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Posts Tagged ‘empowerment’

Cameroon - realizing phone takes videoI had the chance to share some thoughts at UNESCO’s recent Mobile Learning Week. My presentation explored some myths about girls empowerment and mobile learning and offered suggestions of things to think about when designing and implementing programs. Ideas for the presentation were drawn from research and practitioner experiences (mine and those of others that I’ve talked with and worked with over the past few years). Here’s what I talked about below. Since realities are subjective and complex, and contexts differ immensely around the world, I’m putting these out mainly as discussion starters. Some seem super obvious and some contradict each other (which may speak to the point that there is no universal truth!), so I’m curious to know what other people think…

Myth 1: Mobile as a stand-alone solution.

Reality: The mobile phone is just one part of the informational and cultural ecosystem. There is a lot of hype about mobile. I think as a sector we are mostly past the idea of mobile as a stand-alone solution, but in case not, it’s the first myth I’d challenge. There is not a lot that a mobile phone can do as a stand-alone tool to empower girls or improve their education and learning. 

Things to consider: The mobile phone is the device that is most likely to already be in the hands of your target user — but the possibilities and channels don’t start and end with mobile phones. It’s important to think of the mobile phone as just one part of a much wider informational, social, cultural and educational ecosystem and see where it might fit in to support girls’ learning. It’s likely that mobile phones will be used more outside of the classroom than in – in my experience, I’ve found that schools often don’t allow mobiles to be brought into class. So, it’s more about integrating mobiles as a tool that supports rather than as the sole channel for learning and information sharing.

Myth 2: It’s the technology that’s mobile.

Reality: In most cases, the learner is mobile, too. This is one of the exciting things about technology and learning. It’s something I heard John Traxler say a few years ago, and I thought it was really smart. John said we should really be thinking about mobile learners, not just mobile technology. Learners access and share information in all kinds of ways, at different locations, using different devices or not using devices at all.

Things to consider: Rather than starting with the mobile phone, think about design based on a clear understanding of ’digital repertoires’ – in other words, user behaviors or patterns that span places and devices based on factors like data capacity, cost, purpose. These repertoires will differ according to culture, sex, economic status, and availability of information points and sources. For example, maybe some girls use Google search to do homework at an Internet café but use their own phone or a borrowed phone for quick, short text reminders or questions to friends about schoolwork. Maybe other girls are not allowed to go to Internet cafés or they feel uncomfortable doing so, and they rely more on their mobile phone and their friends. This was the case in one community near Jakarta that I was in last month. One of the girls talked about her 15-year-old friend:

 

“She’s too shy to go to the Internet shop…. Boys are always sitting out, calling you to ask ‘where are you going?’ or whistling. She feels too embarrassed to go into the shop because everyone will look at her.”

In a consultation conducted by Plan in 2011, girls in some countries said it was too dangerous to travel to the Internet café, especially at night. When men and boys watch porn and play video games in Internet cafes, girls tend to feel quite uncomfortable. Libraries, if available, may be places where girls go to access Internet because they feel safer. Girls may face reputation risk if they go too often to the Internet café. So in this case, girls may rely on phones. In some parts of East and West Africa, however, girls with mobile phones may be accused of having ‘sugar daddies’ or selling sex for airtime or nice phones, so the phone also carries reputation risk. All of these situations impact on girls’ communication repertoires, and program designers need to take them into consideration. And perhaps most importantly, ‘girls’ are not a homogeneous group so we always need to unpack which girls, where, when, what, at what age, living where, with what kinds of social or cultural restrictions, etc.

Myth 3: Vulnerable girls don’t have access to mobiles.

Reality: Many girls with phones are more vulnerable than we think, and more girls that we consider vulnerable are accessing mobiles. This is something that Colman Chamberlain from the Girl Effect’s mobile initiative pointed out. “We often hear that the most vulnerable girls don’t have access to mobile phones,” he says, “but this depends on how we understand and define vulnerability. Many girls with phones are vulnerable, and many vulnerable girls are starting to access mobile. This means we have a real chance to reach and engage with them.”

Things to consider: Age does normally play a role in access to mobiles. Younger girls from lower income families in most countries do not have their own mobile phones. Upper class children may, however, have phones. It really varies. Recent research (unpublished) found that it was common for 14-15 yr olds in Indonesia to have their own phones. In India and Bangladesh, that age was closer to 18. Girls who were no longer in school often had a mobile — some had even dropped out to get jobs in order to purchase a mobile. Sometimes married girls’ husbands purchase them a phone, yet it may be primarily to control and monitor their whereabouts.

When designing programs, it’s really important to take the time to learn whether the girls you’d like to work with own or borrow mobile phones and whether their access is controlled by someone else or if they are free to use a mobile however they’d like. Design for different scenarios and ‘user repertoires’ based on girls’ access and use habits. Don’t make assumptions on which girls access mobiles for what and how based on perceived vulnerability, do the research and you may be surprised when you get into the weeds.

Myth 4: Cost is the biggest barrier to girls’ mobile phone access and use. 

Reality: Cost is a barrier, but perhaps not the biggest one. Clearly cost is still a big barrier for the poorest girls. But the unwillingness to invest in a girl’s access to mobile or to information and learning is linked to other aspects like a girl’s position in her family or society. Mobiles are also becoming cheaper, so the cost barrier has been reduced in some ways. Overall, compared to landlines, as Katie Ramsay at Plan Australia notes, mobile is cheaper and that opens up access to information for even the poorest families.

Research conducted this past year in India, Bangladesh and Indonesia, found that in some communities girls have much greater access than assumed, and cost was a lower barrier than originally thought. Parents and gatekeepers were actually a bigger barrier in some countries. For many of us this is a total no-brainer, but I still think it’s worth bringing up.

Things to consider: As already mentioned, the key when developing programs is to dig deep and talk with girls directly to understand and help them to overcome different barriers, whether those are personal, familiar, economic, societal or institutional.

In order to help get past these barriers, mobile-enabled programming or product/service offerings need to have real value to girls as well as their gatekeepers, so that girls’ participation in programs and use of mobiles is seen by gatekeepers as positive. This was shown clearly in a UNESCO girls’ literacy program in Pakistan, where 87% of parents changed from a negative opinion about girls using a mobile phone to a positive perspective by the end of the program, because they saw the utility of the phone for girls’ literacy.

