Africa ICT Right
Hundreds of millions in Africa have no access to the Internet. Across the continent, Internet access is hindered by high subscription costs and lack of telecommunications infrastructure. Women comprise the majority of those who lack connectivity for overlapping reasons of social and economic inequality, which vary by country and region.
Ghana presents a unique case in Africa by virtue of the significance of telecommunications to that country’s economy. In the late 1990s, Ghana was one of the first African countries to allow for private, competitive development in its telecom industry, effectively liberalizing that economic sector by freeing it from a central state authority.
As one of the most technologically focused African nations, Ghana still struggles with obstacles to adoption, which range from widespread poverty to poor infrastructure to educational deficits to gendered barriers. Yet as its national economy continues to strengthen on the back of its tech sector, Ghanaian government and non-government organizations have invested in 1.) bridging the social and economic divisions that separate people from ICT and 2.) using ICT itself as a tool to heal those divisions.
Africa ICT Right
Africa ICT Right (AIR) is an NGO that centers ICT in its pursuit of improving education, public health, gender equality, and social mobility in Ghana, with ambitions to expand into other African countries. Its five major programs link to policy goals set at the national and international level. Connecting the Unconnected is a program that builds affordable ICT centers in locations where populations lack access to devices and Internet access.
Computer for Change and iTeach ICT intervene directly in education. For the last twenty years, the Ghanaian government has been developing policy to mandate ICT education at all levels of schooling, but resources have always been lacking to fully implement these standards. Computer for Change sources and distributes used, refurbished devices equipped with open-source educational software, while iTeach ICT provides teachers in STEM disciplines with pedagogical training to effectively incorporate ICT in their classrooms.
Girls in Tech and Mobile 4 Life both target gender inequality through ICT, but do so from very different approaches. Girls in Tech builds on the infrastructural development and educational enhancement priorities of the other projects, but targets girls specifically, providing free afterschool training and specialized mentorship to girls in schools that lack ICT materials and underperform in STEM. Mobile 4 Life uses ICT as a tool to directly intervene in a gendered social issue: maternal and neonatal mortality. While maternal mortality has steadily declined in Ghana over the last few decades, current rates remain high, with 2015 figures showing a maternal mortality ratio of 315 per 100,000 live births. This puts Ghana significantly behind in its pursuit of meeting the SDG for 2030, 70 per 100,000 live births. Mobile 4 Life trains health centers, midwives, and pregnant women to operate and use a hotline and SMS system that delivers regular tips and reminders for healthy pregnancies and deliveries. This allows for health workers to flag early warning signs of high-risk pregnancies and reinforce best practices for women to take care of their health during pregnancy.
Connecting the Unconnected charges users to access its services—priced between $0.22 and $10.99—making it unique among the programs that by and large offer services free of charge. Mobile 4 Life also charges health facilities a nominal fee to use its programs. What paid positions that support AIR are staffed by local members of the communities that benefit directly from the programs. AIR works with private sector funding and operations partners such as Access 4 All Initiative, Close The Gap, Computer Reach, Google, United Way Ghana, Vodafone, Wango, and WeTech.
AIR hopes that state funding and support will eventually play a role in the deployment of the programs and ensure their continued growth and long-term integrity.
The programs, operating at different stages of development, have reached thousands of people across various underserved regions in Ghana. The Mobile 4 Life program has struggled in its pilot stages, but as of 2019, it records 197 women having been helped by its program, which continues to find its feet.
In 2019, Digital Villages in Battor and Savelugu served over 3,000 people. These ICT Learning Centers hosted training courses for 268 children whose schools lack ICT education but are beholden to administering ICT exams.12 teachers received training as well as 494 people looking to sharpen technology skills to build their employability.
The Digital Villages also hosted sessions for its most successful program, Girls in Tech. In 2019, 2.575 girls received afterschool STEM education at the two centers, learning coding, programming, engineering and robotics.
Funding represents a continuous challenge for AIR, which nonetheless makes the most of its resources by being mostly volunteer-run.