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Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)

Advancing an inclusive digital society


April 27, 2017

Overcoming the Digital Gender Divide: International Girls in ICT Day

By | Blog, Digital development, Global development, ICT4D, Principles for Digital Development, Technology

Girls in ICT DayIn early 2016 I visited a tech hub in Freetown, Sierra Leone that had been established by a young innovator who was passionate about advancing technology in his home country. The Sensi Tech Hub was a center of digital learning and entrepreneurship in a city that was still overcoming the devastating effects of Ebola. What stood out to me was a computer class in session as part of the hub’s Women in Tech initiative that provided basic computer skills to local women to increase their employability. These classes had become so popular that Sensi eventually offered separate morning and evening sessions to accommodate everyone who wanted to participate. The Women in Tech initiative is focused on educating young women in computer-based technologies to increase their employability, and creating a community of support and advocacy.

For me, this experience was enlightening because it reinforced the connection between computer education and employment for women in developing countries. Researchers Amy Antonio and David Tuffley in their report, The Gender Digital Divide in Developing Countries, noted that 40 percent of women surveyed indicated they were unfamiliar or uncomfortable with technology – a barrier that prohibited them from developing their computer and digital literacy skills. Technology and the internet can be a powerful economic and social tool for women. Greater access can increase women’s employment and educational opportunities, connect them to financial and health services, expose them to new information and enable them to become knowledge and information creators.

While the benefits are known, challenges exist to closer the digital gender gap. The United Nations’ World’s Women 2010 report showed that in half of the 55 countries they surveyed, less than 50 percent of women had access to the internet. In the lowest internet-penetration countries, that number dropped to less than 25 percent. In updated statistics from the ITU, the gender gap in global internet access has grown from 11 percent in 2013 to 12 percent in 2016 – despite an increase in practical initiatives to address this gap over the past three years. In Least Developed Countries (LDCs), that gap grows to 31 percent.

These figures are not insignificant; they are representative of a serious threat that exists for women around the world – that they will be left behind in the digital revolution, growing ever farther from the goal of equality. But these statistics also represent an opportunity.

Grassroots movements, like Sensi, are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to educating girls and young women. More examples include Jjiguene Tech Hub Senegal, a women-in-tech network promoting training programs and opportunities in ICT that are available to members, and AkiraChix in Nairobi, a tech hub founded by four women that offers a training program targeting young women from poor economic and social backgrounds. They offer certification courses in graphic design, web design, mobile application development, and hardware product design as well as ad hoc courses in ICT fields such as 3D modeling. These are just a few examples of the growing momentum the world over around digital literacy and ICT skills for women.

Today, DIAL celebrates International Girls in ICT Day – an initiative begun by ITU in 2012 to stimulate a global environment that empowers and encourages girls and young women to pursue careers in ICT. According to ITU, there currently exists an estimated shortfall of two million skilled ICT workers around the world, reflective of the significant gender divide in the sector (both in developed and developing countries). International Girls in ICT Day introduces young women to ICT careers and opportunities that are readily available to them, with the aim of educating girls, meeting the worker shortfall and closing the digital gender divide at the same time.

Around the world, ITU member organizations will hold events celebrating and engaging young women. Events have included hands-on workshops, job-shadowing, competitions, ICT career fairs and meet-and-greets with female practitioners. To date, over 240,000 girls have been reached through International Girls in ICT Day events.

If you would like to join an event today, an interactive map of events is available here. If you’re interested in hosting an event in 2018, more information on how to do so can be found here. Follow along or share your International Girls in ICT Day event using #girlsinict on all social media platforms.

Closing the digital gender gap will not be easy; it will involve addressing important barriers to access and education, and will likely require addressing cultural norms. But it isn’t impossible – and as long as there exists computer classes for women, and ICT Days for girls, then the divide will be closed.

This is the first post in a series on Overcoming the Digital Gender Divide. Check back for more on the role of women in ICT in the coming weeks.

 Allana Nelson joined DIAL in March 2017 as the Program Manager for the Principles for Digital Development on the Insights and Impact team. In this position, she is responsible for promotion, education, and advocacy of the Principles. Prior to joining DIAL, Allana worked at USAID on technology-based solutions to the Ebola response and recovery efforts in West Africa.