It’s important to do work on educating and changing behaviors of parents. Katie Ramsay also notes that in places where men own the tech, there is a huge opportunity for targeting them to gain their support for girls’ education. So it’s worth re-thinking the role of mobiles in girl-focused programs, especially where girls’ access to mobile is low or controlled. The best use of mobiles for learning may not be ‘delivering content’ to girls via a mobile device. Instead it might be using mobile and other media to target gatekeepers to change their behavior and beliefs around girls’ education and girls’ empowerment.

Myth 5: Girls share their phones.

Reality: Phone sharing brings with it a challenging social power dynamic. Many people in ‘the West’ hold the romantic notion that people in ‘developing countries’ like to share everything and live communally. Now, I’m not saying that girls are not generous, but when it comes to girls and phones, we have not really seen a great desire to share.

In some of the unpublished research conducted in Asia (and previously referenced in this post), girls without phones said that they do borrow phones, often from family members or friends, but they don’t necessarily like doing so. They said that borrowing here and there just isn’t enough to do anything substantial on a phone. Girls described girls who do not have mobile phones as sad and unpopular. They drew girls with phones as happy, popular, and successful. Some girls also described girls with phones as stuck up and selfish and said that girls who have phones don’t share them with girls that don’t have phones.

 

“A girl with a phone would look down on me, and show off what her phone does. She would let me hold it, but only because she would like to take it back from me again.” —Girl, 18, Dhaka

I was at a school in Cameroon last year, when a big fight broke out because one girl had taken another girl’s phone and thrown it in the toilet. The professor said that fighting over mobile phones was common among students. Phones had been prohibited at school in part to reduce conflicts, and sometimes students ratted each other out for having phones at school. This is not specifically a “mobile phone” problem, it’s a wealth or class or equity issue, but it manifests itself with phones because they are an asset that defines haves and have-nots. 

Things to consider: Don’t assume it’s easy for girls to borrow phones. If you find that many of your targeted users for a mobile-enabled initiative are borrowers, then it’s important to design short, to-the-point options for them, because they may have only a few minutes at a time with a mobile. Girls may not share their phones unless there is some kind of incentive for doing so. If you are designing for borrowers, think about rapid communication in bursts, and don’t communicate about anything that would put a girl at social or reputation risk if the person she borrows the phone from should see it.

Myth 6: All girls (& all youth) are tech savvy.

Reality: Many girls are indeed tech savvy, but some are still behind the curve. In many places, girls with phones are way more tech savvy than their parents. And most young people around the world are pretty quick to pick up on technology. But girls’ level of savvy will obviously depend on what they have access to.

Girls I talked with in the urban slums areas of Jakarta were quite tech-adept and had Internet-ready phones, but they still only used Facebook and Google. They also mixed up ‘Facebook’ and ‘Google’ with ‘The Internet’ and did not use email. They were unfamiliar with the concept of an “app”. Girls knew how to search for jobs online (via Google), but they said they had trouble understanding how to fill out online forms to apply for those jobs. So regardless of a girl’s level of tech savvy, in this case, she was still missing certain skills and relevant online content that would have helped her get to the next level of job-seeking.

Things to consider: It’s really important to do your research to understand what technologies and platforms girls are familiar with and be sure to plan for how to engage girls with those that they are unfamiliar with. Basic literacy might also still be a huge issue among adolescent girls in some places.

Basically, the message here again is to avoid making assumptions, to do your research, and to remember that girls are not a homogeneous group. Market research techniques can be helpful to really start understanding nuances regarding which girls do what, where and how on a mobile device.

Myth 7: Girls don’t have time to use mobile phones.

Reality: You might be surprised by which girls find time to spend on a mobile phone. This again really depends on which girls, and where! Girls find the time to use mobile, even if it’s not at the always on-line levels that we find in places like the US and Europe, notes Colman from Girl Effect. Spending time in the communities you’re working with can allow you to find times that girls have free and uncontrolled access. Jessica Heinzelman from DAI told us that in one project she was working on, they had assumed that girls in more traditional communities and rural geographies would have less access to mobiles. In reality, it was common for girls to be sent on errands with mobiles to places where there was connectivity to contact relatives on behalf of the family, leaving the girls with at least some alone time with the mobile.

Schoolgirls in the slum area of Jakarta that I worked in earlier this year said they checked their Facebook every day. Out of school urban girls checked at least a few times per week, and rural out of school girls also usually managed to borrow a phone to check Facebook quickly now and then.

Things to consider: I’m beating the drum again here about the importance of on-the-ground research and user testing to find out what is happening in a particular context. Alexandra Tyers from GSMA points out that user testing is really a critical piece of any girls and mobile learning effort, and that it can actually be done for a reasonable price. She notes that in her case, “Bangladesh user testing cost $5,000 USD for fifty tests in five different locations around the country. And yet the return on investment by making those necessary changes is likely to be large because making sure the product is right will ensure easy adoption and maximum uptake.”

Myth 8: Mobile phones can’t address girls’ real needs.

Reality: Mobile phones can help address girls’ real needs, but probably not as stand-alone devices, and maybe not as ‘content delivery’ channels. There is a lot of hype around mobile learning and mEducation, and as some presenters talked about at Mobile Learning Week, there is little evidence to help us know how to integrate mobiles in ways that could scale (where appropriate) and offer real results. I sometimes think this is because we are expecting mobile and ICTs in general to do more than they feasibly can.

Depending on the context and situation, where I have seen the greatest opportunity for mobiles is:

  • enabling girls to connect with peers and information
  • allowing girls more opportunities for voicing their opinions
  • linking girls to online support and services
  • linking girls with offline support and services.
  • helping organizations to track and monitor their programs (and hopefully then do a better job of adapting them to girls’ real needs).

Things to consider: It’s really important to think through what the best role for mobile is (if any role at all). Here is where you can (and should) be super creative. You may not get the biggest impact by involving girls as the end user. Rather, the best place might be aiming your mobile component at behavior change with gatekeepers. Or sending text messages that link a girl to a service or opportunity that lives offline. It might be getting feedback on the school system or using mobile to remind parents about school meetings.

