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Mobiles for youth workforce development (mYWD) track at the mEducation Symposium

This week the mEducation Alliance* will host its second symposium, bringing together institutions and organizations that are interested in and/or supporting the use of mobile technologies in education.

The main theme for this year’s Symposium is partnership, and sessions fall into the following categories: public-private partnerships, mobiles for reading, mobiles for inclusive education and assistive technology, mobiles for education system strengthening, mobiles for youth workforce development, and mobiles for education in crisis and conflict settings.

One reason I’m excited about the Symposium is that I’ll be sharing preliminary findings and seeking input on some research around mobiles and youth workforce development (mYWD) that I’m working on for JBS International. The research will culminate in a landscape review published around this time next year. The topic is timely considering the so-called ‘youth bulge’ in many countries, the huge numbers of young people (including those of all education levels) unable to find or create sustainable livelihoods, and the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices.

In general, youth workforce development programs seek to identify the skills and knowledge that specific industries need and to support youth to improve their education and develop the hard and soft skills required to work in those industries. Mobile technologies are being integrated in a number of ways in YWD; from mobile phone repair training to the use of ‘pico’ projectors for training to micro-tasking.

The mYWD landscape review will revolve around key questions such as: Which organizations are working on mYWD? How are mobile technologies currently being used in youth workforce development programming? Are there additional areas where they could be considered? What factors hinder or facilitate the use of mobile technologies in YWD programs and what are some of the challenges? Is there any evidence that mobile technology is having a positive or negative impact on youth workforce development? One important aspect of the study will be its consideration of the intersection of gender and mYWD from a few different angles, including how gender impacts access to mobile youth workforce development programs, how mobiles affect access to youth workforce development programs, and whether mYWD programs have a differential impact on young men and young women.

A working group will be formed to delve more deeply into the topic of mYWD. At the Symposium, we’ll be gathering initial input about what the working group’s priorities should be and what are the best channels and means to discuss topics and share mYWD-related learning. The working group will be open to a wide range of organizations and institutions interested in a more in-depth examination of mYWD.

In connection with the working group and the landscape review, five learning events will take place over the next several months on mYWD sub-themes. These will be documented for sharing and on-line discussion on the mEducation website. I’ll also be doing some key informant interviews and constant scanning of the literature and the field in general over the next several months. If you have something to share, please be in touch!

If you are attending the mEducation Symposium and you are interested in youth, mobile technologies, and workforce development, be sure to check out the mYWD track. (And don’t forget to RSVP for ICT4Drinks on Thursday evening!)

If you’re not attending the Symposium or are otherwise unable to attend the mYWD sessions, keep an eye out for the upcoming Learning Series events or contact Matt French (MFrench [at] jbsinternational [dot] com) or me (lindaraftree [at] gmail [dot] com) for information on the landscape review or to join the working group.

I’m still casting the net far and wide for information on mYWD, so any relevant information is most welcome!

—-

*The Mobiles for Education (mEducation) Alliance is an international collaborative effort between bilateral and multilateral donors, NGOs, foundations, private sector partners, academic researchers, and implementing organizations. Our collective agenda is to explore cutting‐edge intersections between mobile technologies, education and development, to reduce duplicative efforts, and promote collective knowledge‐sharing. The increasing ubiquity of mobile phones and coverage and the current and possible utilization of other mobile devices, including e‐Readers, tablet computers, flash memory, micro/ “pico” projectors, and audio/visual devices among other technologies, provide valuable opportunities for supporting quality education impact in developing countries.


Soft skills and enabling environments for youth economic empowerment

As you may have read in my previous posts, I participated in Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference from September 7-9. Some of the most interesting points for me were the emphases on seeing youth as assets, specialized and focused efforts with girls, and the gaps and bridges that technology can create and span for girls.

A last point I want to bring up is the need for ’soft skills’ and ‘enabling environments’ in addition to the specific ‘hard skills’ like vocational training, specific job skills, computer training, etc. The importance of ‘soft skills’ and ‘enabling environments’ was  mentioned in pretty much every session that I attended.

Soft skills. It seems obvious, but in addition to knowing how to cut hair, fix a car, run a small business, develop computer software, repair mobile phones, do construction, or work at a store, an office, a factory or whatever, young people need to learn ‘soft skills.’  Soft skills include good attitudes towards work and learning, good interpersonal relationships, self-esteem and confidence, decision-making and all kinds of skills that don’t only help youth succeed at generating income, but that help them negotiate a variety of situations in their lives. Sometimes these are called ‘life skills’, and they are critical elements of holistic youth focused programs.

