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Using the Internet for DevelopmentIf you are reading this, you are lucky enough to have something that 4.1 billion people go without every day- internet access. And while the internet may be used for a variety of frivolous and silly things like cat videos, memes and gifs, it has also become an indispensable part of daily life in the developed world. The internet also has the potential to drastically improve life for the world’s extreme poor. One study estimated that guaranteeing internet access for everyone would lift 500 million people out of poverty and add over $6 trillion to the global economy. Some people are already taking action. Here are six countries that are using the internet as the most important mean for development.

  1. Colombia.  Thirty-nine percent of Colombia’s citizens live under the poverty line, with the poorest living on under $2 a day. In response, the government has taken steps in using the internet for development by ensuring internet access for 96 percent of this tropical nation’s population. In three years, this infrastructure development raised at least 2.5 million people out of poverty. As the Minister for Technology, Diego Molano, said in an interview with The Guardian: “When we connect, for example, a rural school to Internet, when we connect a small school in the middle of the jungle to Internet, those kids in the middle of nowhere have effectively the same opportunity to access the whole of information society — just like any kid in New York, London or Paris.”
  2. China. While crowdfunding is common in the United States, it is usually not used on a such a wide scale as in China. The Chinese government has recently released an online program called Social Participation in Poverty Alleviation and Development, designed to lift at least 47 million people out of extreme poverty. Essentially, it uses social media platforms such as WeChat to allow normal citizens to help struggling families. At least $3.45 million has been raised for various projects that cover education, agriculture and more important social and economic issues, using the internet as the basis for development.
  3. Kenya. Private industry can make a difference as well. In Kenya, online banking systems such as M-PESA have helped to lift citizens out of poverty. Tavneet Suri, an economist at MIT decided to study the impacts of this phenomenon. She found that for 10 percent of families living on less than $1.25 a day using a mobile banking system was enough to lift them out of extreme poverty. The effect was even more marked amongst women. The mobile system allowed female-led families to save 22 percent more money than before.
  4. Bhutan. The small country of Bhutan located high in the Himalayan mountains has been isolated from the outside world for most of its history. The onset of the digital age changed that. The government has actively encouraged its citizens’ adoption of the internet by moving bureaucratic processes. With the support of the World Bank, information communications technology will continue to expand. In 15 years alone, the number of internet users in Bhutan grew by over 300 thousand.
  5. Rwanda. Though Rwanda may still be known in the international community for its horrific ethnic genocide, in recent years, the country has taken multiple steps towards development. The government has launched an effort called Vision2020 to cultivate an entrepreneurial, tech-savvy middle class. Internet connections are widespread throughout the country and are used for innovative purposes. One philanthropist started the Incike Initiative, an annual crowdfund that provides health care for the survivors of the genocide. Another entrepreneur started a platform called Girl Hub that allows women to give their opinions to local news sources. Rwanda fully utilizes the internet for development.
  6. Peru. With support from the international community, the Peruvian government is making efforts to connect more than 300 thousand people in rural areas to the national electric grid and, through this, to the internet as well. This connection has wider implications, especially for education. Students in these isolated areas can now be exposed to ideas in the wider world. This encourages engagement. A teacher in one of these villages, Teresa Uribe says that the kids now want to learn more, thanks to the technology.

These stories show the power of the internet to enact positive change in the developing world. If you too are interested in using the internet for development, take this opportunity to email your representatives about anti-poverty legislation. The internet’s potential should not go wasted.

– Lydia Cardwell
Photo: Flickr

Sanitation Goals in Rural CommunitiesAbout 2.3 billion people lack access to a clean and safe toilet. Exactly 892 million people have no option but to defecate in the open. The technology to increase access to a clean toilet is available, however, the collaboration between partners and the solutions is missing. That’s why UNICEF and LIXIL are now converging their complementary skills to give 250 million people access to clean water and sanitation by 2021.

The Current Sanitation Situation

Areas lacking access to clean, effective toilets lead to open defecation. Waterways become polluted, thereby perpetuating diarrheal diseases. Around 288,000 children lose their lives annually to these preventable conditions. At that rate, about 41 deaths can be prevented every hour.