Myth 9: Mobile phones are dangerous.

Reality: Many girls and women say a mobile helps them feel safer, more independent, and more successful. The 2011 Cherie Blair/GSMA study on women and mobiles noted that 93% of women said a mobile made them feel safer and 84% felt more independent. Tech can also offer a certain level of anonymity for girls that can be beneficial in some cases. “Tech is good for girls because they can be anonymous. If you go to the bank, everyone can see you’re a girl. But if you start a business online, they don’t know that you’re a girl, so you don’t have to deal with the stereotypes,” according to Tuulia Virha, formerly of Plan Finland. Parents may also see mobiles as a tool to help them keep their children safe.

Things to consider: Mobiles can help with an increased sense of security, safety and autonomy, depending on context and situation. However, and this is what I’ll say next, mobiles also bring risk with them, and most girls we talked to for our research were aware of obvious risks – meeting strangers, exposure to pornography, pedophiles and trafficking – but not so aware of other risks like privacy. They were also not very aware of how to reduce their risk levels. So in order to really reap the safety and empowerment rewards that mobiles can bring, initiatives need to find ways to improve girls’ digital literacy and digital safety. Data security is another issue, and organizations should develop responsible data policies so that they are not contributing to putting girls at risk.

And that brings us to the other side of the coin – the myth that mobiles make girls safer.

Myth 10: Mobiles make girls safer.

Reality: Mobiles can put girls at risk. That sense of being safer with a mobile in hand can be a false one, as I noted above. Dirk Slater, from Tactical Technology Collective noted, “A big issue of working with adolescent girls is their lack of awareness of how the information they share can be stored and used. It’s important to educate girls. Look at how much information you find out about a person through social media, and what does that mean about how much information someone else can find about them.”

Things to consider: Institutions should aim to mitigate risks and help to improve girls’ digital security and safety.

Girls face safety risks on mobile at a number of levels, including:

  • Content
  • Contact
  • Data privacy and security
  • Legal and political risk (in some places they may face backlash simply for seeking out an education)
  • Financial risk (spam, hacking, spending money they don’t have on airtime)
  • Reputation risk (if they participate on social networks or speak out)

It’s also key for organizations working with girls and mobile to develop ethical policies and procedures to mitigate risks at various levels.

And that’s that for the top 10 myths! Curious to know what you think about those, and if there are other myths you find in your work with girls, mobile and learning….

 

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Our August Technology Salon in New York City (TSNYC) was a stimulating and deep discussion on whether ‘girl advertising’ detracts from girls empowerment. The topic surfaced after a Facebook conversation about the rise in commercials about girls and women’s empowerment such as Always’ “Like a Girl,” Verizon’s “Inspire her Mind,” and Pantene’s “Stop Saying Sorry.” There are mixed feelings about what these ads accomplish for girls and women, and whether their commercially driven motivations are actually helping to achieve gains for girls in the US and elsewhere.

Some of the key points raised at the Salon included:

Participatory media vs slick, overproduced ads. When it’s participatory media with children and youth making choices about what is being said, shot and edited, it’s one thing. It feels authentic, said one Salon participant. “But the current spate of ads tend to show a very ‘produced’ girl, wearing make-up, feeding into stereotypes about beauty, talking to a screen and selling a product or a brand.” These ads may feel inspiring to people watching, but are they actually ‘empowering?’ The underlying message of many of these ads for girls is still often sex, beauty and/or sexual attractiveness.

Surface rather than deeper change. One discussant pointed out that companies making these empowering girl ads on the one hand are making misogynist NFL ads on the other. If a company really wants to do something for girls, it should be a holistic effort that permeates all its advertising, she felt, not just a slick ad for girls and business as usual with everything else. Making girls feel better about themselves is one thing, but it’s not enough. Girls may say they prefer ‘Goldiblox’ to ‘Barbie’ but the toys are still plastic consumables, and they are still pink, as one participant noted. “Girls need to build confidence at a deeper level,” said a youth participant. “Rather than just providing a one-way ticket to solving a simple problem, we need to go deeper, because the problem does not have just a single cause.” In addition, as other participants called out, much of the change being pushed by ads is shallow change, when what is really needed is systemic change. “Have you really addressed structural injustices and inequities with these one-off actions and campaigns? Do these simple narratives really help? Or are they a distraction?”

Are we conflating empowerment and consumerism? These girl-focused ads encourage girls that we work with to spend money that they don’t have, commented one Salon participant. Are we supporting girls’ assimilation into corporate consumerism or are we trying to change the status quo for girls who have been traditionally left out? “Girls we work with have issues with lack of access to housing, education, a living wage. These ads encourage them to spend money that goes back to corporations, and we don’t know what the corporations are doing with it. Are they supporting militarization of the police? Are they lobbying to cut sex education or planned parenthood funding?” Often the topics addressed in these ads, she noted, are the tip of the iceberg. “We see ads about teen pregnancy, but we don’t see work that addresses its underlying causes.” Addressing underlying causes, many in the room felt, would be the truly empowering work.

Higher visibility of girls’ issues is unintentionally causing problems. The increased presence of girls in the media and in NGO advocacy campaigns was initially very helpful, but some commented that it is becoming a problem. “Donors think that there is a higher level of investment in programs that directly impact on girls, which is not necessarily the case. Often the investment is made in branding or social media rather than in concrete programming that supports girls with real assets and skills.” This has meant that some donors are reluctant to fund programs for girls, because they think the topic is over-saturated. In reality, there is a lot of talk and media but not enough on-the-ground support.

Being a girl in 2014…. In addition to the funding challenges, some research has shown that in the US, girls as young as 7 and 8 feel that they “cannot drop the ball on anything now.” The empowering visions of girls can make them feel that they are expected to do and be everything, and to solve all the world’s problems on top of it all. At the same time, on social media such as Facebook research shows that girls tend to downplay their intelligence and up-play their fun and sexiness, because media bombards them with messages that on top of being successful at everything, they are also supposed to be cute, carefree, and sexy.

