The power of mobile technology to connect and enable millions is undeniable. However, this power is not equally distributed. Disadvantaged women in developing countries face greater exclusion and higher barriers when it comes to mobile technology. In Sub-Saharan Africa women are 23% less likely than men to own a smartphone (GSMA, 2013) and 45% less likely than men to be online (Intel, 2015). This leaves an estimated 300 million women completely disconnected from the increasingly digital and global world that we live in. These women are the ones raising the next generation and linking the fabric of their society together. Connecting and training these women to use technology is an essential part of achieving the fifth Sustainable Development Goal of Gender Equality.
As a business woman and angel investor, who has lived in Lubumbashi (DRC) and London (UK), I am a believer in technology’s ability to release untapped potential and create opportunities for social and economic change. This is the reason I founded Kiteka in December 2016 in Uganda. Our mission is to harness the power of mobile technology to give the world’s poorest women a voice and a future. We do this with smartphone loans, business and technology training and online working opportunities. When we give women the chance to get online and connect with the world they grow in confidence and in their ability to be agents of social change. Of the 135 women that have been through the Kiteka programme over 90% felt more confident and over 80% felt safer from owning a smartphone.
The most powerful aspect of our programme is training women in basic digital work for international clients, which they can do remotely from their smartphone. On average, we pay our women $2/hour, which with two hours of work is the equivalent of an entire day’s trading in the market. The ability to complete work from a smartphone brings far greater flexibility for women, who also have multiple commitments in the home, as well as with their local business. Kiteka is enabling them to earn what we call a “digital dividend” by allowing them to work when they want and where they want. Over half of Kiteka women have children and choose to complete the online work from home, typically when the children have gone to sleep at night. One of the group decided to keep working from her smartphone after giving birth, as her market trading involved travelling five miles on extremely busy roads on the back of a bicycle. We only found out about this when she sent through a picture of her newborn baby girl over the group WhatsApp, along with a picture of the new babygrow and blanket she’d bought with her online earnings.
The smartphone not only gives women a digital voice, but it also connects them to other essential services such as financial access, health information and education tools. Over 75% of Kiteka women now use mobile money as their primary payment and saving method. This has been incredibly valuable for women who have never been able to save before, whether because their partner would always keep the available cash, or because they found it impossible to save with money lying around. Over 10% of the women in our programme are now saving for their children’s education and we expect to see this increase as more of them participate in our digital work platform.
Kiteka is not alone in using the smartphone as a tool for social change (M-Pesa, M-Kopa, Trend Solar and We Farm have all excelled at this), but it is unique in using it as a means to promote gender equality and economic empowerment for the world’s poorest women. Just as mobile money has changed the financial services landscape, increasing and strengthening women’s voices changes the social, political and economic landscape. There is still a long way to go before we reach our goal for 2030, but each smartphone and each woman counts.
If you care about social impact and seeing advances in technology used for the many, not just the few, then join us at our Inclusive Technology Networking Event on Tuesday 27th February, 7-9pm at Blooms, London. Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite here.