A few countries pay as much as 5 percent of their GDP for various issues arising due to poor sanitation. In addition, the global economy lost approximately $223 billion due to poor sanitation issues in 2015. Therefore, it is in the world’s interest to boost efforts in reaching sanitation goals in rural communities.

UNICEF and LIXIL Partnership  

UNICEF and LIXIL will begin their work in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania. Supplementing LIXIL’s initiative of building more toilets, UNICEF will take advantage of its presence in these countries to run educational campaigns as well as collaborate with communities that lack access to proper toilets. They will reach out to other countries in need when more fundraising campaigns provide them with the means to do so.

“Outreach will focus mainly on rural parts of the country,” Andrés Franco, UNICEF’s deputy director of Private Sector Engagement according to a Fast Company article.

The deliberate focus of achieving sanitation goals in rural communities is necessary for eradicating outdated ideas of sanitation, as “cultural circumstances and barriers to behavior change in a community” according to Franco, are difficult to overcome. In fact, once communities understand prioritizing sanitation infrastructure for the health of the community, it is not guaranteed that they will even possess the necessary resources to implement the change.

UNICEF’s partnership with LIXIL is key to delivering these rural communities with the needed materials. LIXIL typically produces high-end toilets, but it has also developed a more affordable line of toilets called SaTo, short for “safe toilets”. These toilets function independently of a sanitation infrastructure so that they do not require extensive construction in the community before usage. What they do require is only half a cup of water to rinse after each use. They also feature a self-sealing trap door that removes odor and flies. The simple and affordable design accommodates easy installation.

With funding from the Gates Foundation, SaTo has also been able to release toilets into circulation across Asia and Africa thereby helping 6 million people. It has sold around 1.8 million toilets in 15 countries since its product’s release in 2013. Specifically for the targeted countries of Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania, LIXIL is deliberating with the communities the appropriate models for them. For these three countries, LIXIL will provide the funds for hundreds of thousands of SaTo units.

“By working together and going community by community, we’re going to be able to address the issue much better than we were able to before, by working independently off individual company targets and just hoping for the best, that our product was reaching people in need,” says Jim Montesano, chief public affairs officer at LIXIL, acknowledging the benefits of working with UNICEF’s network and global credibility.  

Sanitation Goals in Rural Communities

Although UNICEF and LIXIL’s collaboration is attempting to achieve specifically SDG 6 regarding sanitation goals in rural communities, its success will translate to the success of other Sustainable Development Goals too.

Beyond the sector of health, lack of sanitation often interferes with girls’ regular education when matters such as periods cannot be properly attended to during school. By addressing the sanitation issue for 250 million people, UNICEF and LIXIL will make a dent beyond just the number.

By accelerating these sanitation goals, the partnership will facilitate the achievement of many other goals by 2030. It will be able to impart reasonable and sustainable solutions to organizations for problems such as this global sanitation crisis.

– Alice Lieu
Photo: Flickr

sustainable agriculture in KenyaThe first thing that may pop into people’s minds when they here “sustainable agriculture in Kenya” is coffee. This coffee may appear on the menu of a coffee shop or just sitting in a thermos in the back of the local gas station, labeled fair trade. Either way, it is probably the most the average person knows about sustainable agriculture in Kenya. Coffee is one of Kenya’s most important agricultural exports. Kenya boasts an average economic growth rate of around five percent a year over the last decade, and agriculture makes up 35 percent of the economy and employs up to 75 percent of the population with full-time and part-time jobs.

Development of farming techniques

Sustainable agriculture in Kenya is becoming more important as the world’s climate changes and the Kenyan government relies on a bountiful harvest for export. For the men and women working on the soil in Kenya, it is more than just an economic statistic. For them, it is a way to feed their families and themselves. As climate change wreaks havoc in eastern and southern Africa and what used to be modern farming techniques become outdated, the people have learned to adapt.

In order to combat changing rain patterns and decrease in rainfall, farmers in Kenya are learning how to adopt new farming techniques. Where once farmers mono-cropped (planted only one seed type or plant such as a cereal grain) now there is intercropping (the planting of multiple seeds and plant types such as cereal grain planted with legumes). This helps the farmers by increasing their crop output and provides insurance against the failure of one of the crops. In multiple small studies done by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, the multi-cropping system introduced improved agricultural output and reduced the reliance on herbicides and fertilizers.

