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How the COVID-19 Pandemic has Impacted Digital Transformation for Women-led Organisations?

Caption: WOUGNET’s visit to one of its Member Organisation

Integrating digital technology into all areas, especially for women-led organisations has fundamentally changed how they operate and deliver value to communities. With the growing trends, digital technologies are widely perceived as a promising means to promote access to information for organisations. On the other hand, the effects of the pandemic have been severe and have mostly affected women-led organisations, for instance, some have closed their offices because of operational costs, and today, a vast portion of the workforce from different organizations still work remotely.

On the contrary, the Coronavirus disease, 2019 (COVID-19) crisis accelerated digitalisation processes for different sectors around the globe through the requirements for social distancing and other COVID-19-related regulations imposed by governments around the world. Many organisations use social media, emails, online conferencing tools such as zoom, google meet, and many other communication tools to access information, etc. 

In addition to the lockdown, “the uncertainity of when we would resume to the old way of doing things gave us some lessons that we learned about how far digital transformation can potentially impact the work that we do,”says Albert Taremwa. 

Digital Transformation 

The Digital Uganda Vision according to the Ministry of ICT & National Guidance, aims to align ICT investments in the various sectors in a manner that will improve the country’s Global ICT indices for purposes of attracting investors. Therefore, the higher use of digital technology during the COVID-19 lockdown for communication shows the great potential to aid faster economic recovery and strengthen resilience against similar shocks which in return is advantageous even for women-led organisations.  Although, at the moment, access to digital technologies remains limited for many organisations, which find technology to be unaffordable as well as high data costs which infringe the work that they do. By January 2022, the Digital 2022 Uganda report says that there are 10.92 million people who access the internet compared to a total population of 47.77 million.  Therefore, the perception is that 33.85 million people in Uganda do not use the internet. This means that 70.9% of the population had no access which is caused by lack of access to mobile phones, because of partly a function of the high cost of devices and services such as the mobile data and airtime. The role of digital transformation in women-led organizations is essential for the work they do for instance for communication, advocacy, collaborations, innovation, experience especially for staff to effectively and efficiently work, and many others.

Impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on women-led organisations 

The COVID-19 crisis has changed how women-led organisations work.  This is evidenced by most of our member organizations, for instance, Warm hearts Foundation, Ntulume Village Women Development Association (NVIWODA), and many others. Although the pandemic dramatically changed how they work, it has also uncovered new opportunities for visibility in the online space. Although digital transformation looks different for every organisation, the COVID-19 pandemic has forced many women-led organisations to speed up transformation work, though some are still left out because of various factors like lack of digital technologies and skills as well as experiences with digital technologies, especially for their staff and beneficiaries. 

Albert Taremwa, the Executive Director of LOSCO during one of WOUGNET’s visits said, 

“LOSCO has successfully held several engagements with women and male counterparts in building their capacities to effectively use digital spaces for information sharing. Some of the factors hindering the accessibility of the internet to women range from cultural, economic, and infrastructural barriers boiling down to time, affordability, digital skills, service quality, and availability restrictions.”

Most commonly the impacts of the pandemic have accelerated the use of technology through more collaboration to improve employees’ experience. This is because the majority of the employees still work remotely; this in return has increased partnerships which provide greater credibility and visibility.  Additionally, the broader public is more likely to pay attention to a group of organisations advocating for a particular cause. 

Lastly, the increased use of digital technology has left no option for organisations to increase their capacity and skills in different use of software and online tools. With more funding partners using online platforms, digital transformation has allowed women-led organisations to work efficiently and effectively.

By far, the most likely reason is that these organisations are embracing technology, and Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) is implementing the Strengthening Women’s Livelihoods and Magnifying Resilience to COVID-19 Emergency by Promoting Effective Use of Digital Technologies in Uganda (SMILE) project funded by the Association for Progressive Communications (APC).  This has enabled WOUGNET to work hand in hand with about twenty of her member organisations to quickly adapt to the trends of technology to meaningful promote connectivity among these organisations and reach out to their communities (both local and grassroots organisations and individuals).

Conclusion 

In response to the pandemic, organisations under this project have also embraced and integrated a strategic direction of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in all their initiatives as they support the delivery of the digital vision 2040. WOUGNET continues to work with its 20-member organisations to effectively use and encourage the adoption of emerging digital technologies in response to the digital transformation in Uganda. 

Written  by,

 Esther Nyapendi, SMILE Project Lead, Technical Support Officer

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