Posts with the tag
“Inclusion”

Meaningfully connected: Inclusivity requires a lot more than just access

14th April 2022 by Nkosinathi Mcetywa

What does it mean to be truly inclusive in a highly digitised world? Is it time to refine what we mean by ‘access’?

In an increasingly digitised society, access to digital tools does not always equal participation, and as such, access to digital technology is not enough as a measure of inclusion. Oftentimes, the digital divide persists even when people have access to technological tools, because their knowledge may be limited, thus limiting their ability to fully participate on the internet. This redefines the concept of digital inclusion significantly; requiring more introspective questions about what real inclusion means and looks like in relation to digital participation.

The Civic Tech Innovation Network (CTIN) and the International Civil Society Centre (ICsCentre) partnered up for a Digital Dialogue Series and the first dialogue of this series focused on ‘building inclusive civic tech communities’. Onica Makwakwa and Astha Kapoor made up the panel of speakers while malebo sephodi facilitated this dialogue.

Makwakwa opened the discussion by stating that the drive for access to digital technologies is not enough; that those with access to digital tools and the internet needed to be meaningfully connected in order to truly participate in the digital world and economy. According to Makwakwa, to be meaningfully connected means that users are not just merely consumers of content but also active participants who contribute to the internet.

Those who are meaningfully connected…are able to use the internet for more essential activities, such as accessing healthcare information, taking classes, [and] engaging in dialogues like this one. So 30 to 33% of those who are meaningfully connected, are able to use this access to digital technologies in a way that’s empowering, and also enables them to do good in their communities

Speaking from a civic tech perspective, Kapoor criticised the singular lens of access from which civic tech initiatives work. She proposed an additional lens from which to work which involved interrogating digital technologies from the perspective of negotiation. Kapoor encouraged the audience to think about their ability to negotiate with technology and what the next step to access might be.

What happens once you engage with technology? And what happens as we’re generating all of this data? How do we use the data meaningfully [and] resist the sort of extraction of data that we’re all sort of going through? How do we meaningfully engage with both the state and the private sector using technology? And again,…how do we negotiate on questions of our rights? asked Kapoor.

Kapoor continued to say that while access and inclusion are important and should be rigorously pursued, there are questions about how digital technologies affect how governance happens, and how we can interact with the State. Kapoor shared that people’s ability to negotiate with the State diminishes when services are digitised and so does their ability to organise. This is because they lack the language and understanding of how these tools work in the first place, and as such are unaware of when these tools are being used to exploit and abuse their rights.

This lack of awareness creates new challenges, and it has the power to alienate citizens who feel that their struggles are individual and not part of the collective. This is because the dominant narrative around technology is that it is a private experience and not a collective one. This assertion weakens the ability of citizens to collectively challenge the State.

Advocates for inclusion thus need to interrogate what access to digital tools means for how citizens are able to interact meaningfully with their world and with the State; not simply operate from the stance that basic access eliminates the challenges of the digital divide.

Access to digital tools does not automatically eliminate other challenges associated with the digital divide. The aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic gave us many examples of this. Makwakwa recalls governments employing what she calls ‘uncoordinated digital development strategies’ in South Africa and other developing countries as a response to the necessary lockdowns at the time. The government’s deployment of digital platforms for service delivery and learning was done with the assumption that citizens were educated about how to utilise these tools and that they had access to high-speed internet connection to connect them to the platforms they need. She recounts the story of school children in South Africa who needed to learn remotely during the COVID-19 lockdowns.

… the assumption was that parents are digitally literate, that homes are connected, and that teachers are also digitally literate, to be able to conduct instruction over the internet. So there were a lot of assumptions that we made that just really did not match with the reality of what we were actually dealing with. said Makwakwa

Kapoor mentions that civil society organisations offline efforts played an important role in closing the knowledge gap and ensured that citizens could use these tools and access their civil entitlements. Their efforts ensured that citizens would be well informed and skilled enough to use these tools in the first place.

