As India industrializes, the country has made great strides in internet usage and access, however, there is still a lingering gap between those who have access to the internet and those who do not, also known as the digital divide in India. Demographics play a major role in the digital divide in India. Rural villages, impoverished people and women are far less likely to have proper internet and technology access. Only around 16% of women use “mobile and internet services” in India. The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the digital divide in India and its role in hampering access to vaccines. Because of a lack of digital literacy and access, families and communities are often unable to set up appointments to register for vaccinations. This contributes to a slower rate of vaccinations in India, heightening the urgency of crossing the digital divide in India.
5 Organizations Addressing the Digital Divide in India
- Women Who Code Delhi: This organization started as a “community group in 2011,” with the goal of changing the technology industry to make it better suited for women. Since 2011, the organization has grown to become a significant global nonprofit force in inspiring women to excel in technological careers. Chapters are spread throughout various cities, including New Delhi, India. The chapter in New Delhi came about in 2014 and currently has more than 2,700 members. Like other chapters, it hosts events and creates “safe spaces for women” to learn new technologies and grow their careers in the technology field. Events take place at least once a month, free of charge. The main goal of this organization is to advance female careers in the technology field. Despite a large number of women working in the technology sector, female workers are less likely to get noticed in their careers. An estimated 45% of women will leave the technology industry after eight years. Women Who Code hopes to eliminate this by teaching women new skills and empowering them in their career growth.
- VMInclusion Taara: VMInclusion Taara is a return to work program for women. It has partnered with Women Who Code Delhi to offer free technical education in newer technologies. India has only about 26% female participation in its workforce as of 2018. About 40% of women choose to take a break from work at some point, but 91% of those women want to return. Moreover, for women in technology fields in this position, many lose the tools or education to keep up with the changing technological landscape. This is where VMInclusion Taara comes in. With this program, thousands of women will increase their prospects for growth in the technology field, crossing the digital divide in India.
- Feminist Approach to Technology: The Feminist Approach to Technology (FAT) is a nonprofit dedicated to empowering women by increasing their participation in and knowledge of technology through various programs, such as the Young Women’s Leadership Program. During the Young Women’s Leadership Program, young girls learn basic computer and internet skills, breaking stigmas around technology. Since 2010, this program has trained 281 girls and 435 female learners are currently enrolled.
- ThinkZone: Working with under-resourced communities, this organization utilizes a free mobile app and accessible technology to educate children. The app sends learning content to instructors and parents in areas with low internet access so children can learn foundational language skills and math skills. Not only is this organization crossing the digital divide but it is also increasing education rates in the most vulnerable communities. Founder and CEO Binayak Acharya told The Borgen Project, “[T]he program ensures education for children without the requirement of smartphones or internet access.” Educators are additionally trained through a blended learning environment, learning specific technologies to equip them for all types of scenarios. Using ThinkZone technologies, a significant number of children developed age-appropriate skills during their early childhood. Acharya adds that the “state government of Odisha reached out to us for scaling the programs in new geographies.” ThinkZone hopes to reach an “additional 10,000 children from July 2021 onward.”
- Soochnapreneur: The Digital Empowerment Foundation (DEF) funded the Soochnapreneur project to promote and strengthen the information system in rural, Indian communities. In these communities, many people are unaware of their rights and are also unaware of available government schemes and their benefits so DEF started the Soochnapreneur project in 2016 to bridge this gap. The DEF trains women from rural locations in technology areas. The women can then provide and teach these skills to vulnerable and impoverished communities. The project aims to fulfill various components of a digital India by creating digital infrastructure, delivering services digitally and empowering digital literacy. Currently, the DEF works in more than 20 Indian states and 130 districts.
Together, these organizations make significant efforts to bridge the digital divide in India. In their combined work, the organizations help connect all areas of India to the nation’s future technological prospects, one person at a time.
– Lalitha Shanmugasundaram