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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

6 Ways Kenya is Closing the Internet Connectivity Gap
Access to the internet has come a long way in Kenya since its adoption in 1993. The first internet users in Kenya were nonprofits, international organizations and multinational companies. In 2000, there were a total of 200,000 users, only 0.7 percent of the general population. A gap in accessibility persisted between these organizations and the remote, urban poor. Today, not only are all government ministries now accessible via the web, but 89.7 percent of the population regularly uses the internet as of June 2019. Better access to data translates to better education and standard of living. Kenya achieved this dramatic increase in accessibility thanks to a number of government and business initiatives. Here are six initiatives that have helped close the internet connectivity gap in Kenya.

6 Ways Kenya is Closing the Internet Connectivity Gap

  1. The Communications Authority of Kenya: To commercialize the internet, the Kenyan Government created the Communications Authority (CA) of Kenya in 1998. Its charge was to develop licensing for systems and services in communications and telecommunications, electrical engineering, broadcasting, e-commerce, cyber-security, multimedia as well as postal services.
  2. The Universal Service Fund: In 2009, the CA established the Universal Service Fund, which was designed to propagate access to information and communication technology (ICT) throughout the country. The fund has helped finance ambitious initiatives and innovation ICT through license levies, government appropriations, grants and donations. National projects continue to be enacted to expand services to remote and urban poor.
  3. Cyber Cafes and English: A challenge in making internet more commercial in Kenya was the lack of technology, electricity and landlines in the hands of average people. With the expansion of internet shops in the past two decades, urban centers have offered more access to technology without directly purchasing access from providers. A significant catalyst for greater usage has also been the English language since English is the official language of Kenya.
  4. Mobile Network Signals: Data from a CA report covering July to September 2019 shows that mobile phone users are purchasing more than one SIM card in order to gain access to new services and products, thereby increasing overall mobile subscriptions among the population. During that period of time, subscriptions increased 4.1 percent from the previous quarter.
  5. Fiber Optic Cables: In order to support a more robust data infrastructure and increase internet access in Kenya, companies like Telkom have expanded undersea fiber optic cables, known as “backbones,” that hold together multiple company networks to build capacity and expand regional access. If one line fails, the backbone is able to reroute internet traffic.
  6. Public Wifi Zones: In 2019, telecommunication companies like Telkom Enterprise, Safaricom and Poa! introduced WiFi zones in urban centers, offering wifi access either free or reduced in cost. In partnership with Nairobi County, the Link Kenya Project was developed by Telkom in Nairobi to help close the internet connectivity gap by providing free wireless internet access to three major urban centers in Nairobi. Project “innovation hubs” include 55-inch LCD displays that show ads in order to pay for support. Telkom aims to bring free public WiFi access to most major cities and towns in Kenya, claiming that portions of the population were unable to purchase subscriptions due to high costs.

Kenya’s agenda to digitize the country and economy were spurred in part by the government’s investment in information technology and communication technology in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Since then, commercial access to the internet ballooned through government investment, the spread of mobile technology and technological innovations of private companies. Although not yet at 100 percent coverage, these six initiatives to close the internet connectivity gap in Kenya demonstrate how a country can leap into the digital age when government and business work in tandem.

Caleb Cummings
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

How Mobile Phones Help the Poor
Mobile technology has been shown to have a tremendous effect in helping alleviate global poverty. Over six billion of the approximately seven billion people in the world have access to mobile phones, as shown in a 2014 UNESCO report. By 2016, it is estimated that there will be one billion mobile phones in Africa. Such widespread access opens up a window of opportunity to utilize mobile technology as an instrument in improving the lives of users in developing countries.

According to UN Millennium Project Director Jeffrey Sachs, cell phones are the key instrument in transforming poverty-stricken lives.

“Poverty is almost equated with isolation in many places of the world,” he said, as quoted in a CNN article. “Poverty results from the lack of access to markets, to emergency health services, access to education, the ability to take advantage of government services and so on. What the mobile phone — and more generally IT technology — is ending is that kind of isolation in all its different varieties.”

From the educational sphere to the economy, access to mobile technology has already significantly improved the lives of many across various aspects of life.

 

4 Ways Mobile Phones Help the Poor

Literacy and education
Where there are no books, there are still mobile phones. Utilizing mobile technology is one of the easiest ways to increase literacy rates simply because phones are already in the hands of members of developing nations. Mobile reading provides a much cheaper and more convenient alternative to reading from books. While cell phones cannot teach users how to read, they are shown to significantly increase literacy retention rates. Several mobile applications and programs exist to increase access to mobile reading in the developing world. Programs such as MobiLiteracy Uganda provide parents with daily reading activities to complete with their children via audio SMS so that illiterate parents can still work to improve their children’s literacy. It is not necessary for users to own smartphones because even the cheapest mobile models allow access to mobile reading.

Agriculture
Mobile technology has completely transformed the lives of farmers in developing nations, as it allows them access to market prices without the timely concession of long-distance traveling to faraway markets. Additionally, access to weather information can help farmers prepare for in-climate conditions that may affect their crops. Several mobile applications exist to provide farmers with information about nearby markets and prices, mapping to potential clients, feeding schedules for cattle and local veterinary information.