What about boys and men? The higher visibility around girls can lead to a marginalization of boys and men from gender work, commented some Salon participants, as it sets up a boy vs girl dynamic. Though for advertising, binaries tend to work, in the wider scheme of things, these issues are very complex and binaries are not helpful. If we are looking for change an empowerment, boys and men also need to be part of the equation and gender should be a more holistic approach, not only focused on girls. “Working with both boys and girls is more empowering for everyone,” said one participant. When boys feel threatened by girls it just creates more conflict. “We need to empower boys by teaching them about girls and gender dynamics,” because both boys and girls are affected by gender stereotypes.

Ads by their very nature simplify complex issues. Ads are simplified because of how they need to be packaged, especially now in the day of social media, as one of the youth Salon participants pointed out. “People take a simplified message and create their own meaning out of it, without really understanding the complexities. Then they share the ad around and feel like they’ve done their part. They think an ad is fully informing them and this is dangerous. These ads don’t really feel empowering for me, it’s just an upswing in ads for teenaged girls and in media targeted at my age group. The ads are just one more thing that’s shared on Facebook. So it’s like someone else packages ideas for you, you share them, and you move on.” Another participant agreed, yet added that ads can open the door to a conversation about something larger that can be followed with more nuanced discussions.

Ads are ads. They are not CSR. Companies are not really interested in empowering girls with these ads, pointed out one participant. These are not Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) ads; they are marketing ads. Another participant added that “many of these campaigns are run by very smart, high-powered women. They do want to see high-powered versions of girls, and they also want to sell their products or their brands.” The income from the ads does not go into social programs; it’s revenue, noted another participant. CSR managers then have the job of advocating internally so that some of the revenue does go towards these types of causes, but it’s not a given. CSR staff work to encourage corporate leadership to allocate some of the funding into programs that have an impact on girls’ lives. Consumers should also be doing their homework and finding out what is happening with different campaigns. Companies want to make employees, customers, and investors/their boards happy. Consumers should pressure corporations to do more than just ads, and to do something that reaches farther. Corporate mandates are totally separate from Foundation mandates, as one participant pointed out. “It’s up to people like us who care about these issues to bridge the gap, to have these conversations in the board room, with management and leadership, with PR staff.” “How can we increase transparency about what these companies invest in,” asked one participant. This is important not only for CSR budgets and ‘girl issues’ but for companies overall.

Starting with the delivery system is a problem. Rather than starting with a solution – an ad, a technology, a delivery system – we should start by picking the group or population where we want to make a difference and then decide what is the best way to go about it, commented one Salon participant. “What does success look like for girls? What do girls themselves what to do, to be? Empower is a vague word. If you substituted ‘farmer’ for ‘girl’ you’d never get away with some of the mystical pronouncements that we hear now about girls. Do you ever hear people saying ‘Ah, farmers… I just feel so alive and so inspired when I meet them! They can change the world!’ Probably not. And much of the rhetoric around girls is just inspiring language that doesn’t actually help girls to achieve their goals. We’ve swallowed the language of the current delivery system. We now measure success in terms of retweets, likes, social media campaigns and putting out manuals and guides. We need to push back and ensure that the money goes to girl programs on the ground.”

Using media for behavior change is a science. Others, however, felt that there was a role for behavior change communication (BCC) done in a scientific way and with solid measurement of impact. Activism and advocacy are different approaches than behavior change, commented a participant. Likes and tweets can be measures of activism, awareness and advocacy. But for behavior change, we need to go deeper. Well-targeted behavior change communication starts with strong, solid research into what drives behavior. There are different categories – knowledge is the first one. But most times, it’s not lack of knowledge that prevents people from changing behavior. More often, it’s attitudes, social norms, and lack of social support and self-efficacy. A well-defined campaign should isolate what will make change and the communication piece should speak to that very specific change. It’s also critical to understand the audience and what will move them to action – for some girls it will be a strong aspirational role model, for others it will be real-life women and girls. Formative research helps us understand what will work with a particular audience.

How are we measuring impact? People are measuring the number of tweets from the general public and calling it impact, rather than measuring indicators of real change for girls themselves. “Attention is being placed on media impressions, tweets, hashtags,” said one discussant. “We measure hollow metrics about the giver rather than measuring the impact on the ground, on the lives of the people we say we are supporting or helping.” She went on to cite some very well known campaigns where the only impact reports were media hits, but no available reports track what happened with funds raised, or with ‘awareness’ and how it translated into actual change. “Is it enough to show women in empowering ads,” asked one participant. “There is a disconnect between advocacy and messaging and measuring impact,” said another person. Within organizations, some digital teams are very good at showcasing to management how many Facebook likes and tweets they get, and this distracts leadership from looking at more impactful efforts on the ground. It allows these shallow campaigns to take funding away from the more solid programmatic efforts that work directly with girls and their families and communities to address underlying causes, and to build skills and assets and enabling environments for girls to succeed.

Equality vs liberation. Boiling complicated intersectional analyses down to an ad that can only carry a single message is complicated and having an equal number of male and female board members does nothing for women who are not operating at these high levels, said one participant. “I have so much I want to say about all this!” she added. “Where are the transformational campaigns? None of our organizations or brands or corporations has enough money individually to do a campaign that would really create structural, systemic change. Even the Ms. Endowment has only $35 million and it’s not enough. We are all competing in the market. How can we collaborate and converse with one another to do something bigger and better. How can we work together to really shift things? What if we came together and only took money from corporations that did something like have a certain percentage of women on the board plus ads that show positive images plus funnel funding into good programs on the ground? How can we hold companies accountable? How are we measuring success?” Another person commented “Many corporations feel that we are lucky to have their money.” She wondered how we can build strength in our numbers and work together as a more solid front.

It’s not one or the other…. In closing, one participant pointed out that there were multiple conversations happening in the room, because those of us working on gender and girl issues are fighting the good fight on multiple fronts. “Work on the ground is one thing. Work at the global policy/advocacy level is something else. And then there is work with the private sector and the public as well,” she said. “We all have different strengths. How can we connect in more meaningful discussions on it all? How can we flag issues that need consideration so that we are all contributing to a wider goal?” Further conversation and joint work could help to address some of the challenges that those in the room are facing. Many participants wished for a follow up conversation to take the ideas a step further, and the topic of engaging boys and men was brought up as something that needs more work.

