Innovative Projects Empowering WomenIn our booming technological world, the gender digital divide continues to suppress women’s access to technology and the global economy. In low- and middle-income countries, women are 10% less likely to own a mobile device than men, and 23% less likely to use the internet. A 2019 report from the GSMA highlights four main reasons for the divide, including affordability, literacy and tech-literacy rates, safety and security, and relevance to daily life. The report also estimates that closing the digital divide in just mobile internet usage by 2023 could increase GDP growth by $700 billion in low- and middle-income countries over the next five years.

Through the U.S. government’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative (W-GDP), presidential advisor Ivanka Trump and USAID Administrator Mark Green launched the WomenConnect Challenge. With this funding, initiatives seek to shrink the barriers of digital illiteracy and “technophobia” fueled by a lack of complex resources, such as Internet access or formal education. That these barriers unequally limit women and girls leaves entire populations further and further behind in an increasingly digital world. In the first round of the challenge in 2018, USAID awarded more than $2 million to an initial nine projects working to close gender-based digital divides. The W-GDP initiative hopes to connect 50 million women in developing nations by 2025.

The First Projects that Received Funding

  1. Mali Health – Launched in 2019, the Mali Health application’s trial run proved useful in the lives of 65 women, most of whom live under the poverty line. The women were provided with a smartphone as well as training on the app’s features. The app allows users to search for medical information, advertise their small businesses and connect with larger markets using voice navigation in their native language. An upcoming feature will allow users to voice-record their medical questions and receive a recording back from a doctor. Surveys from the trial run indicate that innovative projects empowering women with knowledge and information boost women’s views on gender equality.
  2. GAPI and Bluetown – GAPI-SI and technology partner Bluetown established the Women in the Network program in Ribaue, Mozambique in late 2019. The project created content “clouds” for locals to access at lower costs than traditional network access, as well as a rent-to-own cell phone program. Additionally, they are training a team of Ribaue women in technology and internet use so that they may bring this knowledge to their peers and promote widespread connectivity.
  3. GramVaani – Meri Awaz Meri Pehchan, or “My Voice My Identity”, is an app from GramVaani enabling women to connect with other women and spread important information securely in Bihar, India. The application is voice-based, removing the literacy barrier from the equation. Women are trained as “reporters” and sent to rural communities to play informational recordings. They gather voiced comments on topics ranging from government programs and water availability to women’s rights. Innovative projects empowering women such as GramVaani make an impact through the dissemination of knowledge, a resource that cannot be taken for granted.
  4. Viamo – The Calling all Women program from Viamo makes use of a voice-based informational platform called the 3-2-1 Service, which allows for individuals to share valuable information for free on topics like health, hygiene, and financial literacy. The information has reached over 150,000 people in Tanzania and Pakistan. Additionally, Viamo’s program includes recorded lessons for women on mobile technology and the internet to help bridge the gender digital divide.
  5. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT) – HOT’s project #LetGirlsMap trains women and male allies to map data from Tanzanian villages and report significant issues via mapping platforms. The program has reached 78 villages and has partnered with schools to gather and disseminate knowledge on gender-based violence and economic literacy. Such innovative projects empowering women and girls help them to confront gender norms and inequality while learning about technology and the economy.
  6. Evidence for policy design (EPoD) India at the Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) – EPoD’s project Mor Awaaz utilizes a preexisting government program that is distributing 2 million mobile phones to women in rural India. Mor Awaaz offers training and voice-recordings for women on technological literacy and has reached 11,000 women so far, eliminating barriers like caste, mobility, and affordability.
  7. AFCHIX – Innovative projects empowering women like AFCHIX are addressing inadequate internet access in poor communities. AFCHIX created four women-led “community networks” in Kenya, Namibia, Morocco and Senegal. In these countries, women in community networks lead development projects to bring internet access to their communities and learn the skills needed to upkeep the hardware. They serve as both technicians and role models.
  8. Equal Access International – Based in Northern Nigeria, Equal Access International created the Tech4Families program to address the cultural norms that prevent women from accessing technology. Tech4Families launched a radio production in August consisting of twelve episodes that teach listeners about the benefits of technology and justify women’s use of technology via religion and social concepts. They will be meeting with families to discuss the show’s impact and the next steps toward destigmatizing the idea of women in tech.
  9. Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) – Low-income women in the Dominican Republic are often unable to access credit from financial institutions because they do not have a credit score. IPA, along with the World Bank, a couple of American universities, and other institutions use machine learning and specialized algorithms to redo the credit-earning criteria for women, separately from men. This will allow more women to gain financial credit, and many have reported that they will use the money for entrepreneurial endeavors, to feed their families, and to invest in education.

