Using a Digital Literacy Toolkit to Narrow the Digital Skills Gap for Women and Smallholder Farmers in Uganda
Alon B. Muhame
The use of mobile money to carry out day to day transactions is now commonplace for most Ugandans. Mobile money presents an opportunity for social impact by enabling different groups such as women, youth, and refugees to access services which can help them to manage their daily lives and improve their livelihoods and financial health.
However, an analysis by Dalberg Insights in 2019 found that women face social and legal restrictions which limit them from registering mobile phone SIM cards in their names, affecting their ability to access and use mobile services. Similarly, a study carried out by Hive Colab in remote areas of Uganda’s Lango, and West Nile sub regions found that 60% of respondents lacked mobile phone operational skills (digital literacy) and knowledge to complete mobile digital transactions independently. The study also shows that socio-cultural barriers, and high prevalence of mobile money fraud continue to exclude women, refugees, and smallholder farmers from actively participating in the digital economy.
As part of its digital strategy, UNCDF is implementing a two-year digital literacy skilling project in Uganda. In 2022, Hive Colab, as the implementing partner developed a digital literacy toolkit which it is piloting on the training of 90,000 women, youth and refugees in digital literacy and digital financial literacy skills in the districts of Abim, Gulu, Lira, and the two refugee host districts of Isingiro and Koboko.
For a more sustainable approach, the project leverages a human centered design in which Hive Colab is working with ten anchor partners from local community organisations, non-government organisations (NGOs) and humitarian agencies in the focus districts. 300 trainers of trainees (ToTs) were recruited and trained in digital literacy and digital financial literacy. Each ToT will then cascade the skills obtained by training at least 300 people within the two years of the project.
A needs assessment study by Hive Colab in October 2021 in the pilot districts, found that six women out of ten who own a mobile phone use it for less than one hour a week. This is partially due to affordability, accessibility and prohibitive cultural norms that prevent women from owning and using a mobile phone. Women typically rely on others to access and use mobile phones due to a lack of skills, knowledge, and confidence to navigate the mobile phone technology. This has left more women and refugees vulnerable in many ways and at risk of losing out on the opportunities a digital economy offers. The study also found out that lack of access to energy and unreliable telecom network services especially in the remote parts of Northern Uganda exacerbates the issue.
How the digital literacy toolkit can help
The digital literacy toolkit developed through this partnership is an implementation handbook for trainers in five local languages in the focus districts. The toolkit covers modules on digital awareness, practical know-how, mobile phone proficiency, internet safety, and mobile money usage on a mobile phone. The toolkit will be available for use by organisations working with especially smallholder farmers, women, youth, and refugees to integrate either part or whole of it in their programs on digital literacy and digital financial literacy.
In addition, the digital literacy toolkit provides more detailed content which fills a knowledge gap identified by UNCDF in July 2021 among smallholder farmers and women. It supplements other digital literacy and digital financial literacy resources from key sector players such as GSMA’s resource on mobile money access and usage on mobile phones, and key messages and the financial literacy toolkit by Bank of Uganda.
In the past, refugee advocacy groups and development partners have worked with regulators like Bank of Uganda, the Office of the Prime Minister, and the Uganda Communications Commission to ease requirements for refugees to register SIM cards and engage in mobile money business as agents and merchants. With the right digital skills, refugees will be able to harness the opportunities within the digital economy.
The final version of the toolkit will be available for use by the public by the end of the first quarter of 2023. It will be hosted on an open-source interactive voice response (IVR) platform by the National Information Technology Authority – Uganda (NITA-U) and as a free pdf download on UNCDF’s and Hive Colab’s websites.
Together with the ongoing government initiatives of rural electrification, that is, extending energy to rural areas, the toolkit will increasingly play a role in bridging the knowledge gap on efficient use of mobile phones.
Leaving no one behind
This project is part of UNCDF's digital agenda in Uganda to reach and empower one million people living in rural communities to use innovative digital services, that contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, in their daily lives by 2024.
Digital solutions have become an integral part of last mile distribution sectors in Uganda following the Covid-19 pandemic. To fully support and foster adoption, we have learnt that customers need to be informed and empowered through training to safely use and access digital financial services.
As referenced above, there are many barriers that undermine access to digital tools and platforms, especially for women. Overall, a lack of knowledge on how to access and safely use such platforms remains one of the major hinderances. Addressing this will require close collaboration among various partners and stakeholders like civil society organisations, smallholder farmer organisations and development partners to tailor digital literacy in their programming to proactively target women, smallholder farmers and refugees and create opportunities to break the cycle of poverty and foster access to economic and social growth opportunities.
With the toolkit pilot tested on 55,000 people as at end of 2022, we have noted a huge interest among the target participants and other groups in the five focus districts. The interest of partners such as schools, smallholder farmer organizations, telecom network operator agents and community-based organizations to incorporate the resource in their program implementation and operations will lead to a higher digital multiplier on the skills enhancing digital transformation.
With increased usage of digital financial services over the past few years, there is need for digital skilling programs to improve financial literacy and digital literacy for all to participate in a financially inclusive economy.
 Claire Pénicaud & Arunjay Katakam (2013), “GSMA, Mobile money for the Unbanked: State of Industry accessed on December 7th, 2022, on file:///C:/Users/HP%2014S/Downloads/gatesopenres-186346.pdf