Technology has permeated just about every aspect of life for people around the world. Education, healthcare, finance, and basic services all run on digital platforms in modern society. It maintains systems as crucial as power grids, and as inconsequential as entertainment. However, there are areas in some low-income countries that lack the infrastructure to provide people with access to technology. This creates a digital divide, which especially affects remote communities. It prevents them from receiving even the most basic benefits of technology that so many of us take for granted.
This blog post will shed light on the digital divide, what it means for communities that lack adequate access to technology, and the kinds of projects that Outreach-affiliated community-led organizations are implementing to solve this issue for the people they serve.
Starting with Basic Technology
The first foray into technology for a community in a low-income country isn’t necessarily a leap into a digital platform. There are situations where a community must find a far more basic solution to a poverty-related issue that can be solved with technology.
The community-led organization in Bimmangon, Philippines, identified the issue of a high dropout rate from school among its children. Education is the foundation for opportunity, and without it, a person’s future economic outlook is negative. The community group members interviewed many households to try to discover the root cause of this high dropout rate. They realized that a major contributing factor was a lack of ability to study at home.
Families in this community must often rely on their children to carry out time-consuming chores to help meet their most basic needs. Children who spend hours every day collecting water or helping with farming must spend all their daylight hours completing these tasks while also making time to attend school. This means that the only time these children have to study is at night. However, the homes where these children live lack electricity. After working until the sun goes down, children lose their natural reading light.
The community group used its problem-solving and networking skills to find a solution. They worked with Habitat for Humanity, who provided 160 solar-powered reading lamps. Now, 160 children can stay in school, study at night, and gain all the benefits and future potential that their precious education will provide for them.
A Bold Start to Bridging the Digital Divide
The community-led organization in Khilapadar, India, graduated from the Outreach International development program last year. This means that they had proven they were ready to take the reins of their own development program as an independent organization. This impressive milestone is the culmination of years of hard work and brilliant problem-solving by community members, and is the ultimate goal of the Outreach process.
After a year of operating on their own, our Field Operations team visited their friends and former partners in Khilapadar to assess the effectiveness of their independent work. And first on the list of accomplishments was the fact that they had gone from a community that lacked electricity to having the government raise power lines and supply electricity to every home. On their own and in their first year of work, the community-led organization was able to put their town on the grid. This was a giant leap in progress for the community and a clear piece of evidence that the community-led development process can lead to sustainable development.
Computers Are Key to Bridging the Digital Divide
One of the most important aspects of community development is the ability to measure the results of a completed project. A women-led community-based organization in Bimmangon, Philippines, is serious about measuring the impact of its work, and has started to incorporate technology for effective evaluation of results. The group participated in a two-day community-led monitoring and evaluation workshop during which they chose the indicators of results they wanted to track. They then developed the appropriate survey tools for data collection, and learned how to use software to upload, sort, and analyze their findings.
The software is called KoboToolbox, which defines itself as “intuitive, powerful, and reliable software used to collect, analyze, and manage data for surveys, monitoring, evaluation, and research.” In order to use this technology to further their development efforts and increase their rate of future success, they needed a laptop. And thanks to a generous donor, they received one.
Having access to laptops, smartphones, and internet service makes all the difference when it comes to successful community-led development.
Technology Reaching Every Corner of the World
In Lapse, Nepal, Outreach Human Development Facilitator Riddina was the first program member to use KoboToolbox to document the data she needed to facilitate a development project. She completed house-to-house visits with 69 participants and with her group was able to identify 13 poverty-related issues in the community. Of these issues, a lack of basic health facilities and poor waste management were prioritized as the most urgent issues.
Using the evaluation software, Riddina is creating household profiles. And within each profile, she will be able to collect data on which issues individual households are affected by and therefore which types of projects they will most likely benefit from. As projects progress, the software will also be able to keep track of how much each household participates in its own development project, and the amount of resources each project uses. Organization leaders are then able to analyze this wide breadth of information, compare it to project results, and decide on what changes to make that can improve future projects.
Digital Literacy Leads to More than Just Economic Growth
Bridging the digital divide between high-income and low-income countries is a foundational endeavor that can empower impoverished people to become the engines of their own success. In fact, a study published by the NIH states that there’s a direct correlation between digital literacy and happiness for rural, low-income people. The study found that digital literacy positively affects overall life satisfaction. And these findings are being used to promote the construction of digital infrastructure in remote areas of the world.
Outreach International uses the methodology of participatory human development. People living in poverty participate in improving their own lives. Through this process, they learn how to identify and achieve goals that they perhaps never thought possible. We equip people with knowledge and experience to grow intellectually, economically, and socially. We provide the tools people need to work effectively. And now more than ever, technology is fundamental.
How to Help
You can help bridge the digital divide that keeps so many communities around the world from solving their own poverty-related issues. Find out more.