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Twitter Chat: Creating ICT-related Impact on grassroots communities as a Result of the SMILE Project  

Introduction

The SMILE Project, which stands for “Strengthening Women’s Livelihoods and Magnifying Resilience to COVID-19 Emergency by Promoting Effective Use of Digital Technologies in Uganda’’ funded by APC aims to create ICT-related impact on grassroots communities by providing them with access to affordable and innovative technology solutions and skills. The project seeks to bridge the digital divide and promote digital inclusion by ensuring that individuals and communities at the grassroots level are not left behind in the digital era.

On 15th Dec 2022, WOUGNET together with its partners held a Twitter chat to have dialogues on the Impact of the SMILE project on their organisations through the WOUGNET Twitter Chat using the hashtag #PromotingMeaningfulConnectivity. The Twitter Chat had a series of questions that were used to engage its partners which include:

  1. The experience our member organizations have had with the SMILE Project? 

The aim of the Twitter chat was to leverage the power of technology, create an inclusive participatory platform, and effectively use digital tools for digital storytelling. This engages organizations to share their stories and experiences with different communities. During the Twitter Chat, different organizations shared their different experiences for instance:

Warm Hearts Foundation says “Enabling us to remain connected with the world through the monthly data donation has been a life-saving strategy! With the very expensive data charges, this was so timely and relieving. Kudos to the partners. #smileproject Ohh… the data and airtime shared with us monthly has also enabled us to work effectively and efficiently. Our work has been business as usual. Thank you WOUGNET, #PromotingMeaningfulConnectivity”  

“Smile project has empowered Hope Case Foundation staff and its beneficiaries in digital literacy.  The staff and its beneficiaries can now share information online. The training in photography has also enabled the organization’s staff and beneficiaries to document” Says Hopecase Foundation

“Digital empowerment of staff and beneficiaries through training, internet provision and gadgets. #PromotingDigitalConnectivity @wougnet @APC_Newssays Kumbere Information Center

“KRUWODO has gained a lot of skills from the SMILE Project. These include computer digital skills and photography skills which have really helped to improve our performance at the Secretariat. A handset for connectivity is handy for the organization,” says KRUWODO

NVIWODA says, “The digital skilling – SMILE Project team has been consistent in ensuring the outputs of the project. Very positive collaboration”

  1. How some of the digital tech tools introduced by WOUGNET under the SMILE Project have been useful to our member organisations

WOUGNET while implementing the SMILE Project provided mobile phones and software such as Canva, Zoom e.t.c to its member organizations to help engage more, improve collaboration, and effectively reach a wider community. The member organizations during the Twitter Chat shared ways in which digital tech tools have been useful to them and they include:

HopeCase Foundation says, “They have simplified our work of information sharing between the  staff and also the beneficiaries in the communities we serve .” 

Disabled Women in Development says, “Data has helped us to reinforce the search desk. The tools have made our work easy since most of our women have mobility challenges. This has been through virtual meetings.”

“The Phone has enhanced our capacity to keep afloat in the digital spaces and has enhanced our communication with WOUGNET and other partners. With the provision of Data and Airtime, coordination has been very easy.”  #PromotingMeaningfulConnectivity @APC_news, says LOSCO

  1. Digital rights or digital literacy challenges that our member organization encountered during the post-COVID-19 pandemic 

The COVID-19 pandemic brought numerous digital rights and digital literacy challenges for organizations. Some specific challenges they encountered include limited access to digital tools and technologies such as computers, smartphones, and reliable internet connections. The shift to online communication and remote work during the pandemic created a significant barrier for them to carry out work effectively.

Many people lacked the digital literacy skills necessary to navigate online tools and platforms, including video conferencing and social media. This hindered their ability to communicate with their community members and partners, affecting their access to information, and work performance.

Lastly, with the increased use of digital tools and platforms, grassroots organizations faced greater risks to their privacy and security. which included data breaches, hacking attempts, and phishing scams, which compromised their sensitive information and put their members and partners at risk. Some of the responses from our member organizations included: 

“There is always a general challenge of high internet packages that makes it hard to easily access the internet,“ says KIC.

“Inadequate gadgets for the staff and community coordinators, inaccessible digital literacy especially for our members who are blind and deaf,” says Disabled in Women Development. 

Lastly, Ronald from KRUWODO says, “We have an insufficient budget for a fully pledged technological change because of the limited resources,  not everything we need can be achieved technologically  presently.”

  1. The role of digital literacy and digital security training in freely, openly  and safely using and accessing the internet 

Digital literacy and security training play a critical role in promoting safe and effective internet use. In today’s digital age, the internet has become an essential part of our daily lives from communicating with others to accessing information, thus the internet has made it possible to do things faster and more efficiently.

