Economic Improvement in Asia
Technological expansion facilitated a globalized community that improved industry and revolutionized society. There are, however, inconsistencies with the level of technological innovation that each country receives. Further inequalities in the field of technology exacerbate issues such as poverty and advancements in education and medicine. Many organizations make goals to advance the utilization of technology and work on economic improvement in Asia.

The Asia Foundation

One prominent organization that provides an inclusive environment for addressing issues related to gender equality, the environment and economic improvement in Asia is the Asia Foundation. The Asia Foundation began making an impact in the world in 1954 when several members from different sectors of society including leaders of corporations, university presidents and writers united to develop the unique organization.

The international nonprofit works primarily in the Asia-Pacific region through its 18 offices as well as its Washington, D.C. office and its headquarters in San Francisco, California. In 2021, the programs of the Asia Foundation provided direct support valued at $82.7 million.

The Upskilling Initiative

On September 9, 2022, the Asia Foundation announced its partnership with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Office of the Trade Representative to begin the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) Upskilling Initiative. Participants include Brunei, India, Indonesia and the Philippines among others. The IPEF is a program that began in May 2022. The program hopes to facilitate economic improvement in Asia to become more connected, resilient, environmentally friendly and fair. The Upskilling Initiative is one way in which the program begins economic improvement in Asia through the implementation of digital skills training for women and girls.

The intention of the project is to expand the middle class by allowing women and girls the opportunities that promote this goal. The initiative is beneficial primarily because it includes partnerships between nonprofit organizations such as the Asia Foundation, governments such as the United States of America and U.S.-based companies such as Amazon, Apple and Microsoft. These private businesses will arrange digital skills improvement opportunities in IPEF countries through 2032. Concrete skills include training in innovative areas like artificial intelligence, cyber-security, business development and digital literacy and content creation.

Digital Literacy and the Economy

Increasingly, the ability to utilize technological resources relates to the improvement of the economy, which is why many organizations throughout Asia emphasize digital skills improvement as one step in economic improvement in Asia. According to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF), digital literacy falls for those populations that are rural or those in the population minority, and digital literacy is lower for least developed countries in Asia.

Many young people in Asian countries state that digital literacy assists in skills development and education. Examples of the shortcomings of the lack of digitalization include the fact that 61% of South Asians do not use the internet despite installed infrastructure. Likewise, inequalities exist. For example, while Singapore experiences a high level of digital inclusiveness, more than 150 million people throughout South-East Asia are not able to use certain types of technologies. South-East Asia receives a ranking of fifth out of seven regions around the world for digital inclusiveness due to low scores on affordability and digital literacy.

The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the rate at which the world uses technology to facilitate interactions among various communities. Economic growth in Asia and Southeast Asia is improving significantly with digitization with countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia leading the increase in e-commerce retail. The process reveals new opportunities, especially for the younger generation.

With continued input from partnerships such as the Asia Foundation and the U.S. Department of Commerce, countries in Asia will continue on the journey to improve the lives of the Asian population, especially women and young girls, to become a key player in the world economy.

– Kaylee Messick
Photo: Pexels

Data Literacy
Since 2015, Nepal has been on the rise from a period of political turmoil. The country faced social unrest, economic instability and a shift to a three-tiered government. After a difficult transition, Nepal adopted a new constitution in 2015 and held elections for government members. These democratic changes brought Nepal some peace as well as hope for a better and more consistent future. One key element of a Nepali future hinges on data literacy.

Nepal’s new government aims to achieve the status of a middle-income country by 2030. To achieve this goal, it is imperative that all members of society are able to access and properly use data. Citizens need to have data literacy to inform decision-making, create developmental opportunities and much more.

What is the Power of Open Data?

Prioritizing the collection and making official statistics accessible to the population is essential in boosting policymaking and delivering public services. Professionals possessing data literacy can use data to change these systems in evidence-based ways that better serve the population. For example, education or sanitation fields can improve with a greater understanding of how they currently function within the country. If Nepal wants to transition to a middle-income country by 2030, data collection and analytics will be essential to making evidence-based fiscal decisions.

The public in Nepal has had access to government data since 2007. However, reports state a limited public understanding of how to request such information. There is also a widespread “culture of secrecy” in regard to public data. Another barrier to accessing open data is internet speed and access to an internet connection in private households.

What is Nepal Doing to Encourage Data Literacy?

Nepal launched the Open Data Awareness Program in 2017. It aims to bring awareness to Nepali youth about data literacy, as these youth are the future generation of leaders and policymakers for the country. The program strived to raise awareness through training sessions at colleges and youth organizations. The program then culminated in a hackathon event where youth from all over Nepal collaborated in data-oriented problem-solving.

