Sunday, 21 April 2013

Mobile telephony: Empowering women and paving the way for m-development #ict4d

Jyoti Macwan, General Secretary, SEWA
Valiben Macwana, Executive Committee member
Smita Bhatnagar, Senior Coordinator, SEWA

When was the last time you met a truly empowered woman? Well, earlier in the week, I was lucky enough to meet Valiben Macwana, one of the 1.7 million empowered self-employed women's association (SEWA) members.

SEWA, based in Ahmedabad, India, is an organization of self-employed women workers who earn their living thanks to their small business. These women do not get a monthly salary, nor enjoy benefits like those of their sisters in the "organized labour sector". And to make matters worse, it seems like these women are "uncounted, undercounted and invisible".

What is amazing about these women, is their extraordinary will power and their openness to new ideas and innovations.

With a beautiful smile and a lot of pride, Valiben Macwana shared her inspiring story of the day that she received a mobile phone. Macwana's story is yet another example of the power and potential of how mobile telephony is a catalyst to eradicate hunger and poverty.

Her first experience with what transformed her business into a successful one was one of utter fear.

"I was so scared when the phone started moving, that I almost threw it out of the window", said Macwana. "I then gave it to my children, who know more about these things, and they explained that when the phone vibrates, this means I have a message. And you know what was the message? It was the price for the commodity I wanted to sell".

Macwana may be illiterate, however, she knows how to make the most of the information she receives on her mobile phone. She looked at the information on her screen and diligently transcribed it on a piece of paper. Thanks to this information, she then  decided it was a profitable proposition to make a journey to the local market.

"Thanks to my mobile phone, now I only go to the market when I know I can sell my products, this way I can save on the bus fare". Saving the bus fare may seem something trivial to some, however, for someone who lives on $1.25 a day, it means putting more food on the table for the family, or buying a pair of shoes for the children or sending the kids to school.

Macwana's mobile phone also acts as a mini, allowing her to take orders. Knowing the demand has allowed her to plant the right crop in the right quantities, thus avoid producing in excess and being faced with storage challenges.

There is no doubt that we moved from anecdotal examples of how mobile telephony and ICT4D in general are improving lives of millions of people. What we, as development workers need to do, is to make sure that  rural development and agriculture related activities include and embed ICT4D solutions and consider embracing and adopting m-development!

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