Launched in 2018, the WomenConnect Challenge (WCC) is a global call for solutions to improve women’s participation in everyday life by meaningfully changing the ways women and girls access and use technology.
The nine Round One projects focus on addressing the social and cultural norms that keep women offline and under-empowered. WCC focuses on local solutions to close the gender digital divide, with an eye on interventions that could be replicated in other communities.
Through the WomenConnect Challenge grantees, USAID has identified five proven strategies to close the gender digital divide and increase women’s economic empowerment. The projects emphasized the need to incorporate women-centric programming, challenge perceptions, and generate economic opportunities.
WomenConnect Round One Winners
In response to the call, USAID received more than 500 applications from 89 countries.
The challenge winners are: AFCHIX, Equal Access International, Gram Vaani, Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, Innovations for Poverty Action, Institute for Financial Management and Research, Mali Health, GAPI and Bluetown, and Viamo.
AFCHIX creates entrepreneurial opportunities for rural women in Senegal, Morocco, Kenya, and Namibia to run local internet service providers and work as network engineers. This initiative contributed to improving connectivity and building the capacity of communities to establish and maintain telecommunications infrastructure. The entrepreneurial and empowerment program helped women establish their own companies, provide important community services, and position these individuals as role models. Read more about AFCHIX.
Equal Access International
Millions of Nigerian women are prohibited from using the Internet or smartphones, contributing to inequality and exacerbating poverty. Equal Access International produced a 12-episode show for a popular Nigerian radio station to break down gender stereotypes, challenge cultural taboos, and promote skills and opportunities for women and girls to use digital technology. The show writers used data collected from focus groups discussion and input from activists, village elders, religious leaders, and community representatives to develop compelling storylines and content. After each episode, facilitators led discussions with families with the goal of empowering women and girls to use digital technology. Read more about Equal Access International.
In Northern India, low-income women have limited access to information. Women may not be able to use the Internet due to costs and low literacy. Gram Vaani developed a mobile phone-based platform where women could create and share news on topics such as labor rights, maternal and child health, livelihoods opportunities, and human rights. This platform allowed women an opportunity to learn from their peers, safely voice their concerns and discuss collective solutions to their most pressing challenges. A network of community leaders and volunteers then advocated for the issues to be addressed by local decision makers, leading to greater representation of women in community decision-making. Read more about Gram Vaani.
Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team
Often, women are not included in decisions that impact their daily lives. Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team trained young women and vocal male allies in Tanzania and Peru on Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to collect and plot out data on free, open source maps. For example, a map can illustrate where there are high occurences of sexual harassment and violence. The maps can then be used as an advocacy tool with local government to affect positive change. Through this project, female mappers were empowered and supported in areas where leaders are not typically female, setting an example for the whole community. Read more about Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team.
Innovations for Poverty Action
In the Dominican Republic, low-income women disproportionately are denied access to credit because they lack credit history, property rights, and formal earnings. The Innovations for Poverty Action program uses data from mobile phones to test new credit scoring models. The models determine the best predictors of creditworthiness separately for men and women, making it possible for women to gain a credit score. By using digital technology, more women will have access to financing and have the resources needed to be entrepreneurs.
Institute for Financial Management and Research
India has a substantial gender digital divide, especially for low-income women. Evidence for Policy Design (EPoD) India at the Institute for Financial Management and Research developed a phone-based information delivery service that provides women with useful information about government programs and benefits. The messaging service was available to women in more than 150 villages who recently received connected smartphones through a government of India program. By creating information that directly benefits women, women can benefit from this access to digital technology. Read more about EpoD India at the Institute for Financial Management and Research.
In the Malian slum Sabalibougou, where women do not have the means to access quality healthcare and related services, Mali Health is using technology to help these women connect, access services, and increase their financial and decision-making autonomy. Through a custom social network application designed for a basic cell phone, women in local savings and loan groups receive information on preventative health, as well as ways to access and finance health services for them and their families. The social network application is voice-based so that it is accessible to low-literacy women, who are the primary intended users, and supports local languages. Read more about Mali Health.
GAPI and Bluetown
GAPI, a Mozambican Development Finance Institution, and Bluetown, an internet service provider, joined efforts to create “Women in the Network,” an entrepreneurship program that provides rural women with technical skills courses and the ability to lease or finance phones. They helped incorporate these women into the digital agricultural marketplace and helped them gain access to income-generating activities. Read more about GAPI and Bluetown.
Viamo aims to tackle barriers for women in Tanzania and Pakistan such as low digital literacy, and the perception that mobile internet is not relevant to their lives. Viamo’s free, on-demand information service, 3-2-1, partners with mobile network operators in 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia to provide low-literacy women with interactive, educational content to access life-saving information and digital literacy training. Read more about Viamo.