Using Digital Inclusion to Fight Extreme Poverty         

Participant in Trickle Up’s mobile technology pilot project. Credit: Trishikh Dasgupta

Much can be said about how technology has transformed the world. More importantly, the internet and other broadband-related technologies have empowered us to reach heights that were unfathomable less than 50 years ago.

Today we are able to stay connected not only in our neighborhoods and communities, but with people across the world. We can send money across the globe by a click of a button. We can mobilize and organize efforts to find a lost child by sharing a video within minutes. We can buy and sell goods and services or stay informed of breaking news in real-time with one swipe of a 5.5-inch smartphone screen.

This week is International Digital Inclusion Week, which is meant to call attention to how broadband access can change lives and communities. Yes, digital technology is a powerful force in our lives that continues to help us improve our quality of life and access various economic opportunities. But how do we use this force to deal with the issue of extreme poverty across the world?

In recent years, we have seen a reduction in extreme poverty worldwide, and we must now ask how much of that can be credited to increased access to technology. According to the United Nations’ The Sustainable Development Report 2018, the number of the world’s workers living with their families in extreme poverty (less than $1.90 per person a day) has declined significantly over the past two decades, falling from 26.9 percent in 2000 to 9.2 percent in 2017.

While lack of access to high-speed fixed-broadband (only 6% availability) remains an astronomical challenge for Less Developed Counties (LDCs), more strides have been made in connecting LDCs with mobile broadband technology. By 2016, the proportion of the population covered by a third generation (3G) mobile broadband network stood at 61 percent in the LDCs and 84 percent globally. Over 3.6 billion individuals are using the internet via a mobile device globally.  Among the poorest that represent 20 percent of the population, 7 out of 10 households have a mobile phone. (World Bank Report 2016, Digital Dividends).

In this environment where mobile devices provide the lifeline to the internet, governments, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, and private corporations are embracing new strategies for helping people living in LDCs to find a way out of poverty to self-sufficiency. Below are some examples of programs that are using smartphones to help people out of poverty.

Case Study 1: The Next 3B is a global initiative by Tata Communications to accelerate and facilitate the positive impact that comes from internet access and usage in developing countries. The Next 3B accomplishes this by building partner coalitions to holistically overcome the four key barriers to internet adoption: infrastructure, affordability, relevant content, and user capabilities. In India, the program partnered with Trickle Up, a pilot program designed specifically to provide a pathway out of poverty for the extreme poor using mobile technology.  Trickle Up’s mobile technology pilot project provided women living in extreme poverty in Odisha and Jharkhand, India, with a smartphone, connecting them with digital literacy skills training, livelihood coaches, government services, program staff, and one another. To learn more about the program, visit Trick Up.

Case Study 2: In June 2015, Vodafone Ghana launched the Vodafone Farmers’ Club — a package of agricultural value-added service (farming advice in local languages, weather updates, market prices, farming helpline) delivered via SMS on smartphones made available to poor farmers in rural Ghana. This program was important for a country like Ghana, where 70% of the rural population relies on agriculture for income and food. Additionally, farming in Ghana is mostly done by poor farmers with less than 3 acres of land in rural areas were poverty, malnutrition and lack of knowledge of model farm management practices was rampant. By December 2016, more than 200,000 users were registered with the club and were receiving regular value-added services and help. Regular users of Farmers’ Club are 1.7 times more likely to report a change in their land management practices than non-users. To learn more, visit Farmers’ Club A mobile agriculture service by Vodafone Ghana.

The two examples of mobile application are a small but important piece of the puzzle needed to overcome global poverty. Understanding that access to water, food, medicine, and disaster response often take priority in matters of extreme poverty, those of us focused on digital inclusion have an important role to play and must continue to pursue ways we can contribute to minimizing global poverty and increasing self-sufficiency via the power of technology.

 

 

About the Author: Heather Gate is Connected Nation’s Director of Digital Inclusion. She is responsible for strategy development and implementation of programs that impact Digital Inclusion for all people in all places. She provides project management services including identification of program challenges and goals as well as day-to-day oversight and funding research. Heather also serves on the Federal Communications Commission’s Advisory Committee on Diversity and Digital Empowerment (ACDDE).

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