Digital Divide in IndiaAs India industrializes, the country has made great strides in internet usage and access, however, there is still a lingering gap between those who have access to the internet and those who do not, also known as the digital divide in India. Demographics play a major role in the digital divide in India. Rural villages, impoverished people and women are far less likely to have proper internet and technology access. Only around 16% of women use “mobile and internet services” in India. The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the digital divide in India and its role in hampering access to vaccines. Because of a lack of digital literacy and access, families and communities are often unable to set up appointments to register for vaccinations. This contributes to a slower rate of vaccinations in India, heightening the urgency of crossing the digital divide in India.

5 Organizations Addressing the Digital Divide in India

  1. Women Who Code Delhi: This organization started as a “community group in 2011,” with the goal of changing the technology industry to make it better suited for women. Since 2011, the organization has grown to become a significant global nonprofit force in inspiring women to excel in technological careers. Chapters are spread throughout various cities, including New Delhi, India. The chapter in New Delhi came about in 2014 and currently has more than 2,700 members. Like other chapters, it hosts events and creates “safe spaces for women” to learn new technologies and grow their careers in the technology field. Events take place at least once a month, free of charge. The main goal of this organization is to advance female careers in the technology field. Despite a large number of women working in the technology sector, female workers are less likely to get noticed in their careers. An estimated 45% of women will leave the technology industry after eight years. Women Who Code hopes to eliminate this by teaching women new skills and empowering them in their career growth.
  2. VMInclusion Taara: VMInclusion Taara is a return to work program for women. It has partnered with Women Who Code Delhi to offer free technical education in newer technologies. India has only about 26% female participation in its workforce as of 2018. About 40% of women choose to take a break from work at some point, but 91% of those women want to return. Moreover, for women in technology fields in this position, many lose the tools or education to keep up with the changing technological landscape. This is where VMInclusion Taara comes in. With this program, thousands of women will increase their prospects for growth in the technology field, crossing the digital divide in India.
  3. Feminist Approach to Technology: The Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women by increasing their participation in and knowledge of technology through various programs, such as the Young Women’s Leadership Program. During the Young Women’s Leadership Program, young girls learn basic computer and internet skills, breaking stigmas around technology. Since 2010, this program has trained 281 girls and 435 female learners are currently enrolled.
  4. ThinkZone: Working with under-resourced communities, this organization utilizes a free mobile app and accessible technology to educate children. The app sends learning content to instructors and parents in areas with low internet access so children can learn foundational language skills and math skills. Not only is this organization crossing the digital divide but it is also increasing education rates in the most vulnerable communities. Founder and CEO Binayak Acharya told The Borgen Project, “[T]he program ensures education for children without the requirement of smartphones or internet access.” Educators are additionally trained through a blended learning environment, learning specific technologies to equip them for all types of scenarios. Using ThinkZone technologies, a significant number of children developed age-appropriate skills during their early childhood. Acharya adds that the “state government of Odisha reached out to us for scaling the programs in new geographies.” ThinkZone hopes to reach an “additional 10,000 children from July 2021 onward.”
  5. Soochnapreneur: The Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) funded the Soochnapreneur project to promote and strengthen the information system in rural, Indian communities. In these communities, many people are unaware of their rights and are also unaware of available government schemes and their benefits so DEF started the Soochnapreneur project in 2016 to bridge this gap. The DEF trains women from rural locations in technology areas. The women can then provide and teach these skills to vulnerable and impoverished communities. The project aims to fulfill various components of a digital India by creating digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally and empowering digital literacy. Currently, the DEF works in more than 20 Indian states and 130 districts.

Together, these organizations make significant efforts to bridge the digital divide in India. In their combined work, the organizations help connect all areas of India to the nation’s future technological prospects, one person at a time.

– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram
Photo: Flickr

Digital accessDigital access for all is becoming more and more necessary with the growing digital economy. Ecuadorian businesswoman Pierangela Sierra recently became the United Nation’s eTrade for All initiative representative for Latin America and the Caribbean. The program seeks to “expand and promote” the digital economy across middle to low-income countries. Sierra is the founder of Tipti, which is an e-commerce online grocery shopping platform in Ecuador. The platform makes strides for women entrepreneurs around the world as Sierra advocates for their place in the digital workforce. Unfortunately, the growing global digital divide creates barriers to access. People in lower-income countries, especially women, have less access to the online world. Sierra’s advocacy for internet access equality provides much hope for the global digital accessibility movement.

The Digital Divide: A Global Crisis

On February 15, 2021, the United Nations Commission for Social Development discussed the presence of the global digital divide as it applies to the COVID-19 pandemic and global poverty. Members of the Commission noted that while technology has made it possible for numerous countries to overcome educational and economic crises throughout the pandemic, the digital divide has expanded globally.

The U.N. Secretary-General Amina Mohammed states that half the world’s population currently lacks internet access, “the majority of whom are women and mostly in developing countries.” The World Bank reports that only 35% of people in developing countries have access to the internet, indicating that the greatest digital access disparities are seen within rural areas as “these disparities impede shared prosperity and constrain access to pathways out of poverty.”

These disparities can sometimes even impact the speed, and therefore, the accessibility of the internet in different areas. As of 2019, it would take an average of 30 hours, one minute and 40 seconds to download a 5GB movie in Yemen in comparison to the average eight minutes it would take in Taiwan.

Pierangela Sierra and Founding Tipti

The global digital divide has grown throughout the COVID-19 pandemic as those in rural or impoverished areas lack access to the resources the digital world provides. As impoverished communities and women continue to bear the brunt of internet inaccessibility, communities need advocates now more than ever. Sierra and her company Tipti work to debunk myths surrounding digital access and generate change by advocating for greater e-commerce and digital access among low-income populations and women.

After working for a variety of international corporations across Latin America, Sierra founded Tipti in 2016. Tipti is an abbreviation of “Tiempo para ti” or “time for you.” Tipti is an e-commerce grocery shopping and delivery platform designed to save clients time otherwise spent buying groceries in person.

Tipti’s Impact on Women

While 346 million people in Latin America have internet access, only 20% of the population “made online purchases in 2019.” The U.N. reports that there is an overall “lack of trust in postal services” and barriers to online bank account access. Sierra attributes the low level of e-commerce in Latin America to inadequate technology access and a lack of internet education. Sierra emphasizes that “there is a great need for access to education” in low-income areas, especially for women.

As part of the United Nation’s eTrade for All initiative, Sierra will teach a Masterclass “geared toward women who are ready to craft their own business plan for the tech sector.” Furthermore, Sierra aims to mobilize communities in order to create lasting change and significantly reduce the digital divide. As Sierra states in talks with the United Nations, “the moment you lend a woman a helping hand, you are helping up to 20 other people, too.”

The Future for Women in the Digital Workplace

As the digital divide increases worldwide, advocates like Sierra are extremely important. Fortunately, Sierra is not alone in her fight to increase e-commerce access and internet equality. Among various other organizations, the World Bank recently called for global broadband internet access for everyone. Currently, the World Bank is embarking on initiatives surrounding sector policy, loans and grants for broadband access. Individuals like Sierra along with organizations such as the U.N. and the World Bank further the movement to close the global digital divide through their advocacy and educational efforts.

– Lillian Ellis
Photo: Flickr

Digitization in AfricaLiquid Intelligent Technologies (LIT) is “a pan-African technology group.” The group was established in 2005 and spans 14 countries, with a focus on sub-Saharan Africa. LIT provides custom digital solutions to private and public businesses across Africa. LIT hopes to utilize its fiber infrastructure to accelerate the accessibility of new innovative technologies and propel digitization in Africa.

LIT’s Impact

Digitization in Africa is vital for the continent’s economic growth. LIT’s extended expansion across 14 countries provides connectivity to small businesses, enterprises and government entities. This enables productivity through several digital solutions that cater to each of their needs.

LIT’s fiber infrastructure reaches more than 100 million people across the continent. This complex network creates new, innovative opportunities by providing accessibility to businesses and individuals across Africa and accelerating the continent’s digital transformation.