However, as the internet has become more integrated into our lives, so have the risks associated with its use. However, measures can be taken to curb these risks and these include; improving digital skills such as using email for communication, social media management, online collaboration etc. Organizations can better communicate with their partners and funders by developing these skills and effectively reach their communities. Digital security training most importantly help organizations protect their sensitive information from cyber threats, such as hacking and phishing. This can include securing their online accounts, using strong passwords and adopting encryption and other security measures to protect their data.

One of the objectives of the SMILE Project being empowering organizations with digital literacy training, it has been able to   help them learn how to use digital tools and technologies effectively, including software and other online platforms. This has streamlined their operations, improved their reach and communication, and helped them better manage their resources. Twitter Chat responses on the role of digital literacy and security include:

“Creating awareness and self-confidence in order for someone to express him/herself, “ says Yatuha, St Bruno doll Making Group

“Has reduced the digital gap between the community and the organization staff as it promotes information sharing online, ”says Hope Case Foundation

Disabled in Women Development says, “It has  helped people with disabilities especially women to compete with others favourably in different workspaces.” 

  1. The impact of digital technologies such as Smartphones provided to our member organisation under the SMILE Project 

The SMILE Project provided smartphones to 17 organizations. This had a  significant impact on their ability to communicate, access information and carry out their work efficiently and effectively. Here are some specific impacts of digital technologies such as smartphones on our member organizations: 

“The smartphones were compatible, especially when downloading some Apps and they came at the right time when our businesses were low and we couldn’t manage to save and get phones to help us disseminate information to our members on time. Communication is now easy.” says Yatuha, St Bruno doll Making group

“Besides the day-to-day communication, it has been very resourceful for hosting some of our social pages. Additionally, it has helped us to capture videos and photos from the communities where we serve and it’s a vital tool for education, especially in this digital age” says Ronald, Kruwodo

“Digital technologies that include smartphones provided under the Smile Project have enhanced information, the smartphones are programmed which has enabled the organization staff and its community to share information reports through SMS messages and phone calls,” says Hopecase Foundation 

Lastly, NVIWODA says “Improved communication with our stakeholders, monitoring our beneficiaries, sharing information with our members and stakeholders via WhatsApp, updating women in entrepreneurship skills via business posts on NVIWODA WhatsApp group and mobilizing efficient timely and cost-effective.”

  1. How ICT can foster the development of the women’s rights grassroots organisation

ICT plays an important role in the development of women’s rights grassroots organizations in a number of ways: (1) ICT tools such as email, social media, and video conferencing can help women’s rights grassroots organizations communicate and network more effectively. This can include sharing information, coordinating activities and building relationships with other organizations, funders, and stakeholders. (2) ICT tools have  provided women’s rights grassroots organizations with access to information and resources including research and data, best practices and training materials. This helps them develop new skills and techniques and stay informed about the latest trends and developments in their field. (3) ICT tools can provide women’s rights grassroots organizations with training and capacity-building opportunities such as online courses and webinars. This can help them build their skills and expertise, and improve their ability to carry out their work effectively. (4) ICT tools can be used by women’s rights grassroots organizations to engage in digital advocacy and campaigning such as online petitions, social media campaigns, and digital storytelling. This can help them raise awareness about their work, mobilize support, and advocate for policy change. (5) ICT tools can help women’s rights grassroots organizations improve their monitoring and evaluation processes  by providing them with digital tools for data collection, analysis, and reporting. This can help them track their progress, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate their impact to funders and stakeholders. Responses from the member organizations include:

”Yes Of course! Grassroots women’s rights organizations can use ICT to market their businesses and reach out to customers as well. It’s an open secret that economic development is the most empowering tool,” says WarmHearts Foundation

“By helping women to express themselves because many can’t speak out what they want in public,“ says Yatuha, St Bruno doll Making group

  1. What the member organizations are doing to ensure the integration of the use of ICT in your communities

Incorporation of ICT in communities is by providing access to low-cost ICT solutions such as mobile phones, laptops and tablets. Through partnerships with local businesses and organizations, the project is able to offer these technologies at affordable prices, making them accessible to even the most economically disadvantaged members of society.

“KRUWODO is progressively conducting training for members of grassroots groups at the community level in ICT. At least a member or two in a group so that there is information communication to enable knowledge dissemination.,” says Ronald, KRUWODO

“Engaging the youth so that they can help their parents to learn more at their convenience,” says Yatuha, St Bruno doll Making group

Conclusion

Overall, the SMILE Project is creating ICT-related impact on grassroots communities by providing them with access to ICT solutions, skills development programs, and locally relevant technology solutions. By doing so, the project is promoting digital inclusion, empowering individuals, and contributing to the social and economic development of communities and organizations hence strengthening their impact.

Written by Esther Nyapendi, Project Lead Technical support officer, WOUGNET

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