– McKenna Black
Photo: USAID

UPI in India
In 2016, the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) system launched in India. Its goal was ambitious: a level playing field for small businesses and impoverished communities through re-imagined banking. In the midst of a global pandemic that has forced a socially distant lifestyle, UPI has never been more important nor more successful.

UPI’s Humble Beginnings

UPI’s primary purpose was to become an online platform that would eliminate bureaucratic and socioeconomic barriers to financial transactions. The goal was to allow anybody, from small Kickstarter businesses to multinational banks, to have the same access to banking capabilities.

UPI creates a standard set of rules for everybody on the platform—all Indian banks have access. Thus, smaller banks have equal opportunities to reach people as big ones. This goal is feasible due to UPI’s innovative techniques. With UPI, the party collecting money from an individual is decoupled from that individual’s bank account. This allows third-party apps such as Google Pay, PhonePe and Amazon Pay to collect and administer transactions without excess burden to the customer.

UPI makes things even more consumer-friendly by eliminating the need to enter long bank account and routing numbers for transfers. A virtual payment address, a simple username akin to an email address, replaces detailed information.

Finally, it is important to note that UPI serves a myriad of functions in the financial world. Simple peer-to-peer monetary transactions are carried out seamlessly. Advanced maneuvers are also handled with ease, including merging banking features from different banks, micro pensions and digital insurance.

UPI’s Growth

Since its launch, UPI has seen tremendous growth in both users and the number of transactions. Its user base is strong—recent numbers indicate over 100 million users. Its goal is to reach 500 million users by 2022. While this seems ambitious, early critics of the program did not expect UPI to gain the traction it has already.

The novel coronavirus impacted UPI both positively and negatively. During the worst of the lockdown, UPI’s transaction count decreased. People staying at home lowered demand for the platform’s services. However, since May 2020, UPI has boomed in both the number of transactions and the amount of money transferred. The number of transactions grew by 12% in July 2020, with 1.49 billion in the month of July 2020. UPI saw 822 million transactions in July 2019, indicating exponential growth during the last year. Similarly, the amount of money transferred in July 2020 was up to 2.9 trillion Indian Rupees, while July 2019 saw only 1.46 trillion Rupees.

As of July 2020, UPI reports services at 164 banks across India. With service 24 hours a day, seven days a week, UPI is lengthening its reach and its impact on the financial marketplace of India.

Looking to the Future

Looking forward, COVID-19 has provided a new opportunity for UPI and digital banking in general. India wants to decrease the amount of physical currency in circulation, and the pandemic has shown many people the virtues of online banking. For example, young adults wary of infecting their older parents have helped an older generation get on UPI and utilize everything it has to offer.

UPI’s recent boom focuses back to the platform’s original goal: creating an even playing field for all people, regardless of background or socioeconomic status. In 10 or 20 years, it would not be surprising to see all banking conducted virtually. Therefore, it is crucial to create a solid infrastructure that eliminates a system of preferential treatment based on wealth. UPI is helping to fight that fight.

Evan Kuo
Photo: Flickr


Since the beginning of the digital age, there have been several advances in the world of digital currency. From mobile banking apps to mining for cryptocurrency, the use of physical bills and coins is becoming less common. The potential of this new technology in developing countries, particularly for those in Africa, cannot be ignored. Here are four ways digital currency in Africa can improve the economy.

4 Ways Digital Currency in Africa Can Improve the Economy

  1. Transferring money is easier and faster when combined with technology. For those who cannot waste time waiting for money to travel from one location to another, digital currency in Africa would allow for conveniently instantaneous transfers. Additionally, more companies are taking notice of the strong potential market for digital currency in Africa and the positive impact it could have on citizens and businesses. Airtel Africa, a telecommunications company serving East, West and Central Africa, has recently partnered with Mukuru, an online remittance company, allowing Mukuru customers to instantly send money transfers directly to Airtel Money customers across 12 African countries. This means that people can make intra-Africa payments from Southern Africa, where Mukuru has a major presence, to other nations in Africa. Users would also benefit from no longer going to an agent to receive international payments physically. Once Airtel Money customers receive the money, they can use it to pay bills, purchase goods and services or even cash out at one of Airtel Africa’s branches or kiosks. This will allow African citizens to get the most out of their money.
  2. Managing personal income leads to greater financial literacy. As the use of digital currency spreads, people are increasingly exposed to the language of business as well as standard banking practices. For those living in countries with low financial literacy rates, this could be the difference between economic stability and poverty. The implications of digital technology in Africa are astronomical due to the previous lack of education on these financial principles across the continent. In Somalia, the current rate of financial literacy is estimated to be 15%. On the other side of the spectrum, Botswana has a rate of over 51%—the highest in all of Africa. With this first-hand knowledge, more people will be able to learn how to manage their finances properly.
  3. Digital currency allows for more connections between African citizens and the rest of the world. The use of digital money transfers not only allows those living in Africa to pay and request money from people within their continent but also those around the world. With the recent partnership between Airtel Africa and Mukuru, small business owners in Africa can now establish business relationships with people in Europe, Asia and the United States, among others. As these relationships continue to grow, the digital currency can flow freely between Africa and the rest of the world, opening the continent up to high-dollar investments from more developed regions and, in time, lead to a potential rise in the African economy.
  4. More women have access to their finances. Only 37% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa have a bank account compared to 48% of men—a gap that has only widened in the past few years. The numbers are worse in North Africa, with around two-thirds of the adult population remaining unbanked and the gender gap for access to financial education standing at an 18% difference, the largest in the world. However, with the rise of digital technology in Africa, more women can become empowered and take control of their finances. Female entrepreneurs rarely apply for loans as a result of low financial literacy, risk aversion and fear of losing their businesses. If these women were to utilize digital banking technology, they would be able to pay employees, investors and, most importantly, themselves more efficiently. As more and more women manage their finances, they will be able to lift themselves out of poverty and strengthen their local economies.

As digital currency in Africa continues to flourish, more entrepreneurs, families and willing investors will be able to witness the rise of the African economy. Money transfers and online banking will likely support the growing economy as it joins the rest of the world in the technology age. With continued global support, African citizens will be able to lift their economy to new heights.

Daniela Canales
Photo: Flickr

Digital Cash Transfers in Cote d’IvoireCote d’Ivoire had been consumed by civil conflict at the beginning of the century. However, the conflict ended in 2011, soon after the election of Alassane Ouattara. Since then, Cote d’Ivoire has been one of the fastest-growing countries in the world. However, its growth has failed to reach large portions of the population as the country still struggles with a 46.1 percent poverty rate while an additional 17.6 percent of the population lives on the edge of poverty. In 2014, the World Bank Group started working to initiate digital cash transfers in Cote d’Ivoire to assist the poorest and most disconnected.

The Rise of Mobile Money in Cote d’Ivoire

From 2012 to 2018, the number of active mobile money users grew from less than 1 million to more than 9 million. Of note, the number of mobile cellular subscribers increased from 18.1 million to 33.81 million during the same time frame. With a population of less than 28 million, it is evident how popular the use of technology is becoming in the country. Ivorians have adapted to using mobile money for several reasons:

  • Person-to-person cash transfers in Cote d’Ivoire are easy to operate.
  • Due to high fees and the historic failure of several banks in the country, more Ivorians are turning away from licensed financial institutions. In 2017, 34 percent of Ivorians had mobile money accounts compared to 15 percent with bank accounts.
  • There is a rising trend in the digitalization of secondary school feels.
  • Migrants are digitally transferring remittances back home.
  • Paying bills digitally is growing.

How the Cash Transfer Program Works

According to the World Bank, the program operates as follows: “(i) a targeting system for cash transfers; (ii) a social protection household registry; (iii) a cash transfer payment system using digital mobile money technology; and (iv) management information system and capacity-building.”

For the actual transferring of money, the government of Cote d’Ivoire has partnered with the digital financial service organization, Orange. The Account of the Ministry of Social Protection sends a wire transfer to Orange. Then, it creates e-money and puts it into the digital accounts of the intended recipients. The recipients can then access and use their money electronically or cash-out.

Initial Constraints of the Program

Despite the widespread use of mobile devices in the country, there are a few issues with the implementation of the program. Many beneficiaries already owned mobile phones. However, others are given a device through which the program struggled to adapt. Financial literacy has been another issue as some beneficiaries are unsure about how much to withdraw and how much to save. Moreover, the lack of understanding of the importance of the PIN number resulted in some beneficiaries sharing sensitive information, thus compromising their accounts. Regulatory issues such as the requirement of a state-issued ID also created challenges in ensuring beneficiaries are eligible to continue to receive their transfers.

Successes of the Program

Peer-to-peer and community-oriented training focus on increasing knowledge surrounding the operation of devices and building awareness about security best practices with accounts. Those without a proper state-issued ID have been informed on how to obtain one. In addition, exemptions have been provided which allow beneficiaries to designate a trusted transfer recipient within the household or community. This led to 100 percent of beneficiaries receiving their payments in 2018.

By going digital, administrative and transactional costs are limited. As of April 2019, 300,000 poor individuals have benefitted from the program, more than half of whom are women. Additionally, as of the same date, 720,000 individuals have been registered with the social program’s registry. This expands the number of potential future social program beneficiaries.

Overall, the implementation of cash transfers in Cote d’Ivoire is an excellent example of how technology can assist those who are most financially vulnerable and most disconnected from the rest of society.

– Scott Boyce
Photo: Flickr