Threat to agriculture

A major threat to sustainable agriculture in Kenya is the overuse of industrial fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides. Heavy use of these chemicals may increase crop yields in the short term but will decrease the soil quality over time. The low crop yields over time will not only hurt the Kenyan economy but also the people. Consequences of low crop yields are a lack of money to buy food or just the lack of food availability.

An NGO called ACE Africa is working on community livelihood programs to educate farmers and their families on the proper use of these chemicals. They are also teaching farmers the importance of crop rotation and mulching. Different types of crops use different nutrients from the soil. By planting one type in one field this year and a different one in the same field next year, nutrients will have time to naturally replenish. By mulching or placing plant matter over top of a field that was just planted, moisture is retained, so a farmer has to use less water. Also, nutrients from the dying plants seep into the soil, decreasing the need for fertilizers.

Tea production in Kenya

Coffee is not the only popular and important hot beverage export of Kenya. Tea is also a major agricultural product. Farming tea is labor intensive because it must mostly be done by hand. Damaging the tea leaves before they enter the factories can result in a lesser product. As tea farming and production is already labor intensive, the Rainforest Alliance has taken on the mission of teaching tea farmers sustainable techniques to help them increase their yields and lower their overhead cost, to give them alternative to artificial chemicals. This is a large mission since there are thousands of small tea farms in Kenya and an estimated 500,000 tea farmers and workers. It is not possible to teach every farmer directly. They have decided to take a different approach and let their actions and results speak for them. By showing the neighboring farms the good results of their sustainable farming techniques, hopefully, others will begin to transition as well and learn from their neighbors.

Next time the menu offers Kenyan coffee or maybe tea, try it. Know that the farmers on the other end of the trade route worked hard to get that product in your table. Also know that they are trying their best to be citizens of a better world for themselves, their country, and in the end for all of us.

– Nicholas Anthony DeMarco
Photo: Flickr

Women's Empowerment in KenyaKenya is an East African country situated between two war-torn countries, Somalia and Uganda. The country is a low income, food-deficient country where 52 percent of people live below the poverty line, 40 percent are unemployed and 1.3 million live with HIV/AIDS. Despite the threat of natural disasters and violence, women’s empowerment in Kenya is also a major issue.

Kenya has many patriarchal systems in place, including one known as “beading”. Beading is a practice where girls as young as age six are engaged to a male relative and are allowed to have sexual relations. They do not allow pregnancy because they believe having a baby will lower the girl’s chances of getting married. The only concern is for the girl’s future marriageability, not the fact that the girl has most likely has suffered physical harm and mental trauma. The Children Act (2006) and the Sexual Offenses Bill (2001) were put in place to protect women from rape and incest, but beading is socially accepted within certain tribes, who believe it to be a part of their culture.

In addition to the practice of beading, there are ceremonies for female genital mutilation (FGM). Nearly 140 million girls around the world are living with the consequences of FGM. While Kenya has banned the practice, there are still some communities that participate in the ceremony. Kenya has created a prosecution unit to stop the mutilation from happening, but some parents take their daughters to more remote regions to have them undergo FGM. It is so integral to some communities that if a young girl does not undergo the practice, she will face stigma and alienation.

There are certain social, political and economic contexts that show the different layers of beliefs in Kenya that contribute to practices like beading and FGM. Kenya fits the description of a patriarchal society, where women are marginalized and dominated by men. The profound gender disparities caused by the patriarchal norms and laws have brought about steady attacks on women’s rights to land and property. Women make up about 80 percent of the workforce, but Kenyan women only hold about 1 percent of land titles in their name. Addressing women’s rights requires strategic interventions at all levels of programming and policymaking. The United Nations Population Fund suggests that the focus be on certain areas that are critical and compromised, like giving women control over their lives and bodies, as well as economic, educational and political empowerment, to encourage women’s empowerment in Kenya.

With these traditional ideas of what a woman’s role should be in Kenya, women are held back from contributing to important development goals. However, the new constitution, passed in 2010, provides methods to address gender equality. Marking a new beginning for women’s empowerment in Kenya, there is a movement to stop excluding women and promote their involvement in every aspect of growth and development in the country.