In 2021, LIT succeeded in deploying 100,000 kilometers (around 62,000 miles) of fiber infrastructure across Africa. This milestone makes LIT the “largest independent fiber network provider in emerging markets globally.” LIT plans to further accelerate digitization in Africa and create unique opportunities through digital inclusion.

LIT’s Other Achievements

  • LIT has provided a high-speed fiber network connection in the city of Mbuji-Mayi in the Democratic Republic of Congo, allowing access to three million people for the very first time.
  • LIT has enabled 4G connectivity through “1,500 new mobile network operator tower connections.” It is currently preparing to implement 5G technology, which can reach a speed of up to 100 times more than 4G.
  • High-speed internet has basically been absent in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the past decade. The country’s internet access is so limited that it ranked 145th in the world for internet access. LIT’s new extensive fiber infrastructure will allow the DRC to digitally transform along with the rest of Africa.

Broadband Access is a Basic Necessity

Broadband (high-speed) internet access is considered “a basic necessity for economic and human development in both developed and developing countries.” However, only about 35% of people in developing nations have access to the internet in stark contrast to 80% of people in developed economies. The goal is to provide high-speed internet access to all, particularly in rural areas.

The “digital divide” in internet and technology access disproportionately impacts rural areas and the impoverished. Higher internet access in cities compared to developing rural communities hinders shared prosperity and blocks “pathways out of poverty.”

Solving this problem could provide “millions of jobs and billions of dollars in revenue” in the years to come. According to the World Bank, increasing internet access from 35% to 75% in developing nations could add up to $2 trillion to their “collective gross domestic product (GDP).” Furthermore, this increase in internet penetration could establish more than 140 million jobs globally.

Access to high-speed internet boosts the economy. It is an essential tool for basic services such as education and healthcare. Further, it provides more opportunities for women’s development and enhances “government transparency and accountability.”

Bringing High-Speed Internet to Africa

The internet plays a vital role in allowing access to educational resources and providing knowledge sharing for students and their teachers. Africa only has a 20% internet penetration and LIT’s mission is to increase this by providing opportunities with its extensive fiber network and accelerating digitization in Africa.

Nic Rudnick, group CEO of LIT, tells Gadget magazine that “By providing access to information, connecting people to businesses everywhere and opening up new markets, the internet can act as an enabler of economic activity and an engine for information sharing.”

With the power of high-speed internet, LIT has helped address the most crucial challenges within “high-potential countries” such as the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan. Digitization in Africa has never been more crucial in what is now a digital era. High-speed internet brings the promise of “peace, state-building, job creation and improved livelihoods.”

Addison Franklin
Photo: Flickr

Digital Gender GapAs the world becomes more technologically advanced and digitally connected, access to technology remains an issue, especially in developing countries. More so, the digital gap between women and men continues to expand, with 300 million fewer women than men using mobile internet, creating a 20% gap. The lack of access to digital devices for these women means being denied essential services including employment opportunities, financial resources, educational resources and medical information. There are several global initiatives trying to bridge the digital gender gap between women and men.

Safaricom

In Kenya, women are 39% less likely than men to have access to mobile internet despite women making up 51% of the Kenyan population. Safaricom, a mobile network in Kenya, therefore created a partnership with Google to offer an affordable smartphone, the Neon Kicka with Android GO, compromising 500 megabytes of free data for the first month. The mobile network believes that empowering a woman empowers an entire community and focuses on the following three barriers: affordability, relevance and digital skills. The company ensured that the price point was the lowest it could be and featured important content including access to health information and educational content to highlight the smartphone’s daily relevance for women. Safaricom recognizes that many women are not familiar with Gmail accounts and therefore developed a guide covering the basics of smartphone use.

