Mar 092010
 

Technologies That Empower Women

by Tom Watson

Tom WatsonTom Watson is the author of CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley, 2008) and managing partner of CauseWired Communications LLC, a consulting firm that works with nonprofits and causes.

Article - Watson WiW Tech Empowers - e-learning Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation / Frédéric Courbet 5. E-Learning

A public-private partnership between the Nursing Council of Kenya, consulting firm Accenture, the Kenya Medical Training Colleges, and the African Medical and Research Foundation is emblematic of how online teaching is changing women’s lives. The goal: certifying nearly 20,000 registered nurses by 2011 to respond to a massive need for health-care workers to deal with the challenges of HIV/AIDS and malaria, administer vaccinations, and provide pre- and post-natal care, all in Kenya’s most remote and impoverished regions.

Article - Watson WiW Tech Empowers - 6. Clean Water Nanotech Peter Dejong / AP Photo 6. Clean Water Nanotech

“Any technology that gets clean water for drinking and cooking closer to the consumer more cheaply is a huge benefit to women in the developing world,” says Mari Kuraishi, co-founder of GlobalGiving, an online giving marketplace that funds grassroots projects in many countries.

Where the construction of large-scale clean-water systems isn’t feasible, the growth of nanotechnology solutions is helping women by providing clean water for families close to their homes. Small-scale purification systems can serve a single village that used to be dependent on dirty, stagnant water. Ultrafiltration membranes remove more than 99 percent of bacteria, molds, and spores from drinking water, and can be used at home.

Article - Watson WiW Tech Empowers - 7. Mobile Digital Banking Lee Jin-man / AP Photo 7. Mobile Digital Banking

Is poverty permanent? Without local systems that encourage investment and commerce, it could be. That’s why mobile digital banking using inexpensive handheld phones as bank centers is such an encouraging development for the women who manage households—and, often, small businesses—in the developing world. In rural Mongolia, the World Bank’s Consultative Group to Assist the Poor worked with Xacbank, Mongolia’s largest microfinance institution, to launch a program last year linking 300,000 rural Mongolians with mobile banking services.

Article - Watson WiW Tech Empowers - 8. Peer-to-Peer Funding Networks Aaron Favila / AP Photo 8. Peer-to-Peer Funding Networks

No longer are women in the developing world merely photographs on the mailers of big international aid organizations. Thanks to Web sites like Kiva and Epic Change, they’re now businesswomen, mothers, and daughters, with life stories that are real and immediate. Since its 2005 launch, the microfinance database Kiva has linked an enthusiastic army of more than 600,000 online lenders with small business owners in 52 countries, to the tune of more than $150 million. Epic Change is a smaller, nonprofit startup that is building school facilities in Tanzania and linking Twitter-based donors to projects via Flickr photos and YouTube videos. Thanks to these efforts, the gap between “developed” and “developing” is closing. Stunningly, more than 83 percent of Kiva entrepreneurs are women, reflecting what aid groups have observed for decades: that women are often far more proactive than men in raising their families and communities out of poverty.

Article - Watson WiW Tech Empowers - agricultural technology Courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation 9. Agricultural Technology

Increasing the yield from seeds, water, and soil has allowed for a massive increase in food production in the developed world over the last half-century. But technology has often ignored farmers in the developing world. As Bill Gates noted in his annual foundation letter last year, “new seeds and other inputs like fertilizer allow a farmer to increase her farm’s output significantly, instead of just growing enough food to subsist.” Innovations such as micro-irrigation, treadle pumps, water bags, and drip-irrigation hoses can allow the small farmer not just to feed her family—but to sell a small surplus. With the extra money, aid groups are encouraging families to keep their teenage daughters in school, instead of forcing them into arranged marriages that help parents offload the costs of housing and feeding their daughters.

Article - Watson WiW Tech Empowers - connected communities David Evans / Courtesy of the United Nations Foundation 10. Connected Communities

When remote villages are interconnected, cultural biases against women can change rapidly. Take the Jokko Initiative in Senegal, named for the word that means “communication” in Wolof, Senegal’s national language. Jokko is a joint project of UNICEF and Tostan, an NGO that has led the movement to abandon female genital-cutting and forced child marriage. The program uses a text message-based social-networking platform to more rapidly “train the trainers,” local volunteers who go village to village talking to their peers about “democracy, human rights, problem-solving, hygiene and health, literacy, math, and management,” according to Tostan. The result? Less female genital-cutting and child marriage.

Elsewhere, network connections can shift power. The Fundación Proyecto de Vida—”Foundation Life Project”—is a Guatemalan citizen movement that encourages “bottom-up” empowerment to improve what has traditionally been a closed and sometimes violent society. The effort teaches young women to use mobile technology to uncover and report corruption. In Egypt, young citizen journalists like 25-year-old Noha Atef are telling the story of human-rights abuses via blogs like Torture in Egypt. And on the African island of Madagasgar, the citizen-journalism organization Foko Madagasgar is using a range of online social media to tell the story of the Malagasy people, who struggle with issues like deforestation, poverty, and political violence.

Plus: Check out more from Giving Beast, featuring news, video, and amazing photographs of people, places, and issues that need our support.

Tom Watson is the author of CauseWired: Plugging In, Getting Involved, Changing the World (Wiley, 2008) and managing partner of CauseWired Communications LLC, a consulting firm that works with nonprofits and causes.

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