April 25, 2017

Can Open Source Deliver the Dream of Digital Development?

By | Blog, Digital development, Global development, Principles for Digital Development, Tech innovations, Technology

Next year will mark 20 years since the term “open source software” was officially coined, and the “free software” movement has been around even longer. But in the international development field, open source has only been a key consideration for the last decade or so. Today, the Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL)’s Platform and Services team is introducing a new strategy to turbocharge open source innovations that help solve digital development challenges across the globe.

The international development field is increasingly incorporating digital innovation into its programmatic work. While leveraging open source technology should be a prioritized strategy, many open source projects come with their own set of challenges. In fact, few endure and mature. When successful, open source projects enable improved and sustained access to information and services previously out of reach for marginalized populations. Open source is the key to bring the “dream” of digital development to life for millions of people around the globe.

The most common project outcome is the word nobody wants to talk about — failure. Often, open source digital development projects fail because they neglect common-sense strategies: user- and ecosystem-centered design, planning for scale and sustainability, as well as collaboration with other projects and standards. Or what we like to call – the Principles for Digital Development.

And importantly, project funding in the development sector isn’t typically structured to deliver quality open source products. Rather than co-funding a single robust product solving the needs of many implementation projects around the world, we instead find a large number of smaller products with overlapping features which frequently don’t fully address their funders’ needs.

To address these challenges, DIAL has assembled a team of experts with a breadth of experience in open source digital development and that also have a deep understanding of these challenges and how to best help organizations maximize the benefit of open source. We’ve learned a lot about the challenges projects have faced, and we’re ready to help. Adapting knowledge from the professional practice of community management and product development, we now understand key areas in which organizations must invest time and energy to become a more mature, inclusive, participatory community. Strategy, leadership, culture, community management, product management, policies and governance, tools, as well as metrics and measurement all play a role as an idea starts from a small project moving toward an emergent collaborative community, then builds to a fully-functional community effort, and finally grows to a large-scale networked initiative:

community maturity model

With these factors in mind, and with the Principles for Digital Development guiding the design of the software projects to be built, DIAL’s Platforms and Services team is planning specific ways to improve the open source experience in digital development:

  • Sharing foundational services: It can be difficult to establish and maintain core services as projects grow. The DevOps support, community coordination and event organizing to help further scale and energize projects require expertise, energy and funding that is often not available. Because these activities seldom require full-time investment, we believe sharing resources between similar projects increases effectiveness of overall investments in these areas.
  • Establishing and leveraging best practices: While many projects are often started by one or two people, the number of contributors grows as people discover and use the service or product. Decision-making and work processes must also mature with the project. We’ve seen consistent demand for establishing best practices on how to operate open source digital development projects in reliable, effective ways, through efforts like the Principles for Digital Development. Along with other strategies, first-hand knowledge in implementing these principles can be shared throughout the digital development community.
  • Coordinating sustainable funding opportunities: A recurring theme is frustration from constantly chasing funding opportunities to develop and enhance specific features, which detracts from project maintainers’ time and energy. Most of these projects are continually looking for new partnerships with implementing organizations, working to match their product roadmaps with implementers’ demand. DIAL’s vision for this ecosystem is an evolved marketplace where funding opportunities are centrally curated, where different programmatic sectors can collaborate and share innovation and where peers work together to help each other succeed.

Over the next few months, you’ll be hearing more about DIAL’s plans to bring together open source projects in the humanitarian and international development fields. We’re already studying many successful case studies, and many more less-than-successful failures. And we want to learn from more of them. If you’ve got ideas about challenges to overcome that can lead to more sustainable, impactful open source digital development, get in touch with us.


David McCann serves as Director of Technology for the T4D Open Source Software Incubator & Accelerator at the Digital Impact Alliance. He brings 10 years of experience building and managing small teams to achieve greenfield goals in both the non-profit and private sectors.

Michael Downey is the Director of Community for the Digital Impact Alliance’s Open Source Software Incubator & Accelerator. Michael’s career in IT and open source spans nearly two decades both in the healthcare and financial services industries, as well as the nonprofit world. As a long-time participant in the T4D community, he is excited about DIAL’s unique opportunity to help build a digital society that serves everyone.



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