Most youth development approach programs, whether aimed at economic empowerment or striving for other goals, are about helping youth strengthen these types of skills. At the personal level, most of the work I’ve been involved in over the past several years is along these lines, but via the use of technology, arts and media and involvement in youth-led advocacy or youth-led community development activities. The results are similar however —  youth learn to have self-confidence and they feel valued, they have a sense of group belonging and safety, they learn to speak in public, interact confidently with each other and with adults, they find a space where they can say what they think without being shy, boys and girls learn to work together and better understand each other, and youth learn to negotiate and broker with those who have power. Combined with financial literacy, specific job training and skills related to work and business, these skills are what make young people more successful when trying to earn a living, whether it’s in the formal or informal sector. They also help youth to navigate and overcome some of the challenges and barriers that they encounter. In addition, having trusted adult mentors who they can turn to for support can help ease their way.

Enabling environment. Youth can learn all the soft skills and vocations they want, but if the environment that surrounds them is not conducive to their well-being, if adults do not respect and value them, if there are no broader supportive systems and opportunities for youth to link into, they will be primed for success, but they may not reach it, and this can lead to frustration and apathy. For this reason, the ‘enabling environment’ is a critical piece of these programs.

Manjula Pradeep from Navsarjan Trust talked about the variety of skills and aspects that they focus on with adolescent girls and young women, and their communities, including:

  • Sense of self
  • Identity
  • Solidarity
  • Sense of place
  • Finding self and others who can be supportive
  • Changing and bringing women up to another level in the family and the community
  • Vocational skills
  • Leadership skills
  • Focus on rights and protection
  • Support and acknowledgment to the other elements of their lives
Youth Build and Catholic Relief Services shared their short document called Rebuilding Lives and Livelihoods, which gives a clear set of promising practices for working with gang-involved youth. Each organization present at Making Cents had its own way of looking at or describing soft skills and enabling environments, but every successful program approach seemed to emphasize the need for both.

The development of soft skills goes hand in hand with seeing youth as assets and people in their own right, and with understanding that mere vocational training, or simply owning a mobile phone will not be enough for many adolescents and young people to achieve success. The focus on enabling environments shows an awareness that the context in which young people grow up is complex and needs to be seen as such, and that all levels and sectors need to be working together to support healthy, thriving and successful young people — from the individual youth, to the family, community, district, national and global levels, and from the cultural to the educational to private enterprise and government and religious and civil society.


Barriers to girls’ economic opportunities

As I wrote yesterday, I attended Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference last week on “Breakthroughs in Youth Enterprise, Workforce Development, Financial Services and Livelihoods”

Messages I took away included:

  • seeing youth as assets, not problems
  • the need for specialized and focused approaches to support girls
  • girls and technology – gaps and bridges
  • the importance of ‘soft skills’ and ‘enabling environments’

The Adolescent Girls and Young Women track started from the reality that girls face barriers to economic empowerment, but that there are some specific things that can be done to support them and things girls themselves can do to be more successful. Some k-nowledge that got dropped:

Barriers girls face to gaining employment. Barbara Chilangwa from CAMFED (and former Secretary of Education in Zambia) commented that barriers include girls’ lack of power and male domination; the fact that money is controlled by men, meaning women don’t have an opportunity to own anything; girls not attending school, and early marriage. “Girls’ education must be at the core of any country that wants to develop,” she said.

What do girls say? The team from BRAC in Tanzania presented their holistic life skills and job training program with adolescent girls. As a key step in their program, they consulted with girls on what they consider “the good life” and what challenges they face in trying to reach it. (See “Seeing youth as assets” – it’s important to involve young people in program design and decisions).

The girls considered the good life to include (in this order): health, education, work, house, good husband, loving family, good morals, peace in the family, peace in the community, cooperation and the absence of poverty.

The challenges to the good life that the girls noted were: early pregnancy; early marriage; bride price; gender discrimination; HIV and STIs; dropping out of school; alcohol and drugs; a complex family situation; poverty; a limited voice in the family; limited participation in the community; violence, rape or prostitution; limited opportunities for income generation and lack of opportunity for receiving training and loans.

Is 15 too late for girls? Judith Bruce from the Population Council focused on the message that once a girl hits puberty, she must fight for control of her own body, her sexuality, her fertility and her labor. “Most youth policies begin at 15, and this is 5 years too late for girls,” she said. “We need to invest in late childhood [starting at age 10], which is the critical period for girls.” Girls face intensified social exclusion during adolescent as their movement and mobility is restricted by family and community, Bruce said. In addition, there is a weak link between secondary school completion and earning for girls. “It’s difficult for females to control their earnings and other assets,” she noted. “This is something boys and men don’t have to deal with.” On top of that, there is a disproportionate dependency burden on females in both time and income.