Novissi

Togo, a country in West Africa currently run by its first female prime minister, launched a digital cash transfer program called Novissi. Its goal is to provide aid to informal workers during the COVID-19 pandemic, covering residents of three urban areas under lockdown. Many underserved women tend to be excluded from COVID-19 relief digital cash transfer programs launched by governments since they either do not have access to digital bank accounts or are uninformed. Through Novissi, women receive a monthly sum of $20, whereas men receive $17, to support the cost of food, communication services, power and water. The three additional dollars allocated to women account for the fact that women are more likely to be informal workers and take care of a family’s nutritional needs.

Wave Money

In Myanmar, Wave Money has become the number one mobile financial service, with 89% of the country benefiting from its agents. Since Wave Money deals with 85% of rural areas in the country, money enters and leaves from nearly every state and facilitates familiarity with the service. The financial service created a partnership with GSMA Connected Women to allow greater access to financial services for women. Through this partnership, women are encouraged to run Wave Money shops in Myanmar, providing them with extra income even if they live in very remote areas of the country.

Telesom Simple KYC Account

It can be challenging for women to acquire the identity documents necessary to open accounts with service providers. In Somaliland, Telesom created a simplified know-your-customer (KYC) account, allowing women that do not possess an ID to sign up for mobile money services. The service solely requires a name, date of birth, image and contact details, favoring accessibility and reducing the digital gap between women and men.

Equal Access International Partnership with Local Radio Station

In Nigeria, women and girls are denied access to technology due to the fear of moral decline that accompanies the widespread culture. Equal Access International recognizes the need to address societal norms for women and amplify women and girls’ voices. In an effort to do so, Equal Access International partnered with a local radio station in order to create a show that tackled cultural taboos and promoted women and girls using digital technologies. The episodes last 30 minutes and cover weekly themes including common misconceptions about the internet, internet safety and moral arguments regarding women and the internet.

Closing the Digital Gender Gap

Despite a digital gender gap that exists between women and men, organizations around the world are making an effort to foster a sense of inclusion and empowerment for women and girls to become familiar and encouraged to take on the digital world that is constantly emerging.

Sarah Frances
Photo: Flickr

internet access in africaIn most developed countries, paper consumption has quickly been reduced as digital resources have offered a more efficient alternative to the traditional pen and paper. However, digital technologies are used neither equally nor to their fullest extent around the world. In many African countries, for example, a 5GB movie could take hours to download. In Singapore, however, that same 5GB movie could be downloaded in less than 12 minutes. As a continent, Africa’s access to high bandwidth internet ranks among some of the lowest compared to the rest of the world. In a growing digital age, it is nearly impossible to thrive when the minimum technological requirements are not met as a continent.

Internet Access in Africa

According to InternetWorldStats, roughly 39% of Africa’s entire population had access to the internet as of December 2019. As of 2019, “17.8% of households in Africa had internet access at home“, and “10.7% of households in Africa had a computer.” These percentages might seem low considering that computer technology is more prevalent than ever before. In Africa, however, high-quality internet access is a luxury many people cannot afford.

Barriers to Internet Access

Affordability is the biggest issue concerning internet access in Africa. Internet access in many African countries is expensive compared to countries outside of the continent. Africa as a whole has the least affordable internet prices on the planet. In the Alliance for Affordable Internet’s annual affordability report for 2019, it stated that “across Africa, the average cost for just 1GB data is 7.12% of the average monthly salary.” To put it in perspective, if the average U.S. consumer had to pay 7.12% of his or her average monthly salary for internet access, it would cost nearly $373 per month to access only 1GB of data.

Solutions

Although the amount of people who have high bandwidth internet access in Africa is low today, numerous organizations are working to close the continent’s digital divide. For instance, an initiative called the Africa Digital Moonshot aims to digitally connect all facets of life in Africa by 2030. Some of the “Moonshot Objectives” include:

  1. Establishing more digital infrastructure

  2. Teaching basic digital skills and literacy

  3. Increasing the amount digital platforms

  4. Making Digital financial services more accessible

  5. Expanding upon digital entrepreneurship

To see this dream come to fruition, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development laid out the first goal for the initiative in a past report: doubling Africa’s broadband connectivity from its current number by 2021. If this is achieved by next year, the plan to implement good quality, universal internet access in Africa by 2030 is on schedule. Although these developments are necessary for improving internet access in Africa, they come with a hefty price tag, since roughly $100 billion is needed to cover numerous implementations (such as infrastructure, legal costs and network management.) Even though the goal hasn’t been achieved yet, internet access rates in Africa are moving in a positive direction. Moreover, the Broadband Commission for Sustainable Development is closer than ever to reaching its Seven 2025 Targets for worldwide, universal high bandwidth internet access.

