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June 01, 2017

Are We Closing the Digital Gender Gap?

By | Blog, Digital development, Global development, ICT4D, Principles for Digital Development, Tech innovations

I recently had the opportunity to attend two events that asked tough questions about engaging women and youth in the global digital revolution. The first event, hosted by Tech Salon DC, brought development technology leaders together in Washington, D.C. to discuss progress that has been made in closing the digital gender gap and what challenges still need to be addressed.

When women are included in the digital society, it benefits all of us. In 2010, the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) published a paper on this very topic. They found that access to technology empowers women, improves the efficiency of their work, and strengthens their ability to compete in market economies. Key benefits of improved economic status for women through technology include:

  • Higher earning potential and improved literacy for women.
  • Faster economic growth and more transparent business practices.
  • Improved education and health outcomes (higher rate of vaccination and lower mortality rates) for children.

As one member of the Salon put it, “it’s amazing how resourceful women are once you give them technology, but don’t limit them before they start.”

The Tech Salon primarily focused on which barriers are preventing women from achieving these successes, and whether the international community is doing enough to address them. We discussed how we measure success in technology adoption, and how understanding what women are doing with technology can help us tackle sustainability. As a development community, we need to be cognizant that developing or offering a service does not inherently mean it applies to everyone. For example, we could develop a mobile tool that can help smallholder farmers connect directly to vendors, but fail to recognize that in some cultures, women don’t own a cellphone or aren’t able to freely speak to strangers on the phone. When a digital service is offered, we need to address cultural norms within a community to ensure it reaches women and that programs are gender inclusive. This starts with recognizing inherent gender biases that exist around the globe.

In many places around the world, the biggest hurdle facing women in accessing and using technology is culture. Men and women do not have the same opportunities or expectation when it comes to jobs, education, or using technology. Culture and behavior change are difficult to understand, especially for outsiders, and typically require long-term investment to see real impact. The group agreed that, up until now, very little has been done to address it, and we need to work together to address this before we see major improvements in the digital gender divide.

Tackling the divide is not easy, but there are a lot of great organizations that are working on addressing existing barriers. A promising outcome of the Tech Salon was the group’s recognition that we all need to do a better job of leveraging synergies to not duplicate work. At DIAL, we believe an open environment is key to creating an inclusive digital society and are committed to sharing our learnings and insights with the community.

DIAL's Allana Nelson with co-facilitators Aisha Abdul-Qadir and Ruth Kaveke.

DIAL’s Allana Nelson with co-facilitators Aisha Abdul-Qadir and Ruth Kaveke.

The second event I had the opportunity to attend was the Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) Youth Unconference in Kigali, Rwanda. There, I heard from many young men and women around the globe who are using digital technology to transform their communities through social enterprises.

The Unconference served as a platform for over 100 youths from 10 countries in the DOT network to come together and learn from each other’s experiences and how to improve the impact of their social enterprises. To say these young people were an inspiration would be an understatement – they were intelligent, civic-minded, and passionate about technology and its ability to improve the economies of their countries. Just a few incredible examples include one young man developing sustainably produced menstruation pads, made from shredded banana leaf fiber, that sell for half the cost of normal pads allowing more young girls to stay in school when they otherwise would have to stay home. Another young woman produces and sells solar lamps to communities without power. I also met an entrepreneur who conceptualized a new method for inexpensively producing flour from carrots and other root vegetables that can be made into porridge as a safe solution to mother and child malnutrition.

A major focus of the Unconference was on the topic of barriers to digital opportunities, and what youth can be doing to address those challenges. Many of them highlighted the role gender and culture factors into access and education around technology. More than one session discussed the digital gender divide, and discussed the importance of engaging girls in ICT as early as possible – and then continue to encourage them as they get older. Christelle Kwizera, a panelist and mechanical engineer from Rwanda, put it this way: “When you start in primary school, everything looks normal. There are boys and girls. But when you go to college and engineering school, there are fewer women [and] you start to realize that all of your colleagues are male… You have no role models, so I wanted to return to Rwanda and be that role model.”

In Kigali, I was able to share the Principles of for Digital Development with Unconference attendees. The Principles are living guidelines that can help development practitioners integrate established best practices into technology-enabled programs. By adopting these principles at an early stage, young men and women looking to leverage digital technology to start companies, innovate new technologies, or improve their community have a guide that can help them achieve broader adoption and sustainability for their work. Participants in my session shared challenges they have faced in implementing programs in the past, and what digital tools and solutions were available to them at the time. They also provided feedback on what resources they wish they had; these insights are helping our team at DIAL, as stewards for the Principles, shape new content that will be launched later this year.

These two events provided me with different, but equally valuable insights. On the one hand, I met implementers thinking about big picture issues facing women in technology and struggling to identify the best way to address them. On the other, I engaged with young social entrepreneurs who are actively driving these changes forward and meeting needs as they come up against them. Both groups recognize the immense value of engaging girls and women in ICT, but they are approaching them from different directions. Observing these two sides reinforced to me that the digital gender divide is still an issue, but it also encouraged me that it is being confronted in significant ways.