Bruce said that the girls who are participating in financial services and different programs are those who have “survived girlhood,” overcoming a number of obstacles in order to enter into these programs. But what about the girls that don’t get into the programs that agencies design and develop, she wondered. We need to build social capital early, help girls develop friendship networks, provide regular safe spaces where girls can meet, provide female mentors, ensure they have personal documentation and safety nets, and support age-graded, gender and context specific financial literacy. “All girls should have small emergency savings and be introduced to goal-oriented savings,” she said. “This work is hard and costly and it matters who we invest in and work with.” She advocated that 12-year-old girls should the focus of economic opportunity programs.

Formal or informal? Mary Hallward-Driemeier from the World Bank gave some fascinating insight into gender inequities and where they occur. (I’m not sure which exact studies she was working from but perhaps start here or here). The Bank takes a holistic approach to economic opportunities, looking at human capital (education, training); access to assets (financial and physical); an enabling environment (cultural, social, business) and motivation (drive, connections, empowerment). In this context, gender and youth can matter, she said, both directly (girls and women face constraints because they are female and young) and indirectly (due to the nature of where young women are disproportionately active economically.

Once informal, always informal. Hallward-Driemeier brought out that the constraints that young women face are quite often based on the activities that they tend to go into. Small, informal sectors tend to be where women are working, and there is not much difference between genders within the sector, however more women end up in the informal sector, which is more challenging than the formal sector. So, it’s not about girls’ and women’s participation per se, it’s about helping girls and women move into higher value added activities. “There are not an awful lot of transitions. Once you are in a small, informal enterprise, it’s not likely that you will move out of this sector. This is why youth opportunities are critical to what girls will do with their futures.”

“Sextortion” was a new word I learned. It refers to the sexual harassment that girls and women often face when trying to get a job, eg., “I’ll give you a job but you must provide sexual favors if you want it.” Statistics seem to show that “sextortion” occurs more often in formal employment situations (in the context of HIV/AIDS work I’ve heard that this happens quite a bit in the informal sector also, though I have no studies to back this up). A woman may not be able to report this because her husband or family will no longer allow her to work, it can cause trouble for her, she can be blamed, she can be shamed or stigmatized by the community. A video shown by Youth Build/Catholic Relief Services in an unrelated session the following day included a concrete case of ‘sextortion’. The young Salvadoran woman featured in the video explained that she had studied auto mechanics and was unable to find a job. At the most recent interview she went to, she would have been required to sleep with the manager, so she declined it.

Discriminatory laws that make girls and women vulnerable. Another point that Hallward-Driemeier brought up was that in certain countries, customary and religious law is the formal constitutionally recognized law even though it is discriminatory against women. Marriage, land, property and inheritance are exempt from nondiscrimination and there is no recourse in most cases. She showed some very interesting graphics comparing head of household laws in low versus middle-income countries, and there is not much difference in terms of customary law across countries – discrimination against women is present in both.

Hallward-Driemeier shared some life decisions that can affect a woman’s ability to pursue opportunities or render her less or more vulnerable including:

  • Registering her marriage: legal rights and protections can vary based on whether a marriage is formally recognized by the state or not.
  • Her choice of marital property regime: Separate or community property have different implications for the control of property within marriage and the division of property in the case of divorce or inheritance.
  • Registering property jointly with her spouse: This can protect a woman if the marriage ends.
  • Registering her business in her own name:  So that she can have control as well as ownership of it.
  • Writing a will and having her husband write one too: So that she is legally protected in terms of land ownership, property, custody of children, etc.
It’s clear that the challenges and barriers that women girls face are in many cases much higher than those that men and boys face, but as Bruce said in her comments:  ”Girls are such performers!”  In the face of great obstacles, when given an opportunity, girls and young women most certainly can overcome them and shine.

Are holistic and contextualized efforts the key to rural youth economic empowerment?

In my last 2 posts, I wrote about reality (how rural youth in are currently harnessing ICTs to generate income), and possibilitysome new technology uses and concepts that I learned about at the “Can youth find economic empowerment via apps, m-payments and social media?” Tech Salon, hosted by ICT Works and the UN Foundation Technology Partnership.

This third and last post of the series explores some of the broader aspects that need to be in place or considered when looking at youth economic empowerment and the role of ICTs.

During our Tech Salon conversations, someone reminded the room that a large population of well-educated youth with no prospective jobs (think Tunisia or Egypt) is one thing. A large population of (rural) youth with low education levels is another.