The Economy and Internet Access

Experts also have stressed the critical role high bandwidth internet access in Africa will have for boosting Africa’s economy in the future. Makhtar Diop, the World Banks’ Vice President for Infrastructure, stated that “the digital agenda is first and foremost a growth and jobs agenda.” He goes on to explain that “broadening internet access means creating millions of job opportunities.” When it comes to job creation, universal internet access not only improves domestic business but it also allows for more participation in marketplaces worldwide. For many Africa countries, e-commerce is heavily underutilized, but installing suitable, accessible internet throughout the continent can make conducting e-commerce internationally a top priority for most African businesses.

Given the positive progress Africa has made over the past 20 years concerning internet access, many are optimistic about the continent’s online presence development for the near future. E-commerce, telehealth, mobile education and many other virtual alternatives are slowly becoming more prevalent throughout Africa. The necessary first steps toward improving internet access in Africa have yielded positive results, and these plans for improving access are only the beginning of the continent’s untapped digital potential.

– Maxwell Karibian
Photo: Flickr

women's digital financial inclusionAcross the globe, digital finance services are empowering vulnerable communities to make responsible investments, save for the future and gain access to credit. Between 2011 and 2014, seven hundred million people in the developing world gained access to these services, allowing them to participate in formal economic decisions for the first time. Although there is a long journey ahead for women’s digital financial inclusion in the developing world, much is being done to help close the gap.

Barriers and Challenges

Despite rapid growth, there is still a significant deficit in women’s digital financial inclusion. According to the World Bank, there is a 9 percent disparity in financial inclusion between men and women in the developing world. This number has remained the same since 2011. The disparity is in large part born out of several social, economic and cultural barriers that hinder women in the developing world from gaining access to these kinds of services. Lower rates of mobile phone ownership and low rates of digital literacy among women are arguably the two most prominent barriers for women in the developing world.

A 2018 report recorded that women in low to middle-income countries are 10 percent less likely to own a mobile phone than their male counterparts. That 10 percent translates to around 184 million women without access to a mobile device and, therefore, digital financing services. Without this crucial link to a formal economy, women are excluded from credit approval and economic and political decision-making. They have little to no control over how their personal funds are spent.

In addition, an overall lack of digital literacy causes an assortment of issues for women’s inclusion in financial matters. According to the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), 75 percent of survey respondents classified a lack of digital literacy as a major barrier in women’s digital financial inclusion. Without knowledge of these innovative services, women in rural and impoverished regions are forced to resort to less trustworthy forms of investment and informal savings. These often yield large negative returns for participants. This method of financing makes the identification of these women extremely difficult. This leads to low loan approval and higher interest rates for those women who are lucky enough to get approved.

Nonprofits Commit to Closing the Gender Gap

Despite various challenges, much is being done to assist women in developing countries on their path to financial stability and independence. In 2014, AFI signed the Denarau Action Plan, which lays out a commitment to halve the financial gender gap by 2021. AFI isn’t alone in their pursuits either. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation recently launched an institutional gender strategy that will commit $170 million to the economic empowerment of women. Consultive Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) also recently joined forces with 200 different organizations in similar pursuits.

The issue of women’s digital financial inclusion is gaining momentum globally. The world is starting to recognize just how much of a positive impact financial gender-equality will have on the global economy. AFI found that global gender-equality could unlock $12 trillion in incremental GDP by 2025 with a specific focus on digital finance services. Although progress is slow, women in developing nations are beginning to reap the benefits of financial inclusion on a more personal scale.

