» The people and inspirations behind inclusive e-services for improved livelihoods
30.08.2017 - Education Sector

The people and inspirations behind inclusive e-services for improved livelihoods

© VillageReach/Paul Joseph Brown

UNESCO recently announced 14 case-study finalists for the UNESCO-Pearson Initiative for Literacy: Improved Livelihoods in a Digital World. A project by UNESCO and Pearson that explores skills needs of today’s digital world, the barriers to obtaining them, and how inclusive digital solutions can improve livelihoods for low-skilled and low-literate people through a range of inclusive e-services for health, agriculture, government, green pactices and displaced persons.

On International Literacy Day, 8 September 2017, the UNESCO-Pearson project will publish its first batch of case studies on inclusive digital solutions. This article looks behind some of the technological solutions and personal observations of the case study founders, to get an insight into the inspirations that sparked the journeys to improve the livelihoods of people through inclusive e-services, and the observations of the impact that they had on their communities.

Empowering remote farmers

In Guatemala, the Farmer Training App by the Rainforest Alliance, trains producers and farmers in remote areas to apply better social, economic and environmental management practices.

61% of the farmers in the area are below Guatemala’s poverty income line, and many of them have low literacy and digital skill levels.

Through a mobile app, even low-literate and low-skilled farmers who are or looking to be certified, can be taught green farming practices through interactive training videos in their local languages. The videos can be viewed offline so the training is accessible in remote areas where network connections are minimal. 

Jessie Baker, Landscapes and Livelihoods Associate at the Rainforest Alliance, shares how she witnessed that the services made indigenous groups and small-scale farmers in remote rural areas feel included, informed and connected with the rest of the world.

We saw participants share their tablets and learnings on best agricultural practices with other farmers, quoting statistics and facts from training modules on the App,” she says. "One farmer in particular said the opportunity to develop digital skills and gain access to technology meant she would not be left behind as the rest of the world advances.”

Another example of reaching farmers in remote areas is the Nano Ganesh mobile phone-based remote control and monitoring system for agriculture water pumps in India, which supports sustainable consumption of resources for farmers. 

Approximately 30 million pumps deliver water to farms in India, making them a crucial part of irrigation. By installing Nano Ganesh, a farmer with even low digital skills and low literacy levels can switch the water pump on and off with a mobile phone from any location. This is especially beneficial for people with disabilities and older farmers as the service reduces water wastage and travel time to check the pumps.

Santosh Ostwal, the CEO and Founder Director of Nano Ganesh, was inspired by a personal story to develop this e-service.

I am from a farming family and when I was 14, I witnessed my grandfather’s frequent night visits to the distant water pump just to switch it on and off,” he says. “His right leg had been amputated and he used a crutch at 81. He was terribly exhausted due to the unpredictable irrigation and electricity schedule and our family did not feel secure at home when he was out at night.”

Breaking down social inequalities and promoting greener living

Small-scale fisheries play an extremely important role in food security, poverty eradication, equitable development and sustainable resource utilisation. In Africa alone, marine and inland fisheries are estimated to contribute towards the food security of 200 million Africans.

The ABALOBI App from South Africa, a mobile-based solution for sustainable small-scale fisheries operations, is used by fishers with limited education and skills to sustainably manage their operations. The mobile solution suite holds benefits for individual users, and through a complex system of collecting information from fisheries, for better management by the government.

Serge Raemaekers is a fisheries researcher at the University of Cape Town as well as the co-founder and managing director of ABALOBI ICT4FISHERIES. A “magic moment” for him is when he sees how user-friendly the service is for low-skilled people, and when he is able to help fishers to be sustainable and safe through the digital platform.

In the Mozambique’s capital city, Maputo, 75% of the population of almost two million lives in slums with limited access to water, sanitation and electricity. While citizens pay waste management taxes, providing the service can be challenging for the city municipality. 

By encouraging any citizen to report waste issues to the Maputo municipality, regardless of their skills and literacy levels, the MOPA project for waste management not only connects government with citizens through its inclusive e-services, but also fosters government engagement from the ground-up and breaks down social inequalities.

Tiago Seno Borges Coelho, co-founder of UX Information Technologies and project lead at MOPA was inspired by his early observations of social inequalities in order to find an inclusive solution so that the voices of even the most marginalized by poverty, low skills and low literacy, would be heard.

“My motivation to start this project was experiencing the problem of waste management as I was growing up,” he says. “Even though I lived in relative privilege, this problem affected me: we would cut ourselves when playing outside, the smell made us all uncomfortable, and I understood this is a problem that affects everyone, but is even more problematic for the impoverished. My mom could afford disinfectant and band-aids, many of my friend’s moms could not.”

By creating inclusive digital solutions for people with low skills and literacy levels, Mr Coelho is helping all people, not only the privileged, to live safer and greener lives.

Find out more about UNESCO’s work in the field of literacy.

The partnership is a key programme of Pearson´s global Project Literacy campaign. To learn more about the UNESCO-Pearson project, please contact: ICTliteracy(at)unesco.org or visit the website. Find out about Pearson’s Project Literacy.

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