The Intel She Will Connect Africa program is an initiative that uses a combination of digital literacy training, development of gender-relevant content, and the creation of an online peer network to help bridge the gender gap in Internet access. The program has trained upwards of 150,000 women in Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya in face-to-face trainings conducted by the program’s partner organizations since its launch in 2013.
In 2012, Intel Corporation in association with Dalberg Global Development Advisers produced a groundbreaking report titled “Women and the Web: Bridging the Internet gap and creating new global opportunities in low and middle-income countries.” The report consolidated data on Internet access and usage by women and girls across 144 low and middle income countries using secondary data sources, field research, and primary surveys in Egypt, India, Mexico, and Uganda.
The findings pointed to a stark gender gap in Internet access in the developing world. On average, nearly 25 percent fewer women have access to the Internet than men. When the data are examined on a regional level, the gap is even worse: nearly 45 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 35 percent in South Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa, and 30 percent in parts of Central Asia and Europe.
The Intel SheWillConnect Initiative was launched in 2013 in three countries in Africa in response to the findings of this report. Africa lags behind in terms of overall Internet penetration (close to 29% as of 2016) as well as in providing equal opportunities to men and women to connect to the Internet.
The Women and the Web report identified three main macro- and micro-level challenges to the Internet. At an individual level, women are held back by a lack of awareness, cultural stigma around the use of technology, and a lack of ability to use tools to access the Internet.
At an ecosystem level, key barriers that prevent adoption of the Internet by women include the availability and affordability of products with local language content and applications, services that cater to legacy phones, coverage and quality of the mobile network, and the absence of gender-responsive outreach and policies.
A third of non-users surveyed by the Women and the Web report had access to a computer, and over 90% had access to a mobile phone. Over 20% of high income women did not have access to the Internet, with 40% stating unfamiliarity with technology as a primary cause for their non-adoption.
Launched in 2013, Intel adopted a three-pronged approach to fast track the uptake of information and communication technologies by citizens. It used Intel Learn Easy Steps ™ modules to teach women who had no skills in using technology to use the Internet for the first time. The modules were tailored to be interactive and based on completion of tasks, so that women could gradually progress to completing complex tasks online. They started with basic lessons on what computers do and with the help of activity cards, progressed to teaching women how to create a resume online and how to use email and search functionalities.
Intel partnered with multiple organizations at the local level in order to provide this training to women in community centers – prominent organizations include CARE, ChangeCorp, Telecentre.org, World Pulse, and World Vision. The modules were provided for free to organizations willing to engage in training women. Training for trainers was organized by Intel.
Intel created an application that supports an online peer network to allow women to share common interests and find mentors. This aspect of the initiative, rolled out in collaboration with World Pulse, allowed users to search for and find relevant user-generated content in safe online spaces. It enabled users to create communities online and reap the benefits of connectivity many fold. The application is also available for free through a collaboration with Free Basics in Africa, enabling greater impact.
Recently, Intel launched My Digital Journey, an application that adopts an interactive approach to digital literacy training. Learners on My Digital Journey receive a digital completion certificate after successfully completing three quests, each of which involves completing three to six missions.
In addition, SheWillConnect also offers a mobile skills application that women and girls can use in order to receive training on their own personal devices.
In the last three years, the Intel SheWillConnect program, along with partner organisations in the field, has trained upwards of 150,000 women face-to-face digital literacy programs. The project has empowered women entrepreneurs to connect to the Internet and expand their businesses, as has it enabled professionals and college students to expand their opportunities.
Gaining access to the Internet enables women and girls to improve their self-esteem and expression, expand their social and political participation, gain new skills that enable them to obtain formal education, become entrepreneurs, or secure employment, and obtain access to information and new connections within their communities and beyond. The Women and the Web Report argues that doubling the number of women online would increase between US$ 13-18 billion annually, with the creation of business opportunities to the tune of US$ 50-70 billion. Moreover, the impact on women has spillover benefits for broader society: connecting to the Internet brings families online, which impacts billions worldwide.
Surveys indicate that 44% of the women who can access Internet on multiple platforms said that the Internet had brought them benefits such as additional income, networking opportunities, and improvements to education.
Women face unique barriers in accessing the Internet, especially in the developing world, and targeted programs at improving their access is key to closing the connectivity gap
Creation of a strong peer network, both online as well as through training in community based centers, enables women to continue to reap the benefits of connectivity
Providing interactive application-based training adds to the toolkit of traditional digital literacy approaches and enables continued education.
Training materials should be tailored to the community’s needs, and developed in consultation with partner organisations as well as end-users who are likely to provide critical feedback on the accessibility of these materials.