So, do girl ads detract from girls’ empowerment? According to the majority of Salon participants, yes, in many cases they do. But there is potential to integrate these kinds of ads into wider, more effective efforts to push for systemic change that involves both boys and girls, works at various levels, and demands greater corporate accountability and better measurement of results.

What should advertisers do, then? [Adding this today (Aug 26) after a request for some recommendations for advertisers]

  1. Be consistent. Look inwardly. Don’t be all ‘girl empowering’ on the one hand and then be all misogynist on the other hand with everything else that you do.
  2. If you’re making revenue from girl empowerment ads, then do something with the money that actually supports programming that is proven (evidence-based) to make a real difference to girls in their daily lives or support policy work that help girls advance.
  3. If you’re really about girls’ empowerment and want to work on behavior changes that benefit girls at a widespread level, then look at some of the behavior change science approaches that can help you to plan campaigns that get people to move beyond a) feeling inspired and b) gaining knowledge to c) actually acting and changing their behavior….
  4. A combined effort that works at multiple levels (ads that are well researched and directed, policy changes that support girls and women, and work on the ground that provides girls with skills and helps them build assets) would be a better way to approach girls’ empowerment, if indeed advertisers do want to help empower girls.
  5. Stop commodifying everything and putting more pressure on girls and women to be and do everything. Use some of the power and expertise of creating and motivating people through brands and advertising to support social change that has nothing to do with buying more stuff.

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For more background reading, see our crowdsourced list of ‘girl ads’ and commentary about girl ads.

Thanks to those who contributed to the Salon topic idea and preparation (especially Eva Kaplan, Karen Cirillo, Clare Ramirez-Raftree, Lina Srivastava and Greta Knutzen) and to ThoughtWorks for their generous hosting!

If you’d like to attend a future Salon in New York, Washington DC, San Francisco, London, Toronto/ Ottawa or Nairobi, sign up here to get on our email list!

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In my last 2 posts, I wrote about reality (how rural youth in Africa are currently harnessing ICTs to generate income), and possibilitysome new technology uses and concepts that I learned about at the “Can youth find economic empowerment via apps, m-payments and social media?” Tech Salon, hosted by ICT Works and the UN Foundation Technology Partnership.

This third and last post of the series explores some of the broader aspects that need to be in place or considered when looking at youth economic empowerment and the role of ICTs.

During our Tech Salon conversations, someone reminded the room that a large population of well-educated youth with no prospective jobs (think Tunisia or Egypt) is one thing. A large population of (rural) youth with low education levels is another.

Francis Fukuyama kind of sums this up based on Samuel Huntington’s ‘Political Order in Changing Societies,’ written some 40 years ago: ‘increasing levels of economic and social development often led to coups, revolutions and military takeovers rather than a smooth transition to modern liberal democracy. The reason, he pointed out, was the gap that appeared between the hopes and expectations of newly mobilized, educated and economically empowered people on the one hand, and the existing political system, which did not offer them an institutionalized mechanism for political participation, on the other. He might have added that such poorly institutionalized regimes are also often subject to crony capitalism, which fails to provide jobs and incomes to the newly educated middle class. Attacks against the existing political order, he noted, are seldom driven by the poorest of the poor; they instead tend to be led by rising middle classes who are frustrated by the lack of political and economic opportunity….’

So if the behaviors of these two basic groups (for simplicity’s sake let’s assume there are only 2 basic groups) are quite different, also the approaches to supporting the two groups are quite different, and their views of and reactions to economic crises also tend to be quite different. The first group (the newly educated middle class) is in a better position to access ICT-fueled economic opportunities, whereas the second group likely needs to strengthen its knowledge of things like savings, basic skills, and assets. Context, as always, is critical, and there will not be one single recipe that addresses the economic and development needs of the ‘youth bulge’.

Youth bulge. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Some would say that economic opportunities created for the newly educated middle class will mean eventual trickle down opportunity to the rural poor — in which scenario app development, Facebook, microtasking and such might be seen as key enablers for economic empowerment for certain youth. But how can we more immediately support those who are not part of this newly educated middle class. And what about the countries that don’t have a large population of well-educated middle class tech-savvy youth? What are some key things for supporting economically disadvantaged rural youth?

Financial Literacy

Financial literacy for both children and adolescents is one key element. Financial literacy helps drive reasoning, conceptual skills, and leads to better engagement later with formal and informal sectors.  At an early age, say around 8 years, financial literacy should include basic skills like counting, math, logical reasoning, value. Later on, financial literacy needs to move into understanding loans, down payments, interest rates, credit. In terms of ICTs, yes, mobiles could offer tools for youth to save and to build assets, but youth need to know the importance of building assets in the first place. Aflatoun is one example of programs that focus on financial literacy and the importance of saving. The educational children’s program Sesame Street also does its part. As background, this very interesting mPesa report says that around 21% of mPesa customers use the service for saving/storing money.

Life skills

A colleague at the Tech Salon noted that financial literacy and financial education need to be wrapped up into youth life skills education, also covering aspects like reproductive health, hygiene, emotional health. Youth need financial literacy but they also need basic literacy and increasingly media literacy. They need to know more about career development and to get help making good career choices; help understanding: What is real? What are their realistic expectations for a career? What does the current labor market look like? What do they need to do to prepare for a particular career or job? What are their real options? ICTs could be educational tools here, and not necessarily new ICTs. Television or radio can be just as, or more, effective.

Local Context

It’s also critical that program designers and implementers who want to improve the economic outlook for youth ensure that their program designs and interventions fit with the reality on the ground. Eg, what are the language, literacy, connectivity and gender considerations? What tools are readily accessible to the population they are working with? Who is left out? What tools and information channels do people trust? (Radio is still probably the most widespread ICT for educational purposes in rural areas). We need front-end research, participatory user input, and contextual analysis. We need to talk to actual rural youth where we are planning programs, and incorporate their thoughts, aspirations, realities and suggestions into program design.  We need to consider long-term sustainability and local partnerships. We need to think about how the different approaches support the building up of sustainable local economies. All this hard work up front is the most important in program design. And, as several people noted, often agencies only have 30 days or so to design a good proposal for funding.

