Round Three of the WomenConnect Challenge focuses on applying the proven strategies of Rounds 1 and 2 for greater scale and impact. Four awards will further address the gender digital divide in eight countries. Proposals demonstrated the following requirements:
1. Building upon Proven Strategies. Awardees were basing their interventions on known and tested proven strategies that have closed the gender and technology gap.
2. Private Sector Participation. Each awardee has a private sector financial partner to ensure long-term sustainability and to faciliate partnerships between the private sector and organizations hoping to bridge the gender digital divide at the grassroots level.
3. Reach at least 1 million women, 18 and above. Each project has an ambitious plan to meaningfully scale.
4. Pathway to Sustainability. Round Three projects all have the potential to reach viability to develop into long-term, self-sustaining projects and businesses.
Nivi aims to reduce major gender and structural inequalities in healthcare for women in Nigeria, Kenya, and India, enabling women to be at the center of their health decisions. Nivi’s personalized and interactive chat services, available through all major chat and messaging applications, make it easier for women to explore key health topics, access accurate and timely medical information, and connect with products and resources specific to their queries. At a time when women’s health information is often governed by other family members and where rumors and inaccurate information abound, Nivi presents a reliable, trusted service that can be anonymized and customized through evidence-based health screening algorithms. In a post-pandemic world, factual health information that encourages women to take charge of their health and empowers them on their health journeys is essential to recovery and resilience. The Nivi platform operates on this principle, and adapts based on women’s feedback and insight. Merck is the co-founder of Nivi and an active partner in all three countries.
Mediae comes to the challenge with over 20 years in effective “edutainment,” educational entertainment. This positively impacted social norms, women’s empowerment, and development practices in Kenya and Tanzania with its novel programming and engaging television shows. “Shamba Shape Up” and “iShamba”—Mediae’s flagship programs—will be retooled for rural women in Uganda with the introduction of “Mpeke Town,” which is focused on the education and empowerment of women in agricultural value chains. Through television programs in Luganda and English, iShamba peer groups, and an easily-accessible interactive voice response (IVR) system, women will engage in membership and mentorship opportunities designed to increase their crop yields, financial standing, and overall level of influence in the home and community. Episodes of “Mpeke Town” educate women on how technologies and services can help them achieve better farming and financial skills and discuss such issues as land ownership, gendered agricultural activities, and other topics that specifically improve the lives of female viewers. In Kenya, an impact study on Mediae’s programs in over 400,000 households determined that women viewers were able to significantly increase their net profits and productivity; targeting one million women in rural Uganda is the next step to building women’s success and influence in agriculture in East Africa.
Winner: Heifer International
Eighty percent of rural Nepali women are subsistence farmers, yet they do not have access to agricultural development programming due to socio-cultural barriers and gender biases that restrict women from meeting with agricultural extension workers or using technology. While good digital agriculture content exists online, women farmers simply cannot access it. Only 16 percent of women have access to the internet versus 84 percent of men, and both illiteracy and digital illiteracy prohibit a larger percentage of those women from accessing such opportunities as obtaining credit and learning new farming skills. Heifer International is addressing this by focusing on services and content specifically for women through the e-Chautari application, part of Heifer’s larger GeoKrishi platform. With partner Pathway Technologies and Services Private Limited (Pathway), Heifer aims to directly reach one million women farmers in 90 municipalities in all seven Nepali provinces in order to upskill women, build male and community support for women’s changing roles in agriculture, and move women into high value commodity farming.
AFCHIX, a WomenConnect Challenge Round 1 awardee, will continue to demonstrate that innovative and considerate approaches to addressing the gender digital divide can be achieved through supporting women-led Community Networks in underserved areas. Round 1 community networks in Kenya, Morocco, Namibia, and Senegal will benefit from additional funding to scale and sustain the women-managed enterprises, which have benefitted the economic status of many women’s collectives, provided internet access to schools and local institutions, and brought women into key community decision-making roles. In Round 3, AFCHIX will integrate its online digital skills trainings into community network offerings, thus facilitating entrepreneurship and other socioeconomic opportunities. AFCHIX will focus on building partnerships with local universities, national research institutions, and private sector partners to increase the numbers of women who engage in STEM-based activities and livelihoods. Additionally, AFCHIX will actively work on shaping the policy and regulatory environments in these four countries to facilitate community networks as a best practice in championing digital inclusion. Partners in these efforts include Network Startup Resource Center (https://nsrc.org/), Internet Society (https://www.internetsociety.org/), AFNOG (https://afnog.org/), and the Association for Progressive Communications (https://www.apc.org).