital entrepreneurs

Following the launch of a similar centre in Paris, France, earlier this month, Orange is now celebrating the launch of its second European ODC, this time in the Belgian capital, Brussels.

The operator calls the ODC a “complete ecosystem for acquiring digital skills testing and fine-tuning actual projects”, with the centre positioned directly in the centre of the city, in the BeCentral hub within Brussels Central Station.

The ODC comprises numerous elements, the including a Digital Academy and a digital production workshop known as the Solidarity Fab Lab.

At the Digital Academy, participants will receive training in various digital training programmes, including Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, CyberSecurity and even 5G network applications. It will also host public training sessions on more basic topics, such as how to use the internet for administration tasks, with a major focus on ‘training the trainer’ giving people the skills to help support family members.

The Solidarity FabLab, meanwhile, was described by a spokesperson as ‘putting the physical into the digital learning of the ODC’, allowing participants to receive training and the use of a 3D printer, a laser cutting machine, a digital embroidering machine, and IoT electronics.

The project will also have close ties with other Orange programmes, like Orange Fab, the Group’s start-up accelerator, and Orange Ventures, its investment arm, which may invest in successful start-ups coming out of the Digital Academy. Around 600 people are expected to receive training in the Brussel’s ODC this year.
Celebrating the opening of the Orange Digital Center (ODC) in Brussels
The creation of the centre is part funded by the Belgian government, which has committed €2 billion, with Orange committing €1 million.

According to Deputy Prime Minister, Petra De Sutter, who was present at the launch, as many as four in ten Belgian’s are at risk of digital exclusion.

The launch comes as part of Orange’s broader Engage 2025 plan, which aims to extend digital inclusion and training programmes to 34.5 million people throughout Europe by 2025. The company also aims to train a further 4.5 million people in more advanced digital skills, such as coding and the use of AI.

This plan also includes the launch of ODCs in each of Orange’s European markets by 2023, with these plans initially being impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.

“Covid was both an acceleration and a slowing down,” explained Jégo-Laveissière. “It’s accelerated our capabilities to create new content, especially for e-learning, but it slowed us down because nobody was able to able to meet with partners or even physically open a new location.”

According to Jégo-Laveissière, Orange will open ODCs in Poland, Spain, and Luxembourg by the end of the year, followed by Romania, Moldova and Slovakia in 2023. Discussions are ongoing with various governments and local authorities regarding joint funding and collaboration, though Orange admits that it may have to go it alone in some markets.

“We need to be ready with an ecosystem – if we create these things together, it’s much more powerful,” said Jégo-Laveissière. “We are working closely with the authorities, whether they are local or global, but in some countries we are doing it on our own.”

The opening of this centre cannot come soon enough. According to the Belgian government, up to 40% of Belgian society is at risk of digital exclusion in the years to come, much of which comes from a lack of education and engagement with the requisite skills and technologies. While just 7% of Belgians have no access to the internet at all, 17% of those with access only do so in a limited way and cannot perform basic tasks online.

“Digital literacy is more than crucial today and it determines how much you have access to digital services. In this way, digital skills are a ticket to fully participating in society,” explained Belgian Deputy Prime Minister, Petra de Sutter. “Up to 40% of the population is at risk of digital exclusions, even when considering access to the internet and smartphones.”

Particularly following the rapid digitalisation of services following the pandemic, the digital divide remains a major challenge worldwide, disproportionately affecting a wide array of very different demographics, from children to the elderly to those with less education. As a result, attempts to combat digital exclusion need to be similarly varied, and that seems to be what Orange is attempting here, creating a one-stop-shop for the local society’s digital needs, from the basics to digital start-up incubation.

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