Inclusive communities should therefore not just be about giving access to communities without digital tools but should also be about these communities being able to engage meaningfully with tech tools without harming them in the process. Inclusive civic tech communities should be made up of not only tech innovators but also those that experience and get to use these innovations. These communities should have a say in what and how they would like to experience civic tech tools in their lives.

Makwakwa is Head of Africa at the Alliance for Affordable Internet; a global coalition working to drive down the cost of internet access in low and middle-income countries through policy and regulatory reform.

Kapoor is the director and founder of the Aapti Institute; a research institution that generates public, policy-relevant, actionable, and accessible knowledge from the frontiers of tech and society, about our networked lives, to support the creation of a fair, free, and equitable society.

Nkosinathi Mcetywa

Communications Lead

Civic Tech Innovation Network

Nkosinathi is an Urban Planning graduate and a Wits alumni. While studying planning he took a lot of interest in issues surrounding urban governance and the ability of the State to be transparent and accountable to its constituents. He recently completed a postgraduate qualification in Business Administration at the Wits Business School. Nkosinathi has worked in the education space, as part of the Student Equity and Talent Management Unit which facilitates a number of pre-university and university programmes including the Targeting Talent Programme. He played a significant part in his 2 years there as part of the projects team that brought these projects to life. He currently writes as part of a collective of bloggers writing about youth issues.


Building Inclusive Civic Tech Communities

1st March 2022 by Nkosinathi Mcetywa

These women are helping change dominant narratives about tech and the tech industry in Africa

Equality, in its many forms, breeds a more confident, united, and productive society that benefits all who live in it. Societies working towards equality are seeing a more democratic dispensation allowing for greater opportunities to all segments of society, including women and other underrepresented groups that have been historically excluded. This drive for equality can be achieved through strategic and intentional means in the political and socio-economic spheres of governance. 

Digital transformation has played an essential part in increasing levels of equality across the globe. This transformation has allowed for greater access for all members of society, including women and other underrepresented groups in the world. Access to technology albeit not being the answer for most issues has been instrumental in ensuring that historically excluded groups can better their lives through access to information, access to welfare services, and even access to economic opportunities.  

In the 21st century, increasingly women are using technological tools to get access to economic opportunities as well as opportunities in technology. According to UNDP (2019), women in tech make up only 28% of professionals in the world and only 30% in Sub-Saharan Africa, and as such are seeing a significant increase in women representation in this sphere. Generally, gender parity has increased by 0.24 percentage points per year since 2006, according to the Global Gender Gap Report (2021). Change is happening at a slow pace but there remains hope for a tipping of the scales and more balanced representation in the field. Despite much progress in workplace equality around the world, there remains a big gap in the technology industry for women. 

While many women are in the tech industry,  the environment continues to be inconducive primarily because it is a male-dominated field and can be quite exclusionary. However, some of these women have managed to succeed in this industry despite numerous barriers in an industry that does not cater to them. Some of these women have not only succeeded but have taken it upon themselves to do meaningful work that speaks to the needs of other women interested in the world of tech. Women like Baratang Miya, Tina James, Niousha Roshani, and Zine Nkukwana are but a few women working in technology who are working to balance the scales and use their influence, and resources to do good in the world. 

Speaking on the Civic Tech in Africa podcast’s Women in Tech series, these women spoke proudly about the progress they were helping to make in the field of tech and were quite open in sharing their own experiences as women in technology. 

Although tech is still a relatively underrepresented field for women around the world, more so in Africa, there have been women who have been working at the intersection of inclusion for women in technology for a long time now. Thirteen years ago, Tina James had already been working in digital inclusion when she realised that she had not been making the difference that she had envisioned she would be making in the space. She co-founded FemTech so she could create meaningful change through women empowerment, entrepreneurial development, skill-sharing, and training. Today, James’ groundbreaking work with FemTech ensures that women aren’t just part of the digital age; they are also able to use digital tools as well as ensure that they are self-reliant, confident leaders and entrepreneurs. She expresses great satisfaction with being able to make meaningful change in the lives of other women:

I think it’s the human side of it, seeing women develop from not being confident as entrepreneurs, or not even sure that they are entrepreneurs and seeing them emerge on the other side, making a difference. And I think that at the end of the day, isn’t that a great thing to achieve, when people feel they’re making a difference, and actually are in their environments, no matter what they tackle?

