DIGITAL SOLUTIONS FOR CURBING POVERTY
Experience shows that digital platforms can be an effective way to overcome restrictions caused by geography and poor infrastructure and increase access to critical services especially in rural areas. The use of mobile technologies is a fast-emerging field, and there is an immense potential in introducing new technologies for financial, social and civil services for Liberians also in hard-to-reach areas. However, EDUCARE’s experience shows that illiteracy including digital illiteracy, hinders individuals, especially women, to take advantage of the opportunities offered by new technologies. This means that there is a need to equip rural populations with the necessary basic skills to use mobile technologies. In addition, access to and affordability of power sources are a challenge in many parts of the country, and although improving access of rural populations to energy sources in Liberia is one of the government’s priorities, very little has been done to provide off-grid solutions, such as solar power.
With the positive results of our pilot project, which was carried out in 30 communities and aimed at increased usage of mobile money in partnership with Orange, we envisage strengthening of our interventions in the area of digital development. In the coming years EDUCARE will also explore cost-effective and durable solutions for the introduction of renewable energy sources in the most remote areas, which will not only support the usage of digital platforms in rural areas, but also improve general living standards and productivity.
INCREASING DIGITAL LITERACY AMONG COMMUNITIES
Education in digital literacy has unquestionably become as important as literacy in its traditional sense. Digital literacy requires both cognitive and technological skills to take advantage of and convey information through digital means. It also entails ability to be critical about the information shared through technology and understanding the importance of privacy and data protection. Furthermore, it is a source of personal cost, and it is important that users understand financial implications of using technologies, the risks that are involved in accessing harmful contents for example in the case of children and adolescence, and that they use technologies within the legal remits.
EDUCARE’s core interests in this area lie in exploring and introducing digital avenues to exercise one’s civil rights and take advantage of the business opportunities through online applications and digital technologies. We plan to develop new programs to increase digital basic skills with specific focus on mobile technologies, connectivity and access to information in the coming years.
SUPPORT TO DEVELOPMENT OF DIGITAL PLATFORMS AND NETWORKS FOR PRODUCTIVITY AND INCOME GENERATION
Under this sub-theme our actions will focus on introducing and increasing understanding of the opportunities that digital technologies offer in building of business communities, access to financing and marketing. For example, SMS, WhatsApp and Facebook are widely used in Liberia to share information, news, and to connect different professional and private communities. These media have so far untapped potential in building of clientele, marketing local products and developing of services and products according to the needs of the customers.
While we plan to develop new concepts to market and sell products (virtual shops) via mobile technologies, with the encouraging results to date, we also plan to upscale projects that introduce the opportunities that mobile money can bring. The results thus far have shown high potential in both employing women in running mobile money kiosks in urban and rural areas, and in encouraging women to use mobile money for personal banking and savings.
In the area of mobile sales and marketing platforms, we embark on designing both online and SMS-based applications to cater for areas where connectivity remains limited. We will search experiences from other countries in the continent, as well as develop new partnerships with private sector and/or international NGOs that have experience in developing similar systems.