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 KoreansThe 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

Digital Bangladesh on its WayBangladesh has embarked on a journey to digitize itself and transition to a middle-income country by 2021. This goal is known as Digital Bangladesh. Incorporating digital technology in almost every sector of the country is an ambitious target for Bangladesh, yet it has already made progress with more initiatives on the way.

Information and Communication Technology

By 2021, the government aims to integrate Information & Communication Technology (ICT) as a key tool in eradicating poverty and establishing good governance as well as improving the quality of education, healthcare and law enforcement. The government has already laid out some of the foundation work for realizing Digital Bangladesh, such as preparing the National ICT Policy 2009 and the Right to Information Act 2009.

Some of the strategies being used to implement Digital Bangladesh include increasing the coverage of broadband internet connection and cellphone communication throughout the country in order to exchange information and access different types of services, integrating ICT into the school curriculum and improving the capacity and management of healthcare services. Other important areas Digital Bangladesh will improve are increased efficiency in judicial processes, improved coverage of social safety-net programs, reduced environmental impact as well as increased access to banking and financial services.

The Benefits of Digitizing

With more than 120 million cellphone subscribers and 43 million internet subscribers, the population of Bangladesh has been able to enjoy the benefits of digitizing different services around the country. Some examples of these digital services include admission registration to academic institutions, the publication of exam results online, online submission of tax returns, online banking systems and bill payments and filing complaints to police stations. Even video conferencing and telemedicine services are now available in rural areas of the country.

The Access to Information (a2i) Program, supported by UNDP and USAID since 2007, has been the driving force for Digital Bangladesh with the aim of increasing transparency, improving governance and reducing inefficiency in providing public services around the country. On average, six million e-services are provided per month to rural and remote areas through the 407 City Corporation Digital Centers, 321 Municipality Digital Centers and 4,547 Union Digital Centers.

Digitizing is helping to streamline government affairs. More than 25,000 websites of different unions, sub-districts, districts, departments and ministries are connected through the National Web Portal. This portal contains information for more than 43,000 government offices. Furthermore, activities are much more environmentally friendly now that the Prime Minister’s Office as well as around 20 ministries, 4 departments, 64 Deputy Commissioner’s offices and 7 Divisional Commissioner’s offices are using e-filing system. This created an efficient paper-less environment in offices.

Digital Banking

In terms of digital payments, as of December 2015, 18 banks are now operating mobile financial services in Bangladesh. Transactions have risen significantly to 120 percent on average since 2011. This amounts to $1.3 billion on average per month. Although these transactions are a small portion of the entire economy, it is still a notable shift towards digital services, thus a step closer to Digital Bangladesh.

More than one billion transactions in 2015, worth around $20 billion, were done digitally. Furthermore, 70 percent of government payments were also digital. As of 2016, around 38 million people in Bangladesh had utilized mobile money services, reflecting the shift from a cash-dominant economy to a more digital payment economy. The availability of mobile money orders has also been a remarkable stride towards Digital Bangladesh, especially for the rural areas in the country.

Furthermore, around 300 of the Digital Centers have been involved with rural e-Commerce, allowing people to purchase items that are not easily available in remote areas. It has also allowed small-scale women entrepreneurs to participate with 5000 women entrepreneurs who are involved with the e-Commerce platform called “ejoyeeta.com,” which consists of goods produced by these women.

Improvements Still Needed

Bangladesh still has a long way to go in terms of fully digitizing itself. The National Identification System needs to be fully implemented and incorporated with important services in order to improve access to digital financial services. Since human capital is an essential element when it comes to adopting new technology, programs aimed at incorporating ICT-based education from primary to tertiary level schools should be prioritized. Finally, having political stability is a necessity in realizing Digital Bangladesh, given how political turmoil is often a setback when it comes to the development of different sectors in the country, including ICT.

The progress Bangladesh has made so far in realizing its 2021 goal cannot be overlooked despite its lacking in certain areas. However, with the increase in different digital services and activities around the country, Bangladesh is gradually lifting itself up and shifting towards a more ICT based economy, making Digital Bangladesh a potential reality. 