Zine Nkukwana believes that women in tech need to support each other. She believes that women have a lot to learn from each other regardless of how much experience they have in the tech industry.

We need to be able to uplift each other, through mentorships, through coaching, through developing, really talking to each other. And also even you being honest about what you know, and what you don’t know. And going out there and seeking advice

she says. True to her word, Nkukwana is one of the women in Sub-Saharan Africa helping other women in the tech industry through her ICT skills development programmes at Lindamahle Management Systems. Her work focuses on women and unemployed youth, a segment of the population she believes are marginalised. 

Also working with youth on the African continent and the diaspora is Dr. Niousha Roshani; social scientist, serial entrepreneur, and researcher who makes the point that technology can help Africans on the continent and the diaspora to change dominant narratives about themselves. Dr. Roshani says her biggest dream is to “foster a global ecosystem of young people who are disrupting the status quo, for outsmarting the status quo and who are doing fantastic things and coming up with solutions to our most pressing issues”. Her work with Global Black Youth ensures that she is able to connect, amplify, and invest in the world’s most innovative and disruptive black youth. Dr Roshani is determined to change dominant narratives about where the best ideas and innovations come from:

It’s really important to undo a lot of the social conditioning that we have been subjected to a lot of lies and to find the real narrative, our own narrative, but also the narrative of, of the region of the people that we belong to…

Baratang Miya, also determined to change dominant narratives, entered the tech industry many years ago and has been determined to be an agent of change.When she started working in tech, she soon found out that the space was not created for her, and others like her, mothers and wives. Baratang found out that even among the women who were in the tech industry there were not many who had children or families of their own as she had.

It sometimes would be women who were giving glances when I bring my child to a space. It was a very tough space to be in as a mother and a woman

Today, Baratang is at the forefront of women’s inclusion in technology and is determined to make a difference wherever she can. She takes motivation from her own struggles from when she was a child in high school. The lack of resources, mentors, and opportunities left her technically impaired and ill-prepared for her first encounter with a computer at university. Through GirlHype she is actively working to close the digital divide and preparing young high school girls with the necessary skills they need to go into their professional lives.

From age nine to 18, [we teach] them how to code, [teach] them how to use computers in school so that when they get to universities, they know they can make better career choices 

These women and many more in the tech space play an important role in narrowing the gap between men, women and other marginalised groups in the industry. Women in civic tech and other tech fields are not only narrowing the gender gap but are also ensuring that they can be catalysts for change through their social enterprises. These women are not only tipping the scales through their involvement in the tech industry, they are bringing others with them and changing the world as they go along. 

Join us on the 17th of March 2022 as we partner with the International Civil Society Centre (ICSCentre) as we engage in a digital dialogue about ‘Building Inclusive Communities’. This session will unpack the role of digital innovations in facilitating inclusivity and diversity within civic tech. Register and be part of the discussion.

 

Nkosinathi Mcetywa

Communications Lead

Civic Tech Innovation Network

Nkosinathi is an Urban Planning graduate and a Wits alumni. While studying planning he took a lot of interest in issues surrounding urban governance and the ability of the State to be transparent and accountable to its constituents. He recently completed a postgraduate qualification in Business Administration at the Wits Business School. Nkosinathi has worked in the education space, as part of the Student Equity and Talent Management Unit which facilitates a number of pre-university and university programmes including the Targeting Talent Programme. He played a significant part in his 2 years there as part of the projects team that brought these projects to life. He currently writes as part of a collective of bloggers writing about youth issues.