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Meet the 3 trailblazers recognized for their contributions to closing the digital divide

Efforts to advance digital equity and inclusion have risen on the national agenda, with resources and research being dedicated to close the digital divide. 

For the Digital Equity Institute (DEI), the time for purposeful action is now. The team behind the non-profit has been working for over two years to advance digital equity across Maricopa County and Arizona, at large. Their efforts focus on scaling broadband access while ensuring meaningful adoption of the internet across education, workforce development and telehealth services. 

And on Monday, March 25, DEI hosted its third annual Lighting Up The Future benefit dinner at the Phoenix Art Museum. President and CEO Erin Carr-Jordan began the evening with opening remarks: 

“Tonight, we gather to reconnect with colleagues and join with new allies to ignite change,” Carr-Jordan said. “By helping underserved, underrepresented and under-connected communities thrive through access to technology, we invoke the transformative power of connectivity, both human and digital. Attendees joining us tonight embody the spirit of generosity and progress, as we come together to ensure equitable opportunities for all.”

Each year, Lighting Up the Future recognizes those who are paving the way for change in the digital equity and inclusion space. This year’s Impact Awards honors three individuals who have excelled in this regard: 

Woman at front of stage

Gigi Sohn

Executive Director, American Association for Public Broadband; Senior Fellow and Public Advocate, Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Presented by Angela Siefer, Executive Director, National Digital Inclusion Alliance 

Gigi Sohn is a Distinguished Fellow at the Georgetown Law Institute for Technology Law & Policy. She also sits on the Board of Directors of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, where she is recognized as one of the nation's leading public advocates for open, affordable and democratic communications networks. She is a former Counselor to Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler, and hosts the “Tech on the Rocks” podcast.   

“Gigi is a true trailblazer who's dedication and commitment to public advocacy has shaped a very fabric of our modern communications landscape,” said Siefer. “For over 30 years, Gigi’s lifelong work has been ensuring access to the networks that we in this room enjoy for work, communicating with friends and family, shopping, educating ourselves, and so much more. That work has also included making sure that this access that we enjoy so readily is available to everybody, regardless of who they are or where they live. She brings together parties from diverse backgrounds to address critical technology as well as broadband policy issues.” 

Photo by Mike Sanchez/ASU

Larry Irving

Principal, The Irving Group; Chairman of the Board, Public Broadcasting Service

Presented by Dr. Nicol Turner Lee, Director, Center for Technology Innovation; Senior Fellow Governance Studies, The Brookings Institute

Larry Irving is Principal of the Irving Group, a consulting firm providing strategic planning and consulting services to international telecommunications, media and technology companies, non-profit organizations, and philanthropies. In addition to his duties as Chairman of the Board of the Public Broadcasting Service, he currently serves as a member of the Boards of Directors of several organizations, including the Education Networks of America, The Schools, Hospitals and Libraries Broadband Coalition and the North American Electric Reliability Corporation. 

“Larry has worked with various presidential administrations, going back several years,” noted Lee. “Because of his untiring work, most everything we know about the digital divide–going back to 1994, when he and his team first started identifying what it was–we know and can address, thanks to him. Without his brilliance, his insight, his distinction, we wouldn’t be here tonight.”

Photo by Mike Sanchez/ASU

Man standing at podium in front

Man standing with hands up

Lev Gonick

Chief Information Officer at Arizona State University

Presented by Di Bowman, Board Member, Digital Equity Institute 

Lev Gonick is the Chief Information Officer at Arizona State University. He has been an educator, technologist, and artificial intelligence (AI) visionary who has been working to advance digital equity throughout his decades-long career. He leads the efforts of the ASU Enterprise Technology team, directing the design and agile management of all enterprise infrastructure, applications, products, services and analytics. Gonick also chairs the Sun Corridor Network, the research and education network for Arizona. 

“Lev is a real leader in the fields of technology and education, as well as an advocate for best policies and practices,” Bowman said of Gonick. “He truly aims to bridge the digital divide, and has been at it for decades, to ensure resources and access are in the hands of those who need them most. He works not just by writing a check, or getting his team to go out into the field. He actually rolls up his sleeves and does the hard work.”  

Photo by Matt Young


Local community champions were also recognized throughout the evening for their commitment to dedicating themselves to activate and strengthen community connections and create momentum in Arizona’s digital equity and inclusion efforts.

 The following were honored as 2024 Community Champions:

  • Carlos Valles, Executive Director, Sahuarita Food Bank & Community Resource Center
  • Deborah Harris, Flagstaff City Council Member
  • Supervisor Bill Gates, Maricopa County

“Now is the time to foster collaborations that ensure that all Arizonans from every corner of the state have access to the affordable, reliable, high speed internet and the training and tools needed to work, learn and thrive,” Carr-Jordan said in closing remarks. 

After an evening of honoring efforts to foster more community and digital connection, DEI’s Lighting Up the Future benefit dinner was followed the next day at the same venue by the sixth annual Smart Region Summit.