With the help of USAID, there are plans to create safe societies where women and girls can live free from violence, provide care and treatment services for victims, strengthen women’s access to resources and opportunities to expand economic growth, increase the participation of women in policies at all levels, ensure women have a role in peacebuilding and conflict prevention and narrow the gender gaps in education and learning. Women’s empowerment in Kenya has come a long way and is making progress.

Chavez Spicer

Photo: Flickr

Shell and GravityLight Illuminate Off-Grid Regions in KenyaWhile access to electricity does not yet span the globe, the force of gravity is universal. The GravityLight Foundation has taken advantage of Newtonian physics to create a cost-effective light source that runs on gravity. Simply by lifting a weight and letting it descend, GravityLight can provide light and transform impoverished homes.

In 2015, GravityLight’s inventive engineering earned it the Shell Springboard Award, a grant of nearly $200,000 used to fund innovative businesses with low carbon footprints. Together, Shell and the GravityLight Foundation have successfully put GravityLights into production and introduced them to 50 communities in Kenya.

Kenya, which has one of the largest economies in Sub-Saharan Africa, has expended considerable effort to create an impressive power sector. In just four years, Kenya has increased the amount of households with access to electricity from 25 percent to 46 percent. Kenyan companies such as KenGen are working to utilize renewable energy sources, and geothermal energy looks promising.

A capacity of approximately 2,295 MW is available on Kenya’s power grid. However, off the grid, in remote areas of the country, only 11.5 MW are currently available. The Shell and GravityLight partnership intends to provide electric light to those off-grid regions in Kenya.

Electricity is crucial to improving the lives of the world’s poor. Access to light alone improves education and the economy by allowing people to study and work after daylight hours. However, the resources required to produce light can be extremely expensive, especially for those living in poverty. The world’s poor spend an estimated 30 percent of their income on kerosene needed to burn in lamps. GravityLight eliminates the need for kerosene to produce light, which is not only cheaper but also safer. Kerosene fumes are known carcinogens that are toxic for both humans and the environment.

Because the GravityLight Foundation uses local people and businesses to organize the sale of its product, marketing for GravityLight supplies Kenyans with jobs. By providing employment, GravityLight is bringing bright futures as well as bright homes to off-grid regions in Kenya.

Shell and GravityLight are not the only groups seeking to improve energy accessibility in order to aid impoverished populations in Africa. In 2015, the same year GravityLight won the Springboard grant, the U.S. government passed the Electrify Africa Act. The act aims to provide 60 million households and businesses throughout Africa with electricity.

Around the globe, 1.2 billion people lack access to electricity. If GravityLight’s debut in Kenya is successful, the foundation plans to continue spreading light throughout the world.

Mary Efird

Photo: Flickr

Water Quality in KenyaWater is one of the most precious necessities that everyone needs. It is essential to sustaining life. Water quality in Kenya is in a poor state and must be improved in order to help its people.

As is known to many already, Kenya has one of the most struggling populations in the world. With a population of 36.6 million and still rising, the country needs water. The lack of quality water in Kenya has been an issue for decades. As a result, agriculture is mostly barren. There is only a small area that is actually sustainable for planting. One of the recent natural disasters that hit the country caused major deterioration in the soil, which caused refugee displacement throughout the country.

Kenya does have natural water resources to provide water; however, it does not provide enough water to various areas of the country. There are also many water basins that do not reach a large enough area. Thus, most of the population the country is left without water. With the increase in urbanization in Kenya, those who are poor are pushed into slums, where they are overcrowded, there is no clean water and the sanitation is at hazardous levels, resulting in horrific health conditions for the people.

With dirty water comes diseases. Water pathogens are a major issue in Kenya. The people are at risk of sporadic epidemics such as cholera and parasitic worms because their basins and pumps are contaminated. Not only are the sources unsatisfactory, the containers in which they carry their were often previously used for oil, fertilizer or waste.

To retrieve water, women and children often have to spend a majority of their day in the hot sun trying to find fresh water. During these journeys, women and children are susceptible to dangers like attacks from predators and exposure to the elements in addition to the diseases from the water.