Francis Fukuyama kind of sums this up based on Samuel Huntington’s ‘Political Order in Changing Societies,’ written some 40 years ago: ‘increasing levels of economic and social development often led to coups, revolutions and military takeovers rather than a smooth transition to modern liberal democracy. The reason, he pointed out, was the gap that appeared between the hopes and expectations of newly mobilized, educated and economically empowered people on the one hand, and the existing political system, which did not offer them an institutionalized mechanism for political participation, on the other. He might have added that such poorly institutionalized regimes are also often subject to crony capitalism, which fails to provide jobs and incomes to the newly educated middle class. Attacks against the existing political order, he noted, are seldom driven by the poorest of the poor; they instead tend to be led by rising middle classes who are frustrated by the lack of political and economic opportunity….’

So if the behaviors of these two basic groups (for simplicity’s sake let’s assume there are only 2 basic groups) are quite different, also the approaches to supporting the two groups are quite different, and their views of and reactions to economic crises also tend to be quite different. The first group (the newly educated middle class) is in a better position to access ICT-fueled economic opportunities, whereas the second group likely needs to strengthen its knowledge of things like savings, basic skills, and assets. Context, as always, is critical, and there will not be one single recipe that addresses the economic and development needs of the ‘youth bulge’.

Youth bulge. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Some would say that economic opportunities created for the newly educated middle class will mean eventual trickle down opportunity to the rural poor — in which scenario app development, Facebook, microtasking and such might be seen as key enablers for economic empowerment for certain youth. But how can we more immediately support those who are not part of this newly educated middle class. And what about the countries that don’t have a large population of well-educated middle class tech-savvy youth? What are some key things for supporting economically disadvantaged rural youth?

Financial Literacy

Financial literacy for both children and adolescents is one key element. Financial literacy helps drive reasoning, conceptual skills, and leads to better engagement later with formal and informal sectors.  At an early age, say around 8 years, financial literacy should include basic skills like counting, math, logical reasoning, value. Later on, financial literacy needs to move into understanding loans, down payments, interest rates, credit. In terms of ICTs, yes, mobiles could offer tools for youth to save and to build assets, but they need to know the importance of building assets in the first place. Aflatoun is one example of programs that focus on financial literacy and the importance of saving. The educational children’s program Sesame Street also does its part. As background, this very interesting mPesa report says that around 21% of mPesa customers use the service for saving/storing money.

Life skills

A colleague at the Tech Salon noted that financial literacy and financial education need to be wrapped up into youth life skills education, also covering aspects like reproductive health, hygiene, emotional health. Youth need financial literacy but they also need basic literacy and increasingly media literacy. They need to know more about career development and to get help making good career choices; help understanding: What is real? What are their realistic expectations for a career? What does the current labor market look like? What do they need to do to prepare for a particular career or job? What are their real options? ICTs could be educational tools here, and not necessarily new ICTs. Television or radio can be just as, or more, effective.

Local Context

It’s also critical that program designers and implementors who want to improve the economic outlook for youth ensure that their program designs and interventions fit with the reality on the ground. Eg, what are the language, literacy, connectivity and gender considerations? What tools are readily accessible to the population they are working with? Who is left out? What tools and information channels do people trust? (Radio is still probably the most widespread ICT for educational purposes in rural areas). We need front-end research, participatory user input, and contextual analysis. We need to consider long-term sustainability and local partnerships. We need to think about how the different approaches support the building up of sustainable local economies. All this hard work up front is the most important in program design. And, as several people noted, often agencies only have 30 days or so to design a good proposal for funding.

Opportunities

Preparing up the individual youth is still only one side of the coin though, as another colleague added. At the end of the day youth need jobs to go into. So yes, there need to be programs that help youth develop (skills, assets, access) but there also needs to be economic development at a broader scale that allows youth to either become entrepreneurs or to work for others, formally or informally. What are the broader job markets or the financial systems and services that youth can access?

There is also the question of whether youth want to be self-employed. A Tech Salon participant commented that informal employment and entrepreneurship are not always the most desirable future for youth. Many youth would prefer a steady job with benefits and security — this is still the measure for success and prestige in many countries. The issue however, as another participant pointed out, is that there are simply not enough steady jobs for youth, so they are forced to be entrepreneurs.

Forbes refers to this with reference to Haiti: ‘In countries with high structural unemployment, entrepreneurship has less of an impact on growth than development economists previously thought. In Haiti, where 75% of the population is unemployed, people turn to entrepreneurship as a last resort. In Port-au-Prince and throughout the country, the term “entrepreneur” has a different meaning than it does in the developed world. Entrepreneurship is borne out of necessity, not the desire to act on business opportunities.

