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Bridging the gender gap through ICT and Life Skills for marginalized women in India and Rwanda

Knowledge and skills in solar-powered community center to offer brave spaces for marginalized women artisans to address gender bias

Photo of Haein Shin

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Explain your project idea (2,000 characters)

Our discussions with women in India and Rwanda revealed that many women have been repeatedly told they are incapable of learning new things, thus lack confidence in their own abilities. They do not have sustained support structures equipping them with relevant skills, information and knowledge that can also contribute to increased awareness of their worth. Especially for women over 25 who dropped out of school earlier in life have little to no chance to re-engage in learning. The project will provide a “brave space” where women learn to challenge their engrained biases and assumptions, particularly those that serve to repress themselves. Using digital tools in a solar-powered center, women will access information and communicate with other women who have faced similar challenges. This process will guide unlearning gender biases by effectively utilizing the center’s tools for economic, civic and personal empowerment. Curated audio-visual aids will help women to understand the larger ecosystem. It will inform their views on biased societal norms. Local examples will give women strength to fight against injustices. The proposed project partners have strong rapport with women, so will be well-equipped to recruit and elicit participation in challenging conversations. The Information and Communications Technology Center training will address: • ICT skills, cyber wellness, security • Gender and safety issues • Myths and taboos • Support business activities (product research, e-commerce, online banking, accounting tools, identifying funding opportunities) • Photography and social media for marketing, collaboration This “All Women’s Computer Center” run by women will be equipped with a photocopier, phone charging station and a cyber café with minimal service fees to the wider community users to make this venture financially sustainable. The women will take ownership of the management and all operations of the center.

Who are the beneficiaries? (1,000 characters)

Our beneficiaries are women aged 17-55 in the surrounding communities of the proposed ICT Centers in India and Rwanda. In India, the women-run Mahashakti Seva Kendra (MSK) non-profit works in urban slums of Bhopal, supporting 84 economically marginalized women aged 25-55. The majority of women are primary school dropouts, are illiterate, often lack confidence to learn new things and are discouraged by family members. Through conversations with the women, however, we have learned that repressive cultural myths can be dispelled with exposure to reputed digital information. Millennium Promise (MP) works in rural areas of Bugesera District, Rwanda. Forty girls completed secondary school with scholarships but lacked funds to continue their education. With limited help from CSD, the girls are learning vocational skills, but their limited access to technology and opportunities to practice English inhibit their ability to grow to achieve their dreams of running successful businesses.

How is your idea unique? (1,000 characters)

Our idea is unique because we meld education, gender and energy issues in one community program. It uses multi sector strategies to meet more than one Sustainable Development Goal. Clean and renewable energy is utilized to power an educational space where women can address the gender issues that impede on their peace and prosperity. The local partners have deep rooted ties and trust with the communities. The 3 organizations partnering for this project, CSD, MSK and MP, have partnered to equip young and adult women with entrepreneurship and English skills. The pilot programs have already demonstrated success with 100% retention of young and adult women participants. Our idea advances the existing commitment of participants and partners and ensures sustainability by comprehