Around 40% of the world population is connected to the internet either through mobiles or on laptops. In India, the number of internet users could cross 450 million by June 2017. It is significant to note here that in spite of India being well-connected, only one-third of internet using population are women. The accessibility further declines in the rural areas, especially within the marginalised communities, since even the basic amenities are absent in such communities. It is, therefore, a refreshing breather that one of the world’s leading internet and technology companies – Google, decides to put emphasis on such a gap in internet literacy and empower communities.
Google believed that ‘when people get online, good things happen’ and perhaps it was this philosophy that led to the development of The Internet Saathi Programme that intends to combat the gender gap in internet literacy in India. The idea was to make the internet an empowering tool for women in rural areas through basic internet skills and internet-enabled devices.
Google has collaborated with Tata Trusts for this programme and in March 2017 it was reported that the project was already live in 60,000 villages across ten states of Maharashtra, West Bengal, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Tripura, Jharkhand, Gujarat, and Assam. According to the report, the project has 18000 women ‘internet saathis’ and over 2.6 million women who have benefited from the project. The future involves scaling up the efforts to 3,00,000 villages and more women and communities than existing figures.
The 3 things I specifically love about this project:
- Project Model: Every woman ‘saathi’ is provided with a tablet, smartphone, a bicycle and the internet data they need for their work. Google handles the training of such ‘saathis’ and Tata Trusts helps through its understanding of the issues and its network of NGOs to implement the project. The programme model works in a way that once a batch of women ‘saathis’ is trained, they further train their neighbours and women in nearby villages to access and use the internet. The basic criteria to select a woman as an ‘internet saathi’ is that she should have studied up to 8th to 10th standard and have a basic understanding of the English alphabets. The training is on finding information online, especially on topics of government schemes, health, and weather to name a few. The women also receive a small stipend amount for the training work that they do.
- Reaching out To The Most Marginalized: In many places, like Uttar Pradesh for instance, Google and Tata Trusts have collaborated with organisations and programmes that work with the most marginalised communities like Poorest Areas Civil Society (PACS). It is a great example of how to remove barriers to access to such excluded communities and not let it limit the impact of the project. Reaching out to such marginalised communities is not easy, as there are limitations to connectivity, infrastructure, mobility and mindset of the communities, however, Google, Tata Trust and their implementing partners are constantly addressing these challenges by reinventing their strategies and being receptive and sensitive towards local needs.
- Holistic Impact: Women are educated about the internet and its uses, they further go and teach other women and community members the same thing. It’s important to note here that most of such women are moving out of their homes for their first time, this increases their mobility. Most women in this project are also from marginalised communities who are going to villages belonging to dominant castes. This is in some small way changing the power dynamics. The cascading effect of internet literacy is also that women, as well as other community members, are being aware of their rights to entitlement schemes. They are finding solutions to increasing their income through entrepreneurial ideas as well as learning meaningful ways to get access to basic amenities like health care and education.
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