In the absence of a formal economy, Haitians become “necessity” entrepreneurs and must take to the streets and markets to earn their living. The road outside of Port-au-Prince’s Toussaint Louverture airport is lined with salesmen pushing a variety of products, from loaves of bread to toiletries. Children sell sugar cane, produce, and potable water while women walk from market to market selling products along the way. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, a non-profit research organization, economic growth is not driven by these “necessity” entrepreneurs, who decrease in number as the economy develops. The key to fostering growth is to support “opportunity” entrepreneurs, who choose to start new enterprises in response to market needs.

Barriers

Urban and rural conditions and access to technology and employment in each are drastically different; this needs to be remembered in the ICT and youth economic empowerment discussion. It often gets overlooked amidst all the tech hype and tech incubator excitement. The difference between the fast-paced urban tech scene and a far off rural community is vast. And not all countries possess a fast-paced urban tech scene. In addition, it can’t be assumed that just because a developer is from Nairobi, he or she knows the context well enough to develop applications or create opportunities that are fitting for youth in, say, Kilifi. Co-design and participant input are still critical. Urban developers could better understand rural contexts by spending time there.

Girls’ access to opportunities. We know that girls have less access to technology and typically less access to education. How can we support STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math Education) and other opportunities for girls? How can we convince parents to allow girls to participate in programs and access technologies and other opportunities? How do we find more women role models for girls, both in technology and in work and other areas that take girls outside of the home and allow them access to income, which will also allow them to have more power? How do we create safe spaces for women and girls to access technologies? Often they do not feel safe in Internet cafés or are not permitted to frequent them. In addition, less girls and women own their own mobile phones than men. How can we work to help overcome all the barriers that girls face?

Access to information about existing opportunities. In some countries, Kenya for example, there are government-supported initiatives for youth employment and entrepreneurship, but many youth don’t know about them or how to access them. ICTs can play a role in connecting youth to information about opportunities for jobs, financial services and further education. Different media (radio, television, print, SMS and other) can be used for public education and financial literacy. In addition, media can help inform the population of what governments have promised by way of programs and opportunities for youth employment, and in this way support governance and accountability around youth employment.

4 basic ways…

By the end of our hour-long conversation at the Tech Salon, we mostly agreed that there are 4 basic ways to think about the intersection of youth, technology and economic empowerment:

  1. Technology as a job unto itself
  2. Technology to facilitate asset building
  3. Technology for learning and skill building
  4. Technology to access info about employment opportunities
We agreed that in order for it to support youth economic empowerment, ICTs need to be contextualized and they need to be one part of a broader, holistic, and sustainable system. And I think that about sums it up. In case you missed them, check post 1 on ways that rural youth are currently generating income through ICTs and post 2 on some of the newer ways that ICTs could enable economic empowerment. If this topic is of interest, check out the Making Cents conference this September.

Are microtasking and de-skilling the key to rural youth economic empowerment?

Last week’s Tech Salon, hosted by ICT Works and the UN Foundation Technology Partnership, asked “Can youth find economic empowerment via apps, m-payments and social media?” I did a bit of reality checking and wrote in my last post about some of the ways that youth in African countries are harnessing ICTs to generate income. And it’s not really through apps, Facebook and mPayments.

So if developing apps isn’t the key to unlocking youth’s economic potential, is there another way that ICTs can support youth economic empowerment? At the Tech Salon we discussed a few other options.

Microtasking

Samasource’s work with “microtasking’ looks pretty interesting. TxtEagle, another microtasking initiative, just raised 8.5 million in start-up funding.

Txteagle is a commercial corporation that enables people to earn small amounts of money on their mobile phones by completing simple tasks for our corporate clients.

The types of tasks Txteagle’s African workers have done are:

  • enter details of local road signs for creating satellite navigation systems
  • translate mobile-phone menu functions into the 62 African dialects (for Nokia)
  • collect address data for business directories
  • fill out surveys for international agencies

Txteagle seems similar to Amazon’s Mechanical Turk, except that workers only need a simple mobile phone – no computer or Internet access is needed.’

