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August 23, 2018

CROSS-POST: Digital Inclusion: The Role of the Mobile Network Operator in Africa

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The original post was featured on GSMA Conference Confidential and can be found here.

The Mobile 360 Africa series brings together leaders from Africa’s technology and telecom industries for one of Africa’s largest gathering of technology practitioners. Mobile network operators, donors, development partners, technology companies and startups all convene to engage in thought provoking conversations and showcase innovations that can take Africa to the next level of technology advancement.

The recent Mobile 360 Africa series was held in the land of a thousand hills: Rwanda. Hosted at the Kigali Convention Centre, I had the privilege of having a one-on-one fireside chat with Phillip Amoateng, the phenomenal advocate for mobile internet skills in Airtel CEO for Rwanda.

The fireside chat, ‘Digital Inclusion: The role of the operator in Africa,’ took place during the session ‘Is the Digital Landscape Inclusive for All.’ In this increasingly connected and digital world, consumers are using a wide range of mobile-enabled services for education, agriculture, health, finance and utilities. But despite significant growth in mobile usage across developed regions, in low- and middle-income countries, certain segments of society are being left behind: women, individuals with less education, rural residents, and the poor account for a disproportionate number of those not connected.

Over the years, we have seen increased investments in infrastructure and growth of mobile subscriptions. But it’s not just infrastructure that needs continued investments – users still exhibit limited user capabilities, with most adults in low- and middle-income countries not having basic digital skills and competences. Across Africa, seven in ten people who do not use the internet say they just don’t know how to use it. Even in Europe, 19 percent of adults lack the literacy skills, and 45 percent lack the basic digital skills, needed to function fully in a modern society. Interestingly, women are 1.6 times more likely than men to report lack of digital skills as a factor limiting their use of the internet.

Thus, it was interesting to learn from Phillip about the strides that Airtel Rwanda has taken in enhancing mobile internet skills training in a quest to enhance the ability of users to use basic internet applications, understand internet bundles and how to check balances.

On the Mobile Internet Skills Training pilot that Airtel conducted in Rwanda, which reached a quarter of a million subscribers with 300 agents, Phillip said it was encouraging to see first-time internet users discover the value of internet based applications. Tigo sales agents were trained by Airtel/Tigo staff, who then in turn, trained customers that visited their shops.

“We learned that customers once taught, would create a ripple effect by training other community embers within their circle.”

And the benefit of creating a learning environment is transformative.

“Being internet literate is not just about being online but also being available for opportunities. Apart from being in constant contact with friends and families there are also economic benefits and opportunities such as new and better jobs. We highlight the value of the internet as a means of enhancing opportunities for jobs, learning, and business, and more.”

We also discussed the roles MNOs can play in addressing challenges of affordability and digital skills training. MNOs can leverage partnerships with education institutions and non-formal education structures to enhance mobile internet skills training. With increasing smart phone penetration, apps will make learning internet skills easier.

As I left the Better Future Stage having had such an insightful conversation with Phillip, I wondered what would happen if all mobile network operators integrated mobile internet skills training for mobile users, particularly those within the low literacy bracket. The number of digitally illiterate Africans would drastically reduce and create more opportunities for communication, learning, jobs and businesses. The future of mobile internet is vast and it’s up to us to make sure everyone is included in its benefits.

See the GSMA report on the Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit here.

 

August 09, 2018

Celebrating 20 Years of Open Source at O’Reilly Open Source Convention

By | Blog, Uncategorized

By Michael Downey

In the technology field, late Summer and early Autumn in the Northern Hemisphere is the traditional conference season — a time for colleagues to pause to reconnect with each other, learn about trends and challenges in the industry, and of course, build new relationships and strengthen old ones. For the past 20 years now, one of the biggest of these gatherings of creators and consumers of open source software has been the O’Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON). DIAL’s Open Source Center team just returned from the event in Portland, Oregon, and once again left informed and refreshed as open source enters its third decade.

As Director of Community for the DIAL Open Source Center, I primarily focus on the power of people to build technology to improve the reach and impact of international development and humanitarian response work, and to bring people in our field together to tackle new problems and find new ways to collaborate. That’s why the Community Leadership Summit, held each year just before OSCON, was particularly valuable this year. An “unconference”, the content of the event is driven by participants. I hosted the “Beyond Fiscal Sponsors” session, where experts honed in on the challenges and gaps faced by open source software projects and how organizations like DIAL and our Open Source Center can fill those gaps and amplify the impact of software projects — not only in the development & humanitarian sectors, but also in all types of open source work.

Two days of tutorials and in-depth workshops followed for the team, on topics from giving better technical presentations, to coaching engineering team members, to technology platforms like Kubernetes, containers, and continuous delivery. Finally, there were two days of keynotes and shorter technical talks, enabling us learn about the work of our open source colleagues around the world as the develop best practices.

Of course, there were many exciting conversations for our team along the way. David McCann, the Center’s Director of Technology, sat down with O’Reilly Media to talk a little bit about the United Nations Foundation, DIAL, and how the Open Source Center is working to turbocharge projects in the international development space. Check out the interview here.

Throughout the weeklong event, the entire team — including the newest member of our team, Heath Arensen, was able to meet and brainstorm with key players in the tech industry about how we might adapt the lessons they’ve learned to build more financially sustainable open source software projects with long-lasting impact. We had great discussions sharing success stories and ideas for how to strengthen this invaluable effort to build even more technology capacity and launch more technology careers for women, people in the Global South, and other under-represented groups.

On the final day of the week, I presented a talk about the DIAL Open Source Center, how open source software is being used in critical humanitarian and development world in every part of the world, and how we’re helping to mitigate some of the risk involved by providing additional resources and services to those projects.

Conferences are major investments of time and energy, but the time spent on forging new relationships and partnerships, as well as teaching others about what we’ve learned, helps to increase the impact of every bit of work we do the rest of the year. Again this year, we were very grateful for the opportunity to be surrounding by thousands of our colleagues for such a vibrant and busy week.

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