Digital financial services give these women the opportunity to gain financial independence, create and expand their businesses, plan for their families’ futures and make empowered decisions about how their funds will be spent. The world is recognizing women’s digital financial inclusion as a top priority and it is bursting into action to provide these women with financial independence, stability and empowerment.

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Pixabay

Digital Education in Kenya

Despite Kenya’s large economy and rapid digital and technological growth, the country still suffers a vast digital gap. This gap is especially apparent in Kenya’s primary schools. As of 2015, Kenya spent 95.7 percent of its total education expenditure on primary public institutions. But, there is still only one teacher for every 47 students, the majority of whom do not have access to the internet. Tech-start ups and pilot projects are trying to close this gap by creating innovative programs that are helping students to earn a digital education in Kenya.

Opportunity for Everyone

In 2016, Kenya’s Ministry of Information, Communications and Technology created the Digital Literacy Programme (DLP). The project promised to deliver 1.2 million digital devices to 21,718 primary public schools nationwide. The launch was successful and by 2018 the roll-out provided 19,000 schools with more than 1 million laptops, tablets and mobile devices pre-programmed with interactive, educational materials for students.

According to the ICT Authority of Kenya, 89.2 percent of public primary schools have been supplied with these devices. Since its launch, teachers involved with the DLP have also reported increased student alertness, boosted attendance and reported an overall increase in student admissions. The DLP has also created 11,000 employment opportunities in ICT support centers, local laptop assembly plants and digital education content development.

Despite the DLP’s successful roll-out of devices, experts in the field speculated that teacher-engagement combined with access to materials is the most effective way to ensure students’ success. The Inter-American Development Bank carried out a study in 2012, reporting that 860,000 computers supplied to Peruvian schools made teachers feel disengaged from students and did not improve student test scores. The DLP and projects like it looking to innovate digital education in Kenya took note of this and put more emphasis on teacher training. The DLP alone has trained 91,000 teachers to deliver digital learning content through the project since its launch.

Combating Educational Imbalance

Despite the overwhelming contributions provided by the DLP, obstacles still remain in terms of digital education in Kenya. Students in rural areas rarely have access to traditional libraries and textbooks. Then, there is also the issue of not having enough teachers to cover the multitude of students in each classroom. These same areas also suffer from regular power outages, making it difficult to keep devices charged throughout the school day. This, on top of an overall lack of internet access, creates a significant imbalance in the quality of resources provided to students and a system that can’t ensure equal opportunities for every child to be successful.

BRCK, a tech company based in Nairobi, aims to combat this imbalance with an innovative solution called the Kio Kit. The kit provides 40 tablets per school, that can be charged wirelessly, a wifi hotspot and a small server packed with educational content. The Kio Kit is connected to the cloud, making its server self-updating. The kit’s self-updating capabilities ensure that students and teachers utilizing its platform receive the most diverse and up-to-date information that BRCK’s content providers, like TED Education, Khan Academy and the like have to offer. The kit’s wide-ranging content also enables teachers to identify learning techniques that are unique to each student and apply them in the classroom.

Kenya still faces many challenges in quality education for all students. But, innovative tech projects like the DLP and the Kio Kit are working to combat these issues by ensuring both teachers and students have access to the best tech and resources available and helping to make great strides toward strong, digital education in Kenya.

Ashlyn Jensen
Photo: Flickr

 

Digital Inclusion in Malaysia

In this age of rapid digital evolution, ensuring widespread access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) has become a serious goal for countries seeking economic modernization. And Malaysia is no exception. Efforts to increase digital inclusion in Malaysia are well underway.

Malaysia’s National Information Technology Council invests in building communications infrastructure in remote rural areas, including lands inhabited by peninsular Malaysia‘s Orang Asli indigenous people. The scope and expense of this task has raised questions regarding the practicability of installing effective communications infrastructure in outlying areas, and large segments of marginalized populations remain without digital access. However, Malaysia persists in its commitment to expanding ICT access and receives assistance in this regard from multinational conglomerates such as the Samsung Group.