I hadn’t been paying attention to the microtasking phenomenon, so I did a little digging after the Tech Salon. Microsoft Research did an interesting study called Evaluating and Improving the Usability of Mechanical Turk for Low-Income Workers in India. They found some issues with the interface and make up of Mechanical Turk that made it difficult for low-income workers to benefit and provided some suggestions to improve micro tasking and make it accessible for low-income workers or those with lower education levels. When they improved the interface and instructions (in local language), test subjects’ ability to complete a task rose dramatically. “The most striking result of our study is that there exist tasks on MTurk for which the primary barrier to low-income workers is not the cognitive load of the work itself;  rather, workers are unable to understand and navigate the tasks due to shortcomings in the user interface, the task instructions, and the language utilized.”

I’m sure we’ll be hearing lots more about microtasking (and I’m probably really late to the party here). It seems more reasonable that rural youth could access microtasking work than that they would develop their own apps.

De-skilling

Others at the Technology Salon talked about de-skilling and the job potential that can open up for youth when technology or better access to information allows them to take on roles formerly reserved for more skilled professionals. It seems this is going on quite a bit in the health sector, for example. The de-skilling phenomenon has been around for awhile but I hadn’t seen it as a way for youth in rural areas to access jobs and income, so I thought this was quite interesting.

I’m not sure how much de-skilling is being seriously looked at as a way to connect youth to jobs, or how many youth it’s employing in the rural areas, but it is something I’ll be keeping an eye on and learning more about. I’m thinking that many of us have been looking at de-skilling as a way to engage community volunteers in improving other aspects of community development, eg., allowing community health workers to do their volunteer work more efficiently; but not so much as an income generator for youth.

Job matching and mobile marketplaces

My Finnish colleagues sent me some other examples of mobile (SMS) initiatives that could support economic empowerment and that are good for pushing thinking on how rural youth could tap into opportunities. I think the key is that for now, anything aimed at rural populations needs to be SMS based, as mobile internet is still very uncommon in most rural areas. There’s no harm in planning for the day when most people have Internet-enabled phones, but for now, we’ll probably want to work with what people have, not what we wish they had….

  • Google SMS Applications allow you to use some Google services via SMS text message.
  • Esoko consists of mobile updates for farmers and traders delivered by SMS that include market prices and buy/sell offers, bulk SMS functionality, websites for small businesses and associations, and SMS polling technology. Their blog (which I spent some time on today) is great for sharing how they are going about getting Esoko to function well. Again it’s clear that the technology is the tip of the iceberg….
  • Tradenet is a fully mobile integrated buy and sell portal in Sri Lanka. It has agricultural prices as well.
  • Babajob is a job matching service from India that is fully mobile integrated.
  • Cellbazaar is an SMS marketplace in Bangladesh.
  • Tagattitude is a service that allows international mobile money transfers and purchases; eg., remittances.
  • Souktel’s JobMatch uses SMS to connect employers with youth looking for jobs.

What else?

In addition to micro tasking and mobile applications, there are some more formal technology education programs such as the CISCO Networking Academies, not to mention plenty of locally created computer and technology academies and schools that formally train youth on ICTs with the aim of generating employment. I wonder though how many of the local training academies are focused on more traditional aspects of technology (eg., if you walk into one of these, do you see a room of oldish desktop computers?) and how many are also combining computer education with mobile, and advancing their education and training curricula as technology advances? Colleagues in Egypt told me that some initiatives exist that train up young people to repair cell phones. I’m wondering if this is widespread in other places as well. In any case, formal training opportunities are still difficult for youth in rural areas, and especially girls, to access.

In Kenya the government is promoting community digital centers through an initiative called the Pasha Centers. These centers are linked to youth structures in the constituency areas. Colleagues of mine reported that youth are accessing loans from the government youth fund and starting cyber kiosks, and mPesa centers that are promoting mobile banking.

On top of the government or NGO programs, the mobile phone industry itself opens a job market for young men and women who know how to set up phones, register SIM cards, etc., and there is a whole side industry, obviously, around mobile phones. But again, the more formal opportunities are in the capital or in secondary cities which can still be quite distant from where rural youth live.

Though use of apps, mPayments and Facebook may not be so widespread at the moment in the places I’ve traveled and where my colleagues are working, as outlined in post 1 of this series, and it’s not at all common for rural youth to develop applications themselves, there do seem to be some other possibilities for ‘youth economic empowerment’ that have a mobile or ICT component. I’m sure there are things I’ve missed out as well, that could be quite inspiring.

The question is how to connect these new opportunities with the young people who are typically excluded: youth in rural areas, especially girls. How to scale up the opportunities while ensuring that they are adapted to local contexts, which can vary significantly. Do youth in rural communities have the education levels and skills to access microtasking and to take advantage of ‘de-skilling’ opportunities on a broad scale? Do they know how and where to access microtasking jobs. How are the connections being made with these opportunities? Who has access to these kinds of jobs? How can rural youth find out about these opportunities?