This is the second post in a series on Overcoming the Digital Gender Divide. The first can be found here. In the final installment of the series, you will meet Aisha Abdul-Qadir, a social entrepreneur who is challenging gender stereotypes and educating girls in ICT in Mombasa, Kenya.

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.

 

 

May 26, 2017

What’s Fueling the Open Source Community: A Readout from a Week of Open Source Events

By | Blog, Digital development, ICT4D, Tech innovations, Technology

At this time every year, open source software experts and supporters gather for a week of conferences, gatherings and talks to discuss the future of the open source services in supporting digital development. The Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) sent representatives from our Platforms and Services team to Austin, Texas, to participate in the Community Leadership Summit, GrimoireCon, and the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, to learn and share our thoughts on the latest developments in the open source space.

The annual Community Leadership Summit (CLS) gathered community management professionals from around the world and from all types of sectors. The event is an “unconference,” allowing participants to customize the event and cover the most important open source community trends in depth. DIAL’s Director of Community Michael Downey participated in many roundtable talks and one-on-one conversations, learning about the latest work of leaders in the community management field.

As usual, CLS focused in part on the latest communication tools and technologies, but this year also renewed a sense of focus on improving diversity and inclusion through community practice and policy. The technology field at large has suffered for many years from a lack of inclusivity toward underrepresented groups. Open source software projects, frequently voluntary in nature, often fare even worse. While the nature of digital development means our open source projects are many times international by design, we can still do much better. Strong codes of conduct, incident response policies, and professional community management can help our field achieve a measured improvement in diversity.

The theme of evaluation & metrics continued at GrimoireCon, where a small group of data experts  gathered to explore the new GrimoireLab open source platform for community metrics. For many years, digital development projects — and open source software platforms in particular — have struggled to demonstrate impact to funders. Together with tools like GrimoireLab, increased thought and work on measuring how people use our tools to make life and work better will lead to both increased maturity and increased reach of donors’ investments, generating a more inclusive digital society along the way.

DIAL’s Michael Downey attends a keynote talk at OSCON. Photo by O'Reilly Conferences is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

DIAL’s Michael Downey at OSCON. Photo by O’Reilly Conferences is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0.

The final event of the week was the O’Reilly Media’s annual Open Source Convention, or OSCON. This year a group of over 2,000 open source contributors and supporters shared their knowledge and experiences. Supported by O’Reilly Media, the event included representatives from long-standing open source digital development projects also in attendance, including Open Data Kit, OpenMRS, and Apache Fineract (formerly Mifos). This year, positive trends showed increased interest in diversity and inclusion in the open source ecosystem — and were hot topics in the expo hall and session talks. Keynotes included representatives from private industry, such as Netflix and Huawei. In the public sector, staff from the White House Code.gov initiative explained how over 20 percent of federal government-funded software in the United States will be required to be published in its online repository of open source software projects.

Many OSCON sessions focused on IT infrastructure, with containerization once again being an exciting cutting-edge innovation topic. Tools supporting peripheral challenges in open source software development, such as measurement of success and better long-term sustainability were also highlighted extensively. Bitergia’s open source GrimoireLab platform was featured as a prominent example of this technology, and we look forward to leveraging it in our work here at DIAL.

Another frequent theme in failure of open source projects shared at OSCON was a lack of diverse support. Regardless of whether organizations “open source” their products by simply placing the code online and divesting their support, or if they try to maintain those projects without fostering a larger community, the demand for support from structures that provide technical and community guidance will increase.

These themes have strengthened the design of DIAL’s approach in providing services for ICT4D open source software projects. We’ve heard from many stakeholders and project maintainers about their key needs for sustainability. Importantly, we’ve heard loud and clear that it’s neither sustainable nor wise to “reinvent the wheel” with our work. That’s why we’re proud to be hard at work forging partnerships with key organizations who are doing important work in open source asset stewardship, legal affairs, IT infrastructure, and monitoring and evaluation. You’ll hear more from us soon about these partnerships, along with how we’ll complement them with a suite of professional open source project services such as engineering management and community management.

We also know it’s important for open source projects in the digital development space to better coordinate with each other, share funding opportunities, work toward better interoperability and reduce duplication effort within and across sectors. That’s why as part of our service we’ll be launching several advisory groups focused specifically on sustainability of projects in sectors like health, finance, agriculture and education. These groups will be highly collaborative and will include key projects and organizations in each sector, helping each other work toward long-term sustainability.

Over the next several weeks, keep an eye on the DIAL blog (as well as on Twitter and Facebook) to learn more about our work. We’re looking forward to sharing it with you, and to hear more of your feedback. Please keep it coming via social media or by contacting us.

 

 

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