Malaysia’s Orang Asli

Orang Asli, meaning “original people” in Malay, is an umbrella term encompassing the indigenous people of the Malay peninsula in modern-day Malaysia. These peoples comprise 18 distinct groups, together constituting half a percent of Malaysia‘s population. Such communities are more likely to live in remote rural regions.

As an impoverished minority, nearly 30.8 percent of Orang Asli are illiterate compared with only 8 percent of the total Malaysian population. Access of Malaysia’s Orang Asli to digital technology is more limited than in neighboring populations.

Digital Inclusion in Malaysia and Cultural Integrity

A study published in 2011 revealed that within the indigenous Semai population of Kampung Bukit Terang, only 5.2 percent were computer literate. This study’s outcome can be attributed to the remoteness and low educational and socioeconomic outcomes of these groups as compared with urban and non-indigenous populations within the country. The authors of the study recommend proactive policies, such as direct provisioning of technologies to remote communities, to expedite these communities’ integration into the digital economy.

Besides economic considerations, access to digital space has positive consequences for the preservation of indigenous culture. Digital technology facilitates spreading knowledge of the existence and cultures of indigenous groups and thus provides opportunities for cultural diffusion. An online presence may galvanize outside support for the preservation and appreciation of indigenous cultures.

Yet, access to modern technology may inadvertently corrupt centuries-old traditions, flattening uniqueness and disrupting continuity with the past. This threatens to irreversibly alter the identity of indigenous peoples, even to the extent of assimilation and loss of traditions. However, these potentially negative consequences do not necessarily outweigh the potentially positive consequences.

Promoting and Preserving the Culture

Through scientific polling, the Department of Social and Development Sciences of Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Faculty of Human Ecology uncovered that only 20.7 percent of Malaysia’s Orang Asli used ICT to spread cultural awareness to others and preserve their heritage. As of November 2015, two Facebook pages operated to promote indigenous culture, according to the nonprofit organization Gerai Orang Asli.

According to Dr. Sarjit Singh, particularly the young Orang Asli, as shown by their enjoyment of cyber cafes, are enthusiastic about the prospect of increased online access. The young are quick to master new technologies, and Dr. Singh suggests that authorities prioritize the installation of relevant technologies in schools wherever possible.

Increasing Digital Access

Programs initiated by the Samsung Group in Orang Asli regions have highlighted the adeptness and eagerness of Orang Asli youth in adapting to new technologies. For instance, in 2015 Samsung Malaysia Electronics sponsored a trip for Orang Asli children to a Malaysian amusement park, designing activities that required the youths to use smartphone technology. In affirmation of the possibility of coexistence between modern technology and the preservation of traditional lifestyles, a tree-planting followed these technology-centered activities.

In a separate initiative, Perak saw the establishment of a Samsung Smart Community Center in Perak providing improved digital access, products and an air-conditioned learning space to people in deprived areas. The Chief Minister of Perak expressed his hope that these investments will bolster the Malaysian government’s economic goals and lift these communities out of poverty.

Moving Forward

The government, in conjunction with multinational corporations such as the Samsung Group, has made progress in expanding digital inclusion in Malaysia. Obstacles remain because of the remoteness and relative poverty of these populations, but such impediments are overcome rather rapidly alongside the development of these technologies.

While the impact of digital technology on indigenous traditions and identity remains a concern, there is room to use digital technology in the preservation and promotion of these unique cultures. Though statistics gathered in prior studies confirm low rates of access to Malaysia’s Orang Asli to digital technology, if efforts persist, improvements will continue. As digital access and literacy continue to rise, poverty and marginalization will be conquered gradually, meaning that there is reason for optimism regarding the future of the Orang Asli in a modern economy.

– Philip Daniel Glass
Photo: Every Stock Photo

Women in TechGlobally, information and communications technology (ICT) is rapidly becoming more and more important to the economy. However, ICT is leaving women and girls behind. In the world today, there is a gap of 250 million women compared to men using the internet. In developing countries, the gap is even bigger, with a 31 percent difference. There are 200 million fewer women than men in the world who own a mobile phone.