Banking
Millions of Africans utilize mobile technology as a banking instrument. Since 2007, Safaricom and Vodafone’s M-PESA application has allowed users to store funds on their mobile decides in order to transfer funds to other users, pay bills, or make other purchases. In 2009, a 10th of Kenya’s GDP was being circulated via M-PESA. Former Safaricom CEO Michael Joseph noted that mobile technology has been transformative for the informal business sector, which comprises about 70 percent of jobs in Kenya. This increase has been instrumental in helping surge GDP rates throughout the developing world.

Health
Mobile phones allow endless distribution of health resources, which has led to the development of mHealth, or mobile health, programs. Field workers can use their mobile devices to work with experts to determine what conditions are treatable at a local level and what patients need to be transported to a hospital. This increased communication saves time and money and also helps to ensure appropriate treatment. Text messages have also shown to be vital in communicating stock levels of medications and resources in remote locations. Additionally, public health organizations have organized text message campaigns to increase preventative habits against fatal diseases.

– Arin Kerstein

Sources: CNN, Fortune, National Geographic, UNESCO, USAID,
Photo: Sustainable Brands

Can Cell Phones Save the World?

It can send texts and it can make calls, but can it save the world?

It might seem far stretched, but considering that poverty is often instigated by isolation and the accompanying lack of access to markets, emergency health services, education and governmental representation, it makes sense that economists are starting to pinpoint cell phones as a potential “weapon against global poverty.”

Renowned economist Jeffrey Sachs claims that “the cell phone is the single most transformative technology for development,” positing that providing developing countries with cell phones and widespread mobile network coverage can be instrumental in lifting regions out of poverty.

In the last 8 years, the United Nations Millenium Villages Project has aimed to improve 14 rural villages across 10 African countries by providing the framework for mobile connections. They have found that countries’ GDPs increased in a way that mirrors the nearly 400% increase in cell phone use in Africa over the last 5 years.

Kenya may be the poster child for the mobile movement with its tremendous GDP growth and innovative M-Pesa or “mobile-money” concept that has the country on an economic upswing. Researchers found that “70” was the magic number: 70% of the Kenyan population owned a cell phone while 70% of the population also reported no access to a bank. Hence, the concept of mobile-money was born.

Beginning in 2007 as a way to send people microloans, M-Pesa’s mobile-money became the main way to send money instantly from urban to rural areas. Mobile-money allows people to digitally transfer cash and utilize other banking services via mobile phones, thus facilitating trade and boosting business in a way that is vital for the country to thrive.

This mobile-money concept is great for Kenya’s large informal economy sector by releasing the flow of money that is often stagnant in developing countries with unstable infrastructures.

What’s more, cell phones are now the least expensive they have ever been, thanks to Safaricom, a Kenyan telecom provider that set up business models for selling services to the poor and thus made cell phone use more affordable. Thanks to the low cost of setting up mobile towers and the decreasing cost of cell phones, Kenya now may have more widespread cell phone coverage than many regions of Europe.

Some may argue that the best part about the cell phone solution is that businesses, rather than the government, drive the movement’s momentum. Having businesses like Safaricom at the center of the progress curbs the chance of corruption and unequal access that usually accompanies governmental initiatives, particularly in developing countries.

Other countries around the world are starting to take interest in the transformative power of the cell phone. From its success in Kenya, Safaricom is now bringing its mobile banking model to areas like Bangladesh, Uganda, and Gambia with the hope of expanding more in the future.

– Alexandra Bruschi
Source: CNN, Quartz
Photo: CNN

Mobile Banking With M-Pesa
Here in the U.S., cell phone apps such as ‘Venmo’ that allow simple and quick money transfers have revolutionized the way we exchange money. However, with mobile banking as well as Venmo-like apps, they require all users to actually have a bank account. While speed and efficiency are a huge pro about these apps, they, as they are, wouldn’t necessarily be as successful a venture in the developing world.

M-Pesa (meaning mobile ‘money’ in Swahili) has grown to be the most successful mobile financial service in the developing world. Started in 2007, the company’s main goal wasn’t necessarily convenience but had the more objective of creating an app that people without bank accounts can use. Bank accounts usually must maintain a minimum balance or have other requirements many people living in developing areas just cannot meet.

M-Pesa users only need two out of three things: a mobile phone and an ID card or passport. With these in hand, they can do numerous things just from their phone: deposit and withdraw money, transfer between different accounts (even to those without an M-Pesa account), manage their transactions, pay their bills, and even purchase mobile minutes. With about 1 in 5 sub-Saharan Africans actually having a bank account, M-Pesa opens up an entire world for people to exchange money freely without being tied down to a bank.

The company manages an individual’s account through their phone number. As part of Safaricom’s and vodacom’s networks (service operators in Kenya and Tanzania: think Verizon or AT&T), only those who receive their service through these companies can take advantage of the system. Once money is transferred, users can cash out at various retail outlets or stores that normally sell cellphone minutes.

M-Pesa was initially created to help the transfer of funds for people receiving microfinanced loans because it helped keep rates down, as it cut out the direct contact with money. Now, it operates in 5 countries including Afghanistan, South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, and India. It reaches 15 million users in Kenya alone. 

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: Co.Exist, Wikipedia
Photo: Hapa Kenya