In 2019, the World Bank worked with Nepal to create a 100-hour Data Literacy Program. The first phase of the program involved 40-hour in-person training on data literacy. During the second phase, program participants trained people in their community using the information learned in the first phase. The third phase was another in-person training, this time 60 hours, involving participants from various diverse Nepali organizations. This training also covered data literacy topics such as python, machine learning and artificial intelligence.

Later that year, the World Bank, Asia Foundation and UKAID collaborated to organize a two-day Solve-a-thon at the Kathmandu University School of Management. This event provided a platform for professionals with backgrounds in programming, research, development and data science to collaborate on data projects to further development in Nepal. These participants worked in teams on different projects that tackled issues such as air pollution, gender equality and tourism. The program held open debates on complex issues and how to use data to find efficient and effective solutions. Youth and professionals were able to come up with interesting prototypes from the Solve-a-thon. Two creations were a chatbot that tracks Nepal’s air quality and a dashboard that monitors tourist flow.

Data Literacy During the Pandemic and Beyond

In most recent news, the Nepal Data Literacy Community on Facebook that emerged from the Data Literacy Programs in 2019, decided to tackle COVID-19, by providing the correct information using open data as its resource. The community came up with initiatives to inform the population as well as collect and spread COVID-19 crisis management information. Its initiatives aim to remove language barriers on information, investigate the relationship between air pollution and COVID-19 mortality, make data on COVID-19 publicly available and analyze global media trends around divisive pandemic narratives.

Other initiatives have also come together to launch Open Nepal, a community knowledge hub. The group produces, shares and uses data to further development in Nepal. The site is a diverse platform for organizations and individuals to share their experiences and bridge the gap in data literacy. Open Nepal involves the public and private sectors to make sure no one is left behind in the fight for Nepali development.

Giulia Silver
Photo: Flickr

Afghan Women
Afghanistan’s turbulent recent history has redefined the nation’s economic needs and cultural perspectives. Years of broadcasts of the increasingly complicated situation read markedly incompatible with one deliciously simple solution: enable Afghan women to farm honey.

In last year’s ‘Survey of the Afghan People’ by the Asia Foundation, 23 percent of the nearly 13,000 surveyed cited unemployment as the greatest challenge facing Afghan women today. Coming from a culture that has historically frowned upon women working outside the home, this is a significant change of tune.

In fact, 65.5% of men surveyed last year agreed that women can and should contribute to the household income. These opinions accompany a significant rise in the number of women voters, teachers, and low-level government employees, and even a few female elected officials. The evolving role of women in Afghanistan’s political and economic spheres, while apparent in urban areas, has been rather subtle in rural regions. However, rural Afghan women have managed to claim a new sense of economic agency through beekeeping.

Honey production has become a lucrative enterprise for rural Afghans, consistently in high demand in domestic and export markets. Afghan beekeepers have particularly prospered in recent years thanks to an alliance between the Afghanistan Rural Enterprise Development Program (AREDP), the Ministry of Rural Rehabilitation and Development and World Bank which has increased technical support and financial discipline training to rural beekeepers. One resident of Herat City spoke proudly of Afghanistan’s local produce, saying, “The quality of our domestic honey is undisputed. It makes you physically fit and is a cure for many illnesses.” For many Afghan women, it has also proved curative for economic dependence.

The tradition of beekeeping in Afghanistan began in the 1960s, and due to the efforts of multiple NGOs and foreign aid agencies, it has become foundational to Afghanistan’s rural economy over the last several years. In the Bamiyan Province, for instance, four beekeeping cooperatives employ more than 400 people, half of whom are women, to produce 14 tons of honey annually.

These rural women, each maintaining an average of four hives, have the chance to become entrepreneurs for the first time in their lives. Because women and girls can be culturally viewed as burdens to their families, this opportunity to bring in revenue has elevated their status within the household and the culture at large. One Afghan beekeeper named Jamila demonstrated this profound new sense of purpose, pounding her chest and saying, “I make my money for me.”

The newfound agency accompanies, and directly correlates with, a remarkable economic rebound. While denying half of the population opportunity access can only stagnate growth, providing local women with something as simple as a few beehives can revitalize an entire community and redefine community roles. Shifting cultural attitudes and lifting social restrictions has, at once, enhanced the quality of individual livelihoods and sweetened the overall economic state of Afghanistan.

Robin Lee

Photo: Flickr