This blog was posted on behalf of Marne Dunn. Marne leads the Intel® She Will Connect Program, focused on closing the gender digital divide and enabling the empowerment of women through technology.
Women’s History Month seems like a fitting time to reflect on the Intel® She Will Connect Program in Africa and how we have continued to innovate to reach women. Intel She Will Connect launched in September of 2013 as a direct result to the findings in the Women and the Web Report, which revealed concrete data on the enormous Internet gender gap in the developing world and the social and economic benefits of securing Internet access for women. Along with several partners, we set out to build a program that would enable us to create awareness about the value of technology and the Internet, teach women digital literacy skills, and connect them to social and economic opportunities. We set a goal of reaching 5 million women in Sub-Saharan Africa where the gender digital divide is the largest and over the last 3 years we have made significant progress. To date we have reached over 1.3 million women and have provided face-to-face training to nearly 200,000 women in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. Our quest to close the gender digital divide has been full of key learnings that have guided our teams to improve our approach, tools, and partnerships in order to meet our goal.
We set out collecting data from women, seeking to understand not only their needs, but also their desires, what did women want to use technology and the Internet to achieve? We discovered many women were already connected to the Internet, but were using it in a very limited way. Still others were not connected at all, some didn’t see any value in the Internet or believed technology was not for them. We knew for women, there were many barriers to accessing the Internet, from cost to skills and many other factors in between. We believed in 2013 and still believe in 2017 that Intel and our partners can not only significantly reduce the gender digital divide but also connect women to social and economic opportunities through technology.
Early in the program we focused on awareness, telling the story of the Women and the Web report findings not only with our partners, but also with girls and women in Kenya, Nigeria, and South Africa. We talked about the many resources available online and how women around the world were accessing these resources to improve their lives. Leveraging our face-to-face training curriculum, Intel® Learn Easy Steps, our partners scheduled workshops and digital literacy trainings, integrating Intel She Will Connect into existing gender programs. We continued to collect data in an effort to learn how we could improve the program and learned many women did not have access to the Internet when they returned home but still wanted to continue learning. The Intel She Will Connect mobile application was introduced to fill this gap, while the application required access to the Internet initially, once downloaded the application could be used without connectivity.
Cost was also continuously raised as the top reason women were not connecting to the Internet after completing the program, but there was a solution called Free Basics. In 2014 Intel began working with internet.org developing content for the Free Basics platform, which enables people in developing countries to access select content through their mobile operator without data charges. Today, Intel She Will Connect content is available in 14 African countries in English, French, and Swahili. Not only can women continue to access information about digital and technology literacy, they can access the information they need and want from hundreds of other content providers. Further, women in 14 African countries can click through to the Intel She Will Connect Facebook page and access more resources as well as help from page moderators.
The results have been significant, and women continue to share stories about what they have achieved. Women have started and expanded business, gained employment, obtained micro loans, and many have been inspired to develop additional skills using technology. There is still much work to be done and we recognize women with limited to no digital literacy skills need face-to-face training. However, women have busy lives full of responsibility, which can restrict them from being able to take a digital literacy course. We must meet women where they are, not just from a skills perspective, but also physically. We must provide training in their communities, in their backyards, in their living rooms. Training and access to information must be timely and focused on the needs and desires of women. In 2016, Intel launched the mobile caravan in Kenya to tackle the challenge women have with transport to Internet cafés and community training centers.
Addressing the needs and desires of women through technology requires flexibility and agile programming. Intel and our partners continue to not only meet the goal of reaching 5 million women, but also to create lasting impact by connecting women to social and economic opportunities, thus enabling the empowerment of women for change on a global scale.