In my next post, I’ll cover some of the other considerations for youth economic empowerment that we discussed at the Tech Salon.


Are apps, Facebook and mPayments the key to rural youth economic empowerment? Reality check.

Last week’s Tech Salon, hosted by ICT Works and the UN Foundation Technology Partnership, was on the topic ‘Can youth find economic empowerment via apps, m-payments and social media?’ Fiona Macaulay from Making Cents and I gave some of the opening remarks to get the conversation started (and Wayan Vota kept things lively as usual).

The premise of the Salon was that ‘today’s youth population is the largest in the history of the world, and 90% of these young people live in developing countries. The global youth unemployment rate is the highest on record, and we’re seeing discontent and disenfranchisement play out on the news each day. In fact, the revolution in Tunisia started with an under-employed youth committing self-immolation in frustration…. Technology-based models hold great promise for increasing and improving economic opportunities for young people: low barriers to entry for youth-built apps, the widespread use of Facebook and its promise as a marketing platform, the ubiquity and ease of m-Payment systems like MPESA – these should be a recipe for youth economic empowerment.

During the Salon we explored 3 key questions:

1) How are youth starting businesses or getting jobs in growth-oriented ICT sectors around the world?

2) How are organizations and programs utilizing technology to reach and engage young people?

3) Where should we be cautious or enthusiastic with technology with respect to youth economic empowerment?

This is the first of 3 posts on those questions, starting with Question 1:

How are youth starting businesses or getting jobs in growth-oriented ICT sectors around the world?

I was pretty skeptical about the potential for apps, Facebook and m-payments to resolve the youth employment/income crisis, at least in the context of the rural communities in Africa where I’ve worked over the past several years. So leading into the Salon, I did an informal survey among some colleagues working in Africa to find out how they observed youth making money using technology, and to see whether the idea above had any legs. My thoughts were pretty much confirmed – in the places we are working, some youth are using technology to generate income, but not so much apps, mPayments and Facebook.

In Egypt, colleagues said that youth are repairing cell phones, serving as DJs at wedding parties, setting up photocopy shops and internet cafes, selling phone calls and airtime, running shops that provide children and young people with the opportunity to play games, and using computers to make flyers and posters for certain producers and products in the communities. They also provide satellite connections for poor families to access national and international TV channels – this service is not legal but generates good income for young people.

In Kenya you’ll find youth managing Mobile Phone Kiosks popularly known as ‘Simu Ya jamii’ (community phones). These double up as phone charging points. Pirated music is big business for some youth and phone unlocking services are increasing. One colleague noted that youth are not really creating applications, but in some of our programs, they are involved in piloting new applications, and thus influencing their development. In Zambia, you don’t see much of this type of activity in rural areas, according to a colleague there. But there are village telcos being operated by youth groups and some village groups are setting up banks of solar chargers to support solar lighting. (Cool result: When they set them up at a schools, encouraging women to come each day to charge their lights, they found that school attendance increased).

In Burkina Faso it’s common to see youth selling telephone scratch cards, renting out their phones, offering video services to film at private events, charging up phones for a price. In Senegal, some take phones from one area to another to charge them up for a fee. All over Africa you see video pirating and movie houses, video game houses, video downloading to mobile phones, music on flash drives and flash drives that plug into radios in cars and in collective transportation vans and busses.

There is ‘negative’ business also

Some would place ‘pirating’ and stolen satellite connections here. There is also transactional sex by girls to obtain mobile phones, which are a status symbol. We hear in some communities that adolescents with mobile phones are ‘bad.’ In Cameroon girls said that some boys only use phones to scam people and to steal. Mobiles can also facilitate prostitution. One colleague commented that in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) she has seen girls on motorbikes offering themselves by presenting their phone number on their back. We heard from youth in Cameroon that mobiles are commonly stolen and traded. Some parents in various countries do not like movie and game houses, associating them with porn and western culture.

Are youth in rural areas creating ‘apps,’ using ‘apps’ or tapping into ICT development or programming opportunities?

Not really, from what I have seen and what colleagues tell me. There are some shining stars here and there, but this isn’t very widespread yet, and the youth who are developing apps and such tend to be well-educated urban youth. This 2009 study on how the African Movement of Working Children and Youth (MAEJT) uses ICTs is quite interesting in this regard.