Opportunities

Preparing up individual youth is still only one side of the coin, as another colleague added. At the end of the day youth need jobs to go into. So yes, there need to be programs that help youth develop (skills, assets, access) but there also needs to be economic development at a broader scale that allows youth to either become entrepreneurs or to work for others, formally or informally. What are the broader job markets or the financial systems and services that youth can access?

There is also the question of whether youth want to be self-employed. A Tech Salon participant commented that informal employment and entrepreneurship are not always the most desirable future for youth. Many youth would prefer a steady job with benefits and security — this is still the measure for success and prestige in many countries. The issue however, as another participant pointed out, is that there are simply not enough steady jobs for youth, so they are forced to be entrepreneurs.

Forbes refers to this with reference to Haiti: ‘In countries with high structural unemployment, entrepreneurship has less of an impact on growth than development economists previously thought. In Haiti, where 75% of the population is unemployed, people turn to entrepreneurship as a last resort. In Port-au-Prince and throughout the country, the term “entrepreneur” has a different meaning than it does in the developed world. Entrepreneurship is borne out of necessity, not the desire to act on business opportunities.

In the absence of a formal economy, Haitians become “necessity” entrepreneurs and must take to the streets and markets to earn their living. The road outside of Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture airport is lined with salesmen pushing a variety of products, from loaves of bread to toiletries. Children sell sugar cane, produce, and potable water while women walk from market to market selling products along the way. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a non-profit research organization, economic growth is not driven by these “necessity” entrepreneurs, who decrease in number as the economy develops. The key to fostering growth is to support “opportunity” entrepreneurs, who choose to start new enterprises in response to market needs.

Barriers

Urban and rural conditions and access to technology and employment in the two contexts are drastically different; this needs to be remembered in the ICT and youth economic empowerment discussion. It often gets overlooked amidst all the tech hype and tech incubator excitement. The difference between the fast-paced urban tech scene and a more remote rural community is vast. And not all countries possess a fast-paced urban tech scene. In addition, it can’t be assumed that just because a developer is from Nairobi, he or she knows the context well enough to develop applications or create opportunities that are fitting for youth in, say, Kilifi. Co-design and participant input are still critical. Urban developers could better understand rural contexts by spending time there.

Girls’ access to opportunities. We know that girls have less access to technology and typically less access to education. How can we support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education) and other opportunities for girls? How can we convince parents to allow girls to participate in programs and access technologies and other opportunities? How do we find more women role models for girls, both in technology and in work and other areas that take girls outside of the home and allow them access to income, which will also allow them to have more power? How do we create safe spaces for women and girls to access technologies? Often they do not feel safe in Internet cafés or are not permitted to frequent them. In addition, less girls and women own their own mobile phones than men. How can we work to help overcome all the barriers that girls face?

Access to information about existing opportunities. In some countries, Kenya for example, there are government-supported initiatives for youth employment and entrepreneurship, but many youth don’t know about them or how to access them. ICTs can play a role in connecting youth to information about opportunities for jobs, financial services and further education. Different media (radio, television, print, SMS and other) can be used for public education and financial literacy. In addition, media can help inform the population of what governments have promised by way of programs and opportunities for youth employment, and in this way support governance and accountability around youth employment.

4 basic ways…

By the end of our hour-long conversation at the Tech Salon, we mostly agreed that there are 4 basic ways to think about the intersection of youth, technology and economic empowerment:

  1. Technology as a job unto itself
  2. Technology to facilitate asset building
  3. Technology for learning and skill building
  4. Technology to access info about employment opportunities
We agreed that if they are to support youth economic empowerment, ICTs need to be contextualized and they need to be one part of a broader, holistic, and sustainable system. And I think that about sums it up. In case you missed them, check post 1 on ways that rural youth are currently generating income through ICTs and post 2 on some of the newer ways that ICTs could enable economic empowerment. If this topic is of interest, check out the Making Cents conference this September.
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Last week’s Tech Salon, hosted by ICT Works and the UN Foundation Technology Partnership, asked “Can youth find economic empowerment via apps, m-payments and social media?” I did a bit of reality checking and wrote in my last post about some of the ways that youth in African countries are harnessing ICTs to generate income. And it’s not really through apps, Facebook and mPayments.

So if developing apps isn’t the key to unlocking youth’s economic potential, is there another way that ICTs can support youth economic empowerment? At the Tech Salon we discussed a few other options.

Microtasking

Samasource’s work with “microtasking’ looks pretty interesting. TxtEagle, another microtasking initiative, just raised 8.5 million in start-up funding.

Txteagle is a commercial corporation that enables people to earn small amounts of money on their mobile phones by completing simple tasks for our corporate clients.

The types of tasks Txteagle’s African workers have done are:

  • enter details of local road signs for creating satellite navigation systems
  • translate mobile-phone menu functions into the 62 African dialects (for Nokia)
  • collect address data for business directories
  • fill out surveys for international agencies

Txteagle seems similar to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, except that workers only need a simple mobile phone – no computer or Internet access is needed.’

I hadn’t been paying attention to the microtasking phenomenon, so I did a little digging after the Tech Salon. Microsoft Research did an interesting study called Evaluating and Improving the Usability of Mechanical Turk for Low-Income Workers in India. They found some issues with the interface and make up of Mechanical Turk that made it difficult for low-income workers to benefit and provided some suggestions to improve micro tasking and make it accessible for low-income workers or those with lower education levels. When they improved the interface and instructions (in local language), test subjects’ ability to complete a task rose dramatically. “The most striking result of our study is that there exist tasks on MTurk for which the primary barrier to low-income workers is not the cognitive load of the work itself;  rather, workers are unable to understand and navigate the tasks due to shortcomings in the user interface, the task instructions, and the language utilized.”

I’m sure we’ll be hearing lots more about microtasking (and I’m probably really late to the party here). It seems more reasonable that rural youth could access microtasking work than that they would develop their own apps.

De-skilling

Others at the Technology Salon talked about de-skilling and the job potential that can open up for youth when technology or better access to information allows them to take on roles formerly reserved for more skilled professionals. It seems this is going on quite a bit in the health sector, for example. The de-skilling phenomenon has been around for awhile but I hadn’t seen it as a way for youth in rural areas to access jobs and income, so I thought this was quite interesting.

