What Women Really, Really Want
Women everywhere care about their families their health and their financial security. Whether she is a venture capital partner in Silicon Valley or a farmer in the Niger River Valley, women want the same things. They all are fighting for what will make them achieve a greater success in their life. True empowerment comes from skills learned in school or, now with the use of technology, on a mobile phone. With 40% of the global workforce female, educating women has a great potential to develop the economy in developing nations. The 2012 World Bank Report estimates that improving women’s education in developing countries can increase labor productivity by up to 25% in some areas.
As ambitious as this target is, the reality in the developing world is that women suffer the strong disparities of the digital divide. They have less access to education, technology, and job opportunities compared to men. We believe that we can shift this technological and educational paradigm.
We believe you have to give people what they want, what they can use, and what is relevant to them. Our company, Changecorp works mostly with “mobile-only-users” providing learning content through different platforms, whether it is a SMS, GPRS, a smartphone app or a tablet app. Given the increasing ubiquity of a mobile phone, mobile learning is the key to educating women in developing nations. If you’re trying to reach a woman farmer or business-owner in Kenya, she probably doesn’t have a landline or a computer, but she does have a mobile phone. By engaging in mobile learning technology, we are able to reach and educate a greater number of women than any other strategy.
You must leverage the impact and scale of existing programs by implementing mobile strategies that increase visibility of the message and also reach more users (or beneficiaries). For example, we have a partnership with the Telefonica Foundation in Colombia to create a mobile “parenting school.” The beneficiaries of the Telefonica Foundation Program called “Proniño” receive mobile messages everyday to increase their understanding of the negative impact of child labor; and change their cultural stigmas that say sending a child to work is good for them. Through the mobile phone, we say, “No, it is not good for them. Having them work at a young age is wrong, stunts their growth, affects their health and limits their education.” After many years of funding Pronino, Telefonica Foundation used their own business to make an impact on the people they serve.
While many aid organizations, such as the Gates Foundation focus on the “base-of-the-pyramid”, or people making less than $3,000 a year, we focus on the middle swath of the pyramid, or the 4 billion people who do not own a smartphone. We work with many of the telecom operators and handset providers around the world, such as Telefonica, Nokia, MTN, Vodafone and others. The trend is to move people from basic or feature phones to more affordable smartphones, and from to 2G service to using 3G service. We are perfectly positioned for both of these trends, and want to expand quickly to take advantage of these market shifts. There are very few organizations in the world who provide mobile learning (not to be confused with traditional on-line courses), but informal learning through apps, text messages and web-based platforms for information on financial literacy, health, business, job skills and women’s empowerment.
The best example of women’s empowerment is The SmartWoman Project – that launched with Nokia Life in Indonesia and Nigeria targeted at small to medium income women entrepreneurs who want to improve their businesses. Over 50,000 women subscribe to the service to receive daily SMS-messages about: life skills, business skills, banking/credit, finance, and communication. It is impacting their lives at home and in their business.
If you want to change the world, start with peer-to-peer programs where there is a fundamental understanding of a need and an ability to help. But, for goodness sake – make it sustainable. Otherwise, it is just another development program that has no legs for the long run. In that scenario, no one wins. With a holistic, comprehensive approach with all types of partners involved, and an economically sustainable business model, then everyone wins.