In the corporate world, only 3 of the Fortune 500 tech companies are run by women. These companies are IBM, Xerox and Oracle.  Barriers to the tech field for women include poverty, gender stereotypes and discrimination. It is important that these barriers be eradicated so that women can be included in the increasing digital economy. “Digital skills are indispensable for girls and young women to obtain safe employment in the formal labor market,” said the founder of Women’s Worldwide Web, a charity that provides digital literacy training for women in tech.

A Possible Solution: Tech4girls

In March 2018, GSMA, a company that represents the interests of mobile operators, started a program called Tech4Girls. Part of its programming is educational workshops for girls between the ages of 7-18. So far, it has reached more than 100 girls in North America, Latin America and the Carribean.

These workshops are designed for girls to have hands-on experience with technology, to come away with a sense of knowledge and accomplishment and to developing interpersonal skills. The goal of these workshops is to increase the confidence of girls in their technological abilities so that they may aspire to pursue technological careers.

Another objective of these workshops is to increase interest and involvement from other tech companies to involve girls in technology. They do this by building local and global awareness through “events, SDG tie-in, and external communications.” This is part of the effort to develop relationships with tech companies, groups and schools to create a sort of pipeline for girls in technology.

Implications for the Future

A 2017 study by the Brookings Institute found that since 2002, 517 of 545 occupations have increased their use of digital tools. With the future of the economy going digital, it is important that women have the opportunity to participate in order to prevent the impoverishment of women. According to U.N. Women, an estimated 90 percent of future jobs will require ICT skills. There is currently a shortage of 200 million ICT-skilled people in the job market. There is plenty of room for women in the economy; it’s just a matter of lowering their barriers to entry. An Intel study found that access to the internet for women could “contribute between $13-18 billion to annual GDP across 144 developing countries.” The implications for encouraging women to become more involved in technology go beyond helping women, but also improve the economy.

While there is a shortage of women in tech, companies like GSMA and their Tech4Girls programs are beginning to close the gap. Encouragement and resources for women and girls to gain digital literacy skills are vital in our ever-digitizing world. There is certainly more to be done, but these workshops that build confidence and improve skills are a great way to start.

– Sarah Faure
Photo: Flickr

North Koreans

The West is never lacking digital information about world news. E-books, the radio and news media keep people informed about current world events. However, the people of North Korea do not have access to such resources. In North Korea, information regarding the outside world is limited or, in some cases, non-existent. Although the citizens of North Korea are largely unaware of global current events, people around the world are working together to provide them with digital information.

Providing Digital Information to North Koreans

The state of North Korea regulates almost all content that its citizens can view, denying nearly 25 million residents access to information about the rest of the world. While millions of people worldwide can search current news via the internet, North Koreans cannot. Most of their internet content is restricted to information related to the government and their leader, Kim Jong-Un. Luckily, many organizations are uniting to provide information to those in North Korea.

Flash Drives for Freedom is an organization dedicated to uniting North Koreans and multiple organizations to grant access to digital information. The Human Rights Foundation, Forum 280 and USB Memory Direct have worked diligently to provide flash drives to those in North Korea. These devices contain media content such as Hollywood movies, books and other information denied to North Koreans. The organizations load the drives with information and smuggle them into the country. In 2018, more than 125,000 flash drives were donated and distributed.

Activists in South Korea have also taken action to help. The small group of activists has been informally smuggling food and information in bottles to people in North Korea. These bottles often contain rice, worm medication, U.S. currency and USB drives. Twice a month, with conducive tides, activists toss these bottles into the Han River, and the groups gather together in prayer. This method is a safe and ingenious way of providing digital information to North Koreans.

Hope for North Korea

Activist groups and non-profit organizations are coming together for the overall benefit of North Koreans. Their creative methods have provided key information about the outside world to civilians who have been denied internet access and important news. Techniques as simple as flash drives and plastic water bottles can mean all the difference to someone living in North Korea. By providing digital information to North Koreans, they can gain not just information but hope for a better future.

Emme Chadwick
Photo: Pixabay