I’m not sure how much de-skilling is being seriously looked at as a way to connect youth to jobs, or how many youth it’s employing in the rural areas, but it is something I’ll be keeping an eye on and learning more about. I’m thinking that many of us have been looking at de-skilling as a way to engage community volunteers in improving other aspects of community development, eg., allowing community health workers to do their volunteer work more efficiently; but not so much as an income generator for youth.

Job matching and mobile marketplaces

My Finnish colleagues sent me some other examples of mobile (SMS) initiatives that could support economic empowerment and that are good for pushing thinking on how rural youth could tap into opportunities. I think the key is that for now, anything aimed at rural populations needs to be SMS based, as mobile internet is still very uncommon in most rural areas. There’s no harm in planning for the day when most people have Internet-enabled phones, but for now, we’ll probably want to work with what people have, not what we wish they had….

  • Google SMS Applications allow you to use some Google services via SMS text message.
  • Esoko consists of mobile updates for farmers and traders delivered by SMS that include market prices and buy/sell offers, bulk SMS functionality, websites for small businesses and associations, and SMS polling technology. Their blog (which I spent some time on today) is great for sharing how they are going about getting Esoko to function well. Again it’s clear that the technology is the tip of the iceberg….
  • Tradenet is a fully mobile integrated buy and sell portal in Sri Lanka. It has agricultural prices as well.
  • Babajob is a job matching service from India that is fully mobile integrated.
  • Cellbazaar is an SMS marketplace in Bangladesh.
  • Tagattitude is a service that allows international mobile money transfers and purchases; eg., remittances.
  • Souktel’s JobMatch uses SMS to connect employers with youth looking for jobs.

What else?

In addition to micro tasking and mobile applications, there are some more formal technology education programs such as the CISCO Networking Academies, not to mention plenty of locally created computer and technology academies and schools that formally train youth on ICTs with the aim of generating employment. I wonder though how many of the local training academies are focused on more traditional aspects of technology (eg., if you walk into one of these, do you see a room of oldish desktop computers?) and how many are also combining computer education with mobile, and advancing their education and training curricula as technology advances? Colleagues in Egypt told me that some initiatives exist that train up young people to repair cell phones. I’m wondering if this is widespread in other places as well. In any case, formal training opportunities are still difficult for youth in rural areas, and especially girls, to access.

In Kenya the government is promoting community digital centers through an initiative called the Pasha Centers. These centers are linked to youth structures in the constituency areas. Colleagues of mine reported that youth are accessing loans from the government youth fund and starting cyber kiosks, and mPesa centers that are promoting mobile banking.

On top of the government or NGO programs, the mobile phone industry itself opens a job market for young men and women who know how to set up phones, register SIM cards, etc., and there is a whole side industry, obviously, around mobile phones. But again, the more formal opportunities are in the capital or in secondary cities which can still be quite distant from where rural youth live.

Though use of apps, mPayments and Facebook may not be so widespread at the moment in the places I’ve traveled and where my colleagues are working, as outlined in post 1 of this series, and it’s not at all common for rural youth to develop applications themselves, there do seem to be some other possibilities for ‘youth economic empowerment’ that have a mobile or ICT component. I’m sure there are things I’ve missed out as well, that could be quite inspiring.

The question is how to connect these new opportunities with the young people who are typically excluded: youth in rural areas, especially girls. How to scale up the opportunities while ensuring that they are adapted to local contexts, which can vary significantly. Do youth in rural communities have the education levels and skills to access microtasking and to take advantage of ‘de-skilling’ opportunities on a broad scale? Do they know how and where to access microtasking jobs. How are the connections being made with these opportunities? Who has access to these kinds of jobs? How can rural youth find out about these opportunities?

In my next post, I’ll cover some of the other considerations for youth economic empowerment that we discussed at the Tech Salon.

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Last week’s Tech Salon, hosted by ICT Works and the UN Foundation Technology Partnership, was on the topic ‘Can youth find economic empowerment via apps, m-payments and social media?’ Fiona Macaulay from Making Cents and I gave some of the opening remarks to get the conversation started (and Wayan Vota kept things lively as usual).

The premise of the Salon was that ‘today’s youth population is the largest in the history of the world, and 90% of these young people live in developing countries. The global youth unemployment rate is the highest on record, and we’re seeing discontent and disenfranchisement play out on the news each day. In fact, the revolution in Tunisia started with an under-employed youth committing self-immolation in frustration…. Technology-based models hold great promise for increasing and improving economic opportunities for young people: low barriers to entry for youth-built apps, the widespread use of Facebook and its promise as a marketing platform, the ubiquity and ease of m-Payment systems like MPESA – these should be a recipe for youth economic empowerment.

During the Salon we explored 3 key questions:

1) How are youth starting businesses or getting jobs in growth-oriented ICT sectors around the world?

2) How are organizations and programs utilizing technology to reach and engage young people?

3) Where should we be cautious or enthusiastic with technology with respect to youth economic empowerment?

This is the first of 3 posts on those questions, starting with Question 1:

How are youth starting businesses or getting jobs in growth-oriented ICT sectors around the world?

I was pretty skeptical about the potential for apps, Facebook and m-payments to resolve the youth employment/income crisis, at least in the context of the rural communities in Africa where I’ve worked over the past several years. So leading into the Salon, I did an informal survey among some colleagues working in Africa to find out how they observed youth making money using technology, and to see whether the idea above had any legs. My thoughts were pretty much confirmed – in the places we are working, some youth are using technology to generate income, but not so much apps, mPayments and Facebook.

In Egypt, colleagues said that youth are repairing cell phones, serving as DJs at wedding parties, setting up photocopy shops and internet cafes, selling phone calls and airtime, running shops that provide children and young people with the opportunity to play games, and using computers to make flyers and posters for certain producers and products in the communities. They also provide satellite connections for poor families to access national and international TV channels – this service is not legal but generates good income for young people.