Farihah Tasneem

Photo: Flickr

How Technology is Reducing Poverty in Thailand
Thailand, Southeast Asian Nation, is a country that has benefited from programs that use technology to help people living in poverty. There are several examples as to how technology is reducing poverty in Thailand, and some of them are going to be presented in this article.

Internet Centres

International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) of Thailand have established more than 20 rural internet centers nationwide. NBTC-ITU Volunteers programme built this network, and each of the over 20 centers is equipped with at least 10 computers connected to the internet. The centers, located in 16 provinces across the country, strengthen information and communication technology (ICT) skills among students and are helping to promote social and economic development in some of the most remote areas of the country.

At the centers, students, youth and members of the local community are trained in how to use computers and are given courses for basic digital literacy needed to access information online. The center is useful because it gives students the ability to do online research in order to widen their knowledge of various subjects taught in school. They have also been able to transfer the computer and internet knowledge they have gained back to their families and communities, allowing them to use e-commerce platforms to do business and thus expand their family incomes.

Internet Advantages

While global connectivity is rapidly expanding and empowering billions of individuals around the world, ITU data shows that more than half of the global population remain cut off from the vast resources available on the internet. Access to information and communication technologies can help facilitate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially in rural areas. Access to the internet allows citizens to access basic services such as education and health care and is helping to lift people out of poverty through e-commerce and job growth. Nowhere else is this more pertinent than in rural and remote areas. In 2016, Thailand had more than 29 million internet users or 42.7 percent of the total population, which puts the country in the 24th place in the worldwide ranking of internet users.

Thai People Map and Analytics Platform

In 2018, the Office of National Economic and Social Development Board (NESSB), the National Electronics and Computer Technology Centre (NECTEC), the National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA) and the Ministry of Science and Technologies joined up to help alleviate poverty in Thailand. The NECTEC center developed the Thai People Map and Analytics Platform (TPMAP) to pinpoint the problems people are facing in Thailand in different areas. Policymakers can use TPMAP to decide on which poverty programmes are suitable for each poverty-stricken area specifically. The data system TPMAP collects can help improve the quality of people’s life by increasing income, boosting employment opportunities and reducing living costs.

Suttipong Thajchayapong, a senior researcher at NECTEC, said that to understand poverty in Thailand, the three questions of who are the poor, what are their basic needs and how can their poverty be alleviated need to be answered. TPMAP can precisely answer these questions by integrating data from different government agencies. It can also compare individual indicators year to year to see if poverty is reducing. TPMAP uses five poverty benchmarks to determine levels of poverty. These benchmarks include education, healthcare, income, living standards and access to public services. The total number of people surveyed this year was 36,647,817 people and out of this number, 1,032,987 were targeted as poor people, according to TPMAP.

Establishing internet connections as well as various platforms such as TMPAP are examples of how technology is reducing poverty in Thailand. If Thailand continues to implement programs utilizing technology, people living in poverty will have more access to basic services. The country has implemented multiple programs that have addressed the issue of reducing poverty in Thailand. Utilizing technology is crucial for helping people living in poverty to access basic services.

Casey Geier
Photo: Flickr

Digital GAP Act
While the developed world sends emails to colleagues, updates friends on Facebook and conducts research using online databases, the 4.2 billion who lack access to the internet linger behind on economic, health and education development.

The 60 percent of the population currently offline is predominantly low-income, rural, female, elderly and illiterate, according to the House Foreign Affairs committee. Seventy-five percent of the 4.2 billion are condensed into only 20 countries.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, authored the Digital Global Access Policy Act, better known as the Digital GAP Act, to increase internet access in developing countries using a “build-once” policy. The Digital GAP Act would also require more transparency in the U.S. accomplished through projects to open more possibilities for private firms to invest in internet infrastructure to aid developing economies.

During a $100 million road construction project years ago, Liberian officials decided not to lay cables that would have added $1 million to the project’s cost. The lack of connectivity in Liberia and other developing countries has cost lives and economic growth. The build-once policy would help avoid the need to later add cables for internet connectivity for tens of millions of dollars.

