NetHope is the lead partner under the Women and the Web Alliance, a project aimed at bridging the Internet gender gap. Implementing project partners have been involved in training young women in digital literacy skills with the hope that the socio-cultural barriers which hinder women and girls from accessing the Internet are broken. One of these partners, World Vision Kenya, saw another cohort of graduates through their six-week training in Matete, Kakamega, in March 2015. Different cohorts have undergone the training totaling over 3000 women — and a few men graduates who are welcome to attend. The training entails a combination of introduction to ICTs, entrepreneurship, and basic internet skills.
NetHope has now commenced evaluating the usefulness of the digital literacy skills training. This entails interviewing former participants who have undergone the training over last fifteen months on if and how they are making use of the skills acquired. Some of the issues discussed include the trainees’ expectations once they completed the digital literacy skills training, their use of computers and the internet after the training, whether there have been any direct benefits as a result of the training, and how they are making use of the acquired skills, among other issues.
A good number of those who have so far been interviewed had expected to be supported by the funders of this training to set up businesses, such as grocery shops, mobile money shops, computer schools, and cybercafés. Others expected to acquire a certificate to qualify for employment, while some expected to be offered job opportunities by the funders. In fact, one lady had hoped to be matched with people from outside the country and be supported to improve her lifestyle. There are others who just wanted to learn how to use a computer; others hoped that they would be able to use a computer to improve their businesses, while a male interviewee anticipated improving his poultry trade. Still, one hoped that the training would make her eligible for a loan to establish a business and several wanted to be hired as trainers after the training.
In terms of the learning, several noted that they gained knowledge on how to use a smart phone, and packages such as Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel, which now serve their practical functions. So far, majority of the women are accessing the internet on their phones, mainly to visit social media and chat with friends, but a few are advertising their small businesses and look forward to getting sponsors from outside the country to boost their small businesses. To date, none has secured this sponsorship but they are optimistic that through online interaction, they will somehow get someone or an organization interested in their small businesses. A few have used the internet to apply for jobs, browsing and researching.
In terms of benefits, the most obvious one is that majority can now use a computer, as well as the internet. One of them reported that she can now stream content, use search engines to get information, and even train others, thereby continuing to hone her skills. In fact, she was able to convince a few of her neighbors to join subsequent trainings when they realized she had learned computer skills and could even now train others. A few have taken advantage of the fact that some local and regional schools do not have computer facilities and have negotiated to print exams and help teachers electronically record student marks. They now have an income from these schools.
Notable is that practically all of them appreciate having gained skills in entrepreneurship and how to use the internet to advertise or promote whatever they are engaged in. Accordingly, many started small businesses such as selling ‘Kangumu’ (very hard shortcakes) to neighbors, selling sandals, handbags, clothes, making French fries locally known as chips, selling fruits, firewood, and tree seedlings. A male interviewee reported that he was able to open a barber shop and use the internet to advertise it. One beneficiary of the training reported she was able to secure a job at a petrol station as a cashier while another one secured a job as a voter registration assistant.
However, not all are winning stories. A few noted that they did not find the training beneficial. Still, and in as much as many trainees can attest to the fact that they gained skills and knowledge that they lacked, the challenge of raising capital to establish small businesses is real for some of the women. They would prefer that such trainings also consider advancing them loans or grants for businesses.
Further, the challenge of access and affordability is still a concern to several. Some training labs in Matete experience frequent power outages which affect how they would want to engage online. Additionally, connectivity can be poor and extremely slow, discouraging users if they have to wait for so long to connect. Moreover, some find purchasing of internet bundles from the mobile service providers unsustainable, and the nearest cyber café might be a distance, which would need them to pay for transport to the café.
All in all, the trainings are positive for the attendees and community, while barriers remain. We need to find better post-training opportunities to link attendees with, such as microfinance and educational institutions. We also need to better set expectations about future jobs and income from internet activities – any internet start-up with every advantage can tell horror stories about the difficulty of being successful online; we need to make sure participants understand that the internet is a powerful tool but not a panacea.