Published on Digital Development

The World Bank in partnership with EQUALS launches new program to support digital skills development

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Digital literacy pilot program participants
Photo: EQUALS Global Partnership

Lack of basic digital literacy is one of the key barriers to internet adoption and to the development of the digital economy, particularly for women and girls. In addition, globally a higher proportion of women have lower levels of education than men. Women with such disadvantages often lack, or believe they lack, the digital skills and confidence needed to use digital technologies. This can prevent them from gaining access to digital technologies and restrict their use to a limited number of services and applications. Across the 15 countries surveyed in the GSMA Mobile Gender Gap Report 2020, a lack of "literacy and digital skills" remains the greatest barrier to mobile internet adoption among female mobile users who are aware of mobile internet. 

As COVID-19 inevitably spreads across low- and middle-income countries, ensuring that all women and girls have the skills to access and use digital technologies, including mobile, is more important than ever . Tackling the digital gender gap and driving digital literacy among women and girls will require multi-stakeholder partnerships between governments, businesses, not-for-profit organizations, academic institutions and community groups around the world. 

To this end, the World Bank, the EQUALS Global Partnership’s Access Coalition and the GSMA have come together to launch three digital literacy pilot programs focusing on women and girls. 

The aim of these pilots is to test different models of delivering digital skills training to women and girls. The results and lessons learnt from these pilots will then be used to inform future digital skills interventions to empower women and girls to thrive in the digital economy. 

Leveraging the experience and the diversity of the EQUALS membership, these different pilots will assess the relative effectiveness of various delivery models including online and in person training, mentorship support, access to digital technologies and soft skills training. All components of this project will be funded through the World Bank’s Digital Development Partnership (DDP). Pilots will last between six months and one year and will target at least 500 female citizens. A fourth aspect of this activity will be a results assessment to evaluate the lessons from each pilot in order to identify good practices for digital skills development.

The three digital skills pilots will be implemented by the following organizations:

Digital Opportunity Trust (DOT) 
Country: Rwanda 

DOT is a not-for-profit organization with a growing global network of 6,000 local young women and men who have been trained as facilitators and community leaders to deliver digital literacy, entrepreneurial education and livelihood skills to people in their vulnerable and marginalized communities. In Rwanda, DOT was the main designer, implementer and executing organization of the Digital Ambassador Program (DAP) from 2017-2019, reaching over 41,000 citizens. 

In this new pilot, DOT aims to provide digital skills to young women, aged 18-35 years, who are owners of small, micro and informal businesses. The project will target those particularly impacted by COVID-19 to help them improve their businesses by integrating new digital tools and technologies. Digital Champions, who are tech savvy youth leaders with business knowledge, will facilitate both virtual and face-to-face training sessions and will themselves utilise this experience to gain access to employment opportunities and/or start a business. With these trainings, DOT plans to contribute to bridge the gender digital divide and drive the inclusion of women in the digital economy by equipping, empowering and enabling them to develop and led enterprises.

Trickle Up and AVSI Foundation 
Country: Uganda 

Since its founding in 1979, Trickle Up has been dedicated to the economic empowerment of the poorest and most vulnerable populations in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Trickle Up integrates digital innovation in its livelihood programs tailored to low-income women with limited literacy, numeracy and connectivity. AVSI Foundation is an international nongovernmental organization that delivers programs in humanitarian and development settings. In Uganda, AVSI’s presence since 1984 has reached over 2,600,000 refugees.

In this new pilot, Trickle Up and AVSI seek to test two variations of digital literacy skills capacity building for hard-to-reach and often marginalized women: short animated videos and a follow-on paper-based curriculum. Both of these programs are designed to reach lower income, refugee and host community women who tend to have limited access to digital literacy training opportunities. The women will be provided with mobile phones as part of the training which they will retain after the program.

Natview Technology
Country: Nigeria 

Natview Technology is a knowledge management firm specialising in digital skills development with extensive experience developing digital literacy and entrepreneurship programmes. Through the World Bank’s Digital Jobs in Nigeria – Kaduna State Program, Natview successfully delivered trainings to vulnerable youth in conflict-affected areas to allow them to leverage employment opportunities in the digital economy.

For this new pilot, Natview’s implementation strategy seeks to go beyond technical skills to offer combination of technical and soft skills, as well as psychosocial support delivered through a gamified learning experience. This blended approach will allow participants to take part in both remote and in-class learning. As part of this strategy, a female-only cohort program will be organised to address the issues that disproportionately affect women when developing their skills; while also guaranteeing safe spaces for them to learn and linking them to job opportunities.

The way forward

Empowering women to reap the benefits of digital technologies can help rectify long-standing inequalities and enable them to become the backbone of recovery in their families and communities . This is particularly important as COVID-19 continues to spread resulting in tragic social and economic outcomes. 

The challenges that prevent women and girls from accessing and using digital technologies are complex and require cooperation among all stakeholders 

This new project, led by the World Bank in collaboration with EQUALS and the GSMA, elucidates the potential of partnerships that leverage the expertise, knowledge and resources of different organisations to drive action on the ground. In the future, the World Bank is planning to build on these first piloting activities by drawing lessons learnt to inform and enrich future digital skills development programmes targeted at bridging the digital gender divide that is a challenge for the growth of the digital economy in Africa. 

This blog was originally published on the EQUALS Global Partnership website.


Mariana Lopez

Senior Advocacy Manager, GSMA

Zainab Rahima Aminu

Consultant, Digital Development Global Practice

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