It seems as though the government would be involved in such a situation; however, there have been problems there as well. There are some areas in Kenya that have been privatized, but other sectors have had investors discouraged from developing the areas. Water privatization is seen as a negative, but without it, many areas do not have piping, sanitation and tanker services. Kenya’s government is nearly bankrupt and lacks the funds to be able to run pumping stations or piping systems. The ones that are built are often pirated and are unable to be repaired.

However, there are groups working to improve water quality in Kenya. Organizations like Water.org are providing safe water and sanitation. They are developing new ways to reach out to banks, digital financial service providers and water service providers to find partners to provide financing. In addition to helping financially, there are organizations on the ground making changes. Charitywater.org has looked into the solutions of hand-dug wells, drilled wells, spring protections and rainwater catchments. These two groups are taking important steps to help improve the situation for Kenya’s people.

Chavez Spicer

Photo: Flickr

Toilets for Kenya2.5 billion people lack access to a hygienic toilet. The toilets that they do have often dump human waste into water sources or leave it exposed to the air. Leaving human waste in water or out in the open can cause diarrheal diseases that can kill many people, mainly affecting children under the age of five. Sanergy, the creator of Fresh Life Toilets, hopes to provide toilets for Kenya and alleviate the unhygienic conditions in slums.

These low-cost and high-quality sanitation toilets prevent people in Kenyan slums from using pit latrines or what is known as “flying toilets”, which are non-decomposing plastic bags. What Sanergy offers are not only toilets for Kenya and its communities, but a proper way to dispose of the waste as well.

Sanergy and those in the areas that work with them collect the waste on a daily basis. After they have replaced the waste cartridges, they take the waste to a treatment plant to convert it to fertilizer or a protein for animal feed. These treated products are then sold at a lower price than the competing alternatives offered in Kenya. Essentially, Sanergy is turning human waste into money.

Most of the operations involved with the Fresh Life Toilets are run by local business people. Sanergy is not only creating a more sanitary environment by providing toilets for Kenya, they are also providing jobs. Over 90 percent of Sanergy’s employees are Kenyan and 60 percent of them live in the communities in which they serve.

Currently, 1134 Fresh Life Toilets are active. In 2017, 2467 metric tons of human waste were safely transferred and made into fertilizer. Because of these toilets, over 900 jobs have been provided to Kenyan people.

Fresh Life Toilets not only provide toilets in Kenya, but also a reliable income for the families that own them, created by a small fee that is comparable to the cost of non-hygienic alternatives. By doing this, individuals in the community get both a source of profit and an increase in sanitation, benefiting both the Kenyan people and their economy.

An example of the change a Fresh Life Toilet can make is exemplified by Fresh Life Toilet owner Agnes Kwamboka, who used to sell an illegal alcoholic beverage called “chang’aa” in order to provide for her family. Being an owner of a Fresh Life Toilet has changed that. Now, she is able to make a profit, help the local economy and contribute to a cleaner environment in a safe and legal way.

The Fresh Life Toilets provide Kenyans with a hygienic way to use the bathroom. With the Fresh Life Toilets, they no longer have to use the undignified flying toilets and their communities are much cleaner. Sanergy is able to provide the communities with disease prevention and sources of income with one solution, giving them the opportunity to grow.

Daniel Borjas

Photo: Flickr

Female Literacy Rate
In September 2017, a BBC News correspondent reported a 60-year old woman from East Africa, Florence Cheptoo, learning to read for the first time. This feat is surprisingly uncommon for Cheptoo’s demographic in Kenya.

Although Kenya is one of the “best-educated low-income countries in sub-Saharan Africa,” the literacy rate among females, particularly the elderly, are lower than males. According to Global Ageing Campaign, “literacy rates among older people – especially older women – remain low and are often lower than for the population as a whole.”

The literacy rates among women have increased exponentially within the last 30 years, since the National Literacy Campaign launched in Kenya in 1979. During this time, according to a study from the International Review of Education, around 35 percent of males 15 and older and 70 percent of females in the same age group were illiterate. Furthermore, 93 percent of women over the age of 55 could not read.