However, history has shown lack of internet connectivity has repercussions reaching far beyond development as the world suffers the impacts of crises longer and more deeply. In 2014, the outbreak of the Ebola virus infected over 28,000 people in West Africa, killing over 8,000. This was due in large part to the lack of reliable internet access that hindered coordination between community health centers.

Those treating Ebola patients did not send patient information to other health facilities at the click of a button, but instead physically transported the information. This was not only less efficient but also exposed those outside of the quarantined red zones to the virus. Increased internet connectivity during the Ebola outbreak could have cut exposures, improved the tracking of the viruses’ spread and opened the possibility of international analysis anywhere with scanned and uploaded patient documents.

The world faces a similar struggle in containing the Zika virus. The current strategy involves notifying travelers where the virus is, but officials in many developing countries have no way of tracking the effect of the virus in their own communities. Containing the virus and notifying vulnerable populations could be as Recode writes, “as easy as the click of a mouse or a swipe of a mobile application.”

In addition to improving crises response, the Digital GAP Act’s purpose is to aid developing countries in expanding economies, creating jobs, improving health and education, reducing poverty and gender inequality and promote good governance of a populace. The U.S. is to “promote first-time internet access to mobile or broadband internet for at least 1.5 billion people in developing countries by 2020 in both urban and rural areas,” the House Foreign Affairs committee wrote in an official press release.

The Digital GAP Act also stresses the importance of U.S. cybersecurity for the U.S. in its provisions. If passed, the Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment’s title would change to include “Cyberspace.” The Department of State would be required to designate an Assistant Secretary for Technology, International Communications and Cyberspace to lead diplomatic cyberspace efforts, and the president would include information on internet access, cyber security policy and internet freedom in the next White House Cyberspace Strategy session.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) would integrate efforts under the Digital GAP Act to increase internet access and the protection of private information. The Peace Corps Act would include an amendment that would allow Peace Corps to develop volunteer positions for the purpose of increased internet connectivity. The president would share with Congress plans to promote U.S. partnerships to provide internet infrastructure for increased access in developing countries and direct the House in advocating for these efforts abroad.

The House of Representatives passed the Digital GAP Act and the Senate is expected to vote soon.

Ashley Leon

Photo: Flickr

internet_access_in_africa
The Wi-Fi networks we use at home, or in a café, has a limited signal reach of about 100 square feet.

To manage the problem of Internet connection, IT companies and Microsoft Corp. are utilizing TV white space. The technology is a spectrum of broadcast frequencies, typically used to transmit TV channels from one location to another, harnessed for wireless networks.

Through the 4Afrika initiative, Microsoft collaborates with local universities and IT companies including those in Namibia, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa and Tanzania, to bring the internet to unconnected parts of Africa. Microsoft launched the initiative in February 2013, with the latest project this year in Botswana.

TV white space makes broadband internet access in Africa affordable for most users in isolated parts of Namibia that could not otherwise access using typical café Wi-Fi. The distance of the frequency waves from the TV towers is much farther than a basic modem signal radius.

Namibia is an example of a large-scale white space project that covers a 38.5 by 94-mile area. The regions of Oshana, Ohangwena, Omusati and 28 schools in Northern Namibia are now connected to a broadband network.

One of the purposes of connecting secluded areas is to ensure that schools can communicate with other schools, businesses and nations.

Namibia is not an exceptional country grappling with access to the internet. Many African schools and hospitals outside of urban areas require the internet to provide learners and patients with the best education and health care.

In Ghana, tablets and other electronics are used to connect students to a broader academic and business community. Orlando Ayala is chairman of emerging markets at Microsoft.

He says that “We have to be an active participant in ensuring that by empowering this young human resource, that translates into innovation and creation of jobs. Hopefully, Tech Start-ups come from not only Africa but beyond Africa.”

Broadband Internet connection in Limpopo, South Africa also links secondary schools to a larger education community. Mountain View secondary school teacher Simon Matlebjame says that “We will be able to interact with other countries. Learners will be marketable and employable.”

The Internet gap between some parts of Africa and other communities is often referred to as the “digital divide,” or Africa’s economic and technological relationship to the rest of the world.