In Kenya you’ll find youth managing Mobile Phone Kiosks popularly known as ‘Simu Ya jamii’ (community phones). These double up as phone charging points. Pirated music is big business for some youth and phone unlocking services are increasing. One colleague noted that youth are not really creating applications, but in some of our programs, they are involved in piloting new applications, and thus influencing their development. In Zambia, you don’t see much of this type of activity in rural areas, according to a colleague there. But there are village telcos being operated by youth groups and some village groups are setting up banks of solar chargers to support solar lighting. (Cool result: When they set them up at a schools, encouraging women to come each day to charge their lights, they found that school attendance increased).

In Burkina Faso it’s common to see youth selling telephone scratch cards, renting out their phones, offering video services to film at private events, charging up phones for a price. In Senegal, some take phones from one area to another to charge them up for a fee. All over Africa you see video pirating and movie houses, video game houses, video downloading to mobile phones, music on flash drives and flash drives that plug into radios in cars and in collective transportation vans and busses.

There is ‘negative’ business also

Some would place ‘pirating’ and stolen satellite connections here. There is also transactional sex by girls to obtain mobile phones, which are a status symbol. We hear in some communities that adolescents with mobile phones are ‘bad.’ In Cameroon girls said that some boys only use phones to scam people and to steal. Mobiles can also facilitate prostitution. One colleague commented that in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) she has seen girls on motorbikes offering themselves by presenting their phone number on their back. We heard from youth in Cameroon that mobiles are commonly stolen and traded. Some parents in various countries do not like movie and game houses, associating them with porn and western culture.

Are youth in rural areas creating ‘apps,’ using ‘apps’ or tapping into ICT development or programming opportunities?

Not really, from what I have seen and what colleagues tell me. There are some shining stars here and there, but this isn’t very widespread yet, and the youth who are developing apps and such tend to be well-educated urban youth. This 2009 study on how the African Movement of Working Children and Youth (MAEJT) uses ICTs is quite interesting in this regard.

How do youth obtain and use mobiles? (MAEJT study, 2009)

In Egypt, colleagues said Facebook and Twitter groups around specific issues are common among young people in communities. But using ICT specifically for generating income is not. There is inadequate awareness among poor communities on how to make this happen. Although many youth have access to cell phones, ICT is still expensive and non-affordable for many others. Most of the families who have phones in their houses do not have a direct line, which means that they cannot get access to internet through cheap lines. Internet is still very expensive. Getting jobs through the internet is only common among advantaged, well- educated youth, not disadvantaged youth.

In Nairobi, Kenya, iHub and NAiLab have a big pool of developers and there is a lot of action. In rural Kenya, however, access is limited. There is a lot of interest from the youth who have started to catch on though, so colleagues felt it was possible that there could be some type of rural-urban mentoring or connections to help rural youth get on board. In rural Zambia, according to colleagues, sheer poverty means that very few additional resources and capital are available to take on new ideas. There is still very poor mobile phone coverage in some areas, and many young people have already left for urban areas. My colleagues in West Africa did not report seeing any youth developing apps or using Facebook combined with mPayments to generate income. In Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda and some other places, innovation hubs and labs are generating opportunities, but these again seem to be available to secondary- or even more often university-educated youth from urban areas and capital cities or large cities outside the capital.

So, is this bit about apps, mPayments and social media all hype? I’ll explore that a bit more in post 2 of the series. In post 3, I’ll cover the longer term considerations for ICTs and youth economic empowerment and some broader aspects that need to be kept in mind.

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I spent the first 2 weeks of November in Mozambique working on the continuation of the Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media project. This year, we are piloting digital mapping in addition to the other ICT tools that we’ve been integrating into the project. We weren’t able to find anyone locally in Mozambique who could train on Open Street Map but luckily were able to link up with Portuguese-speaking Iván Sánchez Ortega from OSM in Spain. (In case you didn’t catch the link – the official language in Mozambique is Portuguese…)

Iván was a great trainer and the youth from the two associations (Vuneka and Litanga) that we are working with really took to the idea of digital mapping and learning some new skills in the area of painting, theater, print journalism, radio, video and blogging. See some of Ivan’s thoughts on this Maps for Mozambique post.

Here are some photos of the work we did while in Mozambique….


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So, a few weeks ago I came across this fabulous article by Jay Rosen called “How the backchannel has changed the game for conference panelists“.  It was perfect timing because I had just been discussing how much I had enjoyed the public/private tweeting and live commenting happening during a live stream event I was watching, and how Twitter allows for a totally different and very engaging experience at these things than we used to have before.

I had no idea that there was actually a name for this phenomenon:  the backchannel; coined by Victor Yngve in 1970 and made famous in 2002 at the PC Forum conference (thank you Wikipedia!).

Rosen notes that “The popularity of the backchannel… has empowered those in the audience to compare notes and pool their dissatisfaction during a performance that misfires…. Especially at risk are ‘big name’ speakers whose online or offline status is such that they may complacently assume their presence alone completes the assignment and guarantees success.”

He goes on to give 10 tips for how to avoid getting killed in the backchannel. These tips are a good read for famous types who speak at conferences or panels. But they are also a good read for the rest of us, as a lot of it is still relevant. For example, I liked the idea of “blog it first” to get early reactions to what you are going to present so that you can tweak it before your actual presentation.

Now, I’m obviously the non-famous type, and I doubt the ‘audience’ will be harsh, but in mid-June, I’ll be in Karlstad, Sweden presenting at the 6th World Summit on Media for Children. My presentation is on one of the projects that I’ve been involved in over the past couple years: Youth Empowerment through Arts and Media (YETAM). I actually refer to it a lot in this blog, though I haven’t really written a summary post on it.  I normally refer people to this nice overview posted on the Communication Initiative website or to this post on the project’s overall methodology.

So, I thought I’d post my presentation here for the 99.9% of people I’m acquainted with who won’t be at the 6th World Summit, and of course as part of my plan to avoid any negative backchannel tweeting while I’m presenting!  Enjoy, and would love to have any comments to, you know, tweak it before it goes super live, just in case there are any hardcore backchannellers there….

Note: if you are reading on Google Reader, it seems the presentation doesn’t appear, so try clicking through to slideshare here…. or [NEW!] watch or download the file with notes here (if watching with notes, resize the .pdf document so that you can see the notes underneath the slides).

Related posts on Wait… What?

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Being a girl in Cumbana

Demystifying Internet


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