How do youth obtain and use mobiles? (MAEJT study, 2009)

In Egypt, colleagues said Facebook and Twitter groups around specific issues are common among young people in communities. But using ICT specifically for generating income is not. There is inadequate awareness among poor communities on how to make this happen. Although many youth have access to cell phones, ICT is still expensive and non-affordable for many others. Most of the families who have phones in their houses do not have a direct line, which means that they cannot get access to internet through cheap lines. Internet is still very expensive. Getting jobs through the internet is only common among advantaged, well- educated youth, not disadvantaged youth.

In Nairobi, Kenya, iHub and NAiLab have a big pool of developers and there is a lot of action. In rural Kenya, however, access is limited. There is a lot of interest from the youth who have started to catch on though, so colleagues felt it was possible that there could be some type of rural-urban mentoring or connections to help rural youth get on board. In rural Zambia, according to colleagues, sheer poverty means that very few additional resources and capital are available to take on new ideas. There is still very poor mobile phone coverage in some areas, and many young people have already left for urban areas. My colleagues in West Africa did not report seeing any youth developing apps or using Facebook combined with mPayments to generate income. In Kenya, Cameroon, Uganda and some other places, innovation hubs and labs are generating opportunities, but these again seem to be available to secondary- or even more often university-educated youth from urban areas and capital cities or large cities outside the capital.

So, is this bit about apps, mPayments and social media all hype? I’ll explore that a bit more in post 2 of the series. In post 3, I’ll cover the longer term considerations for ICTs and youth economic empowerment and some broader aspects that need to be kept in mind.


Girls voices in global forums

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I spent last week at the 55th meeting of the Commission on the Status of Women. The organization where I work supported 12 girls from various countries to attend and speak at different panels and side events during the week.

Why is it important for girls’ voices to be heard at global events like the CSW? Why should they be allowed to sit at tables with adult decision makers? Is this a wise investment when we could have spent that money to bring an adult staff member instead? Well, from a strictly rights-based perspective, it’s because girls have a right to participate in decisions that impact on their own lives.

But there are so many other reasons that girls need to be present at these events. They bring perspective that is otherwise missing. Before women are women, they are girls. It’s well known and well documented that investing in girls’ education and other areas has impacts that go far beyond schools. At these big meetings, issues that impact girls and women are being addressed and discussed – so there needs to be spaces for girls and women who feel these issues directly to speak for themselves, especially girls and women who are typically left out of these processes. Girls bring a reality check. They offer ideas and solutions from their own contexts. They bring points home that can otherwise be missed. They are often amazing speakers and have incredible wisdom and insight to share. We can all learn from them. And bringing girls and their opinions and voices to a huge event like the CSW can really have a positive impact both on the event, the event participants, the decisions made there, and on the girls themselves, as they return home with a mandate to live their leadership in their own communities and countries.

Early in the week, I shared a panel with Fabiola, one of the girl delegates from Cameroon, and she truly stole the show. Here’s how:

Fabiola participates in the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project, and was selected by her peers to represent her group and Cameroon at the CSW. More information about Fabiola and Shira, the other girl delegate from Cameroon are in this post: Girls in rural Cameroon talk about ICTs. Shira also spoke at high level panels, as did the girls from Sierra Leone, Indonesia and Finland.

The girls also planned and managed their own side event where they talked about girls and new communications technologies.  In preparation for the event, they brought with them videos from their home countries, and Kirby, one of the girls from the US, edited them together into one piece. The video was shared at a few different events, and the girls were even asked to show it at the general assembly (at the last minute they weren’t allowed to for one reason or another). In any case, you can see it here:

On the last day that the girls were in New York, 3 of them sat on a panel in front of hundreds of high level decision-makers: UN officials, Ministers and government representatives. They talked about the challenges girls face in terms of accessing ICTs and raised the issue of violence against girls and how violence in schools impacts heavily on girls’ education.

My Cameroonian colleague, Judith, who works on the YETAM project with the girls, told me afterwards that she felt unbearably proud, seeing them there in front of the whole room, with everybody hanging on their every word. “I was floating,” she said. “As if my feet were not even touching the ground.” She was proud that Shira didn’t only present the issues that girls are facing in accessing ICTs or in terms of violence or early marriage, but she talked about what they are doing in the community and how they are working with ICTs and conducting advocacy with decision makers and traditional councils to resolve the issues, and what impacts they have already had in the community.

Josephine, one of the girls from Sierra Leone, said afterwards: “When I was there, speaking, I felt like I was on top of the world because people were listening to my voice.”

There needs to be more of this!

But if you are still not convinced, my fabulous colleague Keshet Bachan, coordinator of this year’s Because I am a Girl Report and the previous 3 reports, gives a convincing overview here about why girls and why now. Worth watching.


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