Another one of 4Afrika initiative incentives is to enhance Africa’s global economic value.

Microsoft looks at Africa as an investment in the future of technology. The company’s message is that the “Microsoft 4Afrika Initiative is built on the dual beliefs that technology can accelerate growth for Africa, and Africa can also accelerate technology for the world.”

By focusing on world-class skills, innovation and access, the company aims to provide the tools for success in the global market. Beyond economic opportunity, the initiative brings quality heath care to African countries.

Project Kgolagano connects hospitals and clinics to allow easy transmission of medical records, and patient access to specialized medicine through telemedicine. In partnership with University of Pennsylvania, Botswana government and other IT companies, Microsoft helps join specialized health care and hospitals.

Director of the Botswana Innovation Hub Marketing, ICT and Registration, Dr. Geoffrey Seleka says that “there is currently a lack of specialized care in remote hospitals and clinics in Botswana.” The specialized care using photo and video transmissions between hospitals will make quality health care realistic.

A 2012 U.N. Human Rights Council resolution declared that Internet access is a basic human right.

Hospitals all over Botswana and Africa are, or are in the process of being, connected. By the efforts of local educators, IT companies and the 4Afrika Initiative, hospitals will have easier access to crucial medical records and students will have easier time learning.

The overarching goal is that people in Africa will share medical, educational and technological innovation with the rest of the world.

Michael Hopek

Sources: Penn Medicine, Microsoft, UW Electrical Engineering, 4Afrika Microsoft 1, 4Afrika Microsoft 2, 4Afrika Microsoft 3, 4Afrika Microsoft 4
Photo: The Guardian

Digital_Revolution
Revolution. The word carries a tremendous amount of weight. From the Arab Spring to the American Revolution, from wars to ideas, countries rise and fall on the waves of revolutions. A new revolution is sweeping through Latin America: a digital revolution.

Latin America currently has about 232 million Internet users. This number is a sharp increase from the number of Internet users in 2005: 78.5 million. By 2017, Internet users could rise by 63 percent to 294 million.

In Mexico, Colima’s 600,000 residents have complete Internet access to all kinds of different state services and documents. The state has made health records electronic and crime reports can be filled out online, as well as filing documents for permits. To go along with this, Colima has hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots for those that do not have Internet at home.

Further to the south, Columbia and Peru are spreading broadband Internet to remote corners of the two countries. The Peruvian government is working to spread Wi-Fi to public buildings, including hospitals and schools in all of its 25 regions.

The Columbian government in Bogotá has subsidized the spread of fibre optic networks around the country to the point where nearly every town in the nation is connected. The government has also gotten rid of taxes on Smartphones, tablets and computers. Under-resourced families have been given vouchers for broadband access. In the last five years, Internet usage has increased from 16 percent to 50 percent.

The digital revolution is helping to improve education equality in Brazil. The state of Mato Grosso do Sul began a new free online program for high school students to help prepare them for a difficult national exam. Grades from the national exam dictate whether students can attend the federal universities. Students who used the service were 31 percent more likely to achieve grades high enough to enroll in the universities, and the system was so successful that 10 other states have implemented it.

Latin America is often cited as a relatively violent area of the world. Never fear, the digital revolution is helping to fix this too. Ecuador released a real-time data supplier for crime hotspots four years ago. Fast-forward to today and the homicide rate has been reduced by 48 percent, thanks to the system.

Tech start-ups have followed the digital revolution. Coupled with inspiration from Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, new “technolatinas” are using the Internet in Latin America to create start-ups of their own. Some companies have used close ties with Silicon valley to register their companies in the U.S. Successful companies have the potential to bring outside investments, creating the potential for economic growth.

The spread of broadband Internet opens up “new frontiers for regional development. It can serve as a tool for reducing social and economic inequities.” However, it can also lead to more inequality. It can enable a select few to “hyper-develop,” leaving the rest in the dust. However, the risks outweigh the gains. With the potential for reduced crime, increased economic growth and a more equal education system it is little wonder the digital revolution is booming in Latin America.

Greg Baker

Sources: FT, Latin Post, ABCNews
Photo: Unitee