In 1993, women comprised 70 percent of those enrolled in the adult literacy programs in Kenya, due to a lack of available educational opportunities for girls. Prior to the National Literacy Campaign, Cheptoo, who was born in 1957, did not receive support from her parents for education, encouraged instead to get married and have children. This is typical in sub-Saharan Africa, where females are often persuaded to marry early and are “unlikely to find any professional opportunities that enable economic self-sufficiency,” according to Daraja Academy.

Today, the female literacy rate is 74.9 percent, compared to the literacy rate of males at 81.1 percent, a stark difference from the literacy rates of the past. The female literacy rate is continually increasing with the support of secondary schools for girls including Daraja Academy and Oprah Winfrey’s Leadership Academy, which allow females of the future generations to secure an education.

Adult literacy programs are bridging the education gap for women who did not receive proper schooling in their youth. These literacy programs are a turning point for women, like Cheptoo, and provide them with learning opportunities to increase their knowledge of the world that surrounds them.

Ashley Howard

Photo: Flickr

Technological Advancements in Kenyan EducationNew technological advancements in Kenyan education are attracting students and parents to schools in the area. Such advancements not only aid the students’ learning, but also get them excited about going to school and getting a basic education.

Amaf Primary and Elim Academy in Kawangware, a low-income settlement in Nairobi, have already reaped the benefits of such technology. Since advertising their new computers, these schools both have waiting lists and excited students.

The M-Pesa Foundation Academy in Thika is also establishing itself as a benchmark for Kenyan education reform. Every student has their own iPad, allowing for free use of the Internet to nurture discovery and an interest in learning.

These efforts can be attributed to the eLimu project, which selected these schools to integrate interactive tablets into the classroom to allow them to use modern and advanced teaching methods.

Plan International Kenya is another organization that works alongside projects such as eLimu to advance literacy among children through the use of technology. After being piloted in 25 schools, Plan International Kenya is set to put its technological resources in 300 schools across the country.

With the help of such famous technical partners as Nokia, British Telecom and Lenovo, OSL works to help teachers create more interactive and inclusive learning methods and environments through information and communication technologies.

The main idea behind these new technological advancements in Kenyan education is to help teachers make school more exciting and interactive to attract more students.

After recognizing the success of the 16 pioneer teachers selected for training, the Kenyan government is now supporting the implementation of a project to work with the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development to train teachers to integrate modern technology into their teaching methods.

Tucker Hallowell

Photo: Google


On August 3, 2017, the U.S. announced a $169 million investment in Ethiopia and Kenya for those experiencing severe drought. Emergency food assistance will provide safe drinking water and health services, as well as specialized nutrition supplies to treat malnourished children.

In Kenya, about 2.6 million people are food-insecure, and malnutrition rises as droughts continue. Funding for Kenya will support refugees fleeing conflict and drought. The U.S.’s assistance for Ethiopia will support 111,000 metric tons of relief food aid for approximately three million people. The U.S.’s investment in Ethiopia and Kenya supports the countries and helps prevent more serious catastrophes.

According to the USAID-funded Famine Early Warning Systems Network, without immediate and sustained assistance, food insecurity could reach catastrophic levels in the worst areas of Ethiopia.

“It is not a famine but it is rising up to the levels of getting close to famine,” says Matt Nims, acting director of Food for Peace at USAID. Acting now, during the drought, may ease or prevent the possibility of famine.

In 2015 and 2016, about 10 million Ethiopians, 10 percent of the country’s population, required emergency food aid. Ethiopia imported 1.6 million tons of wheat and lifesaving supplements. Even without the crisis of drought, 22 million Ethiopians live in extreme poverty. With international assistance and taking preventative action, Ethiopia can focus on supporting its civilians and their basic needs with the appropriate resources.

With the U.S.’s investment in Ethiopia and Kenya, the countries gain increased food security and services to prevent malnutrition. The countries are in dire need of international donors to support them and help prevent greater crises. International aid, especially during droughts, is crucial to helping families out of poverty and creating national stability.

According to the United Nations, 795 million people worldwide are undernourished, mostly in developing countries. As wealthier countries partner with developing countries and provide needed resources, poverty can be alleviated and create economic sustainability.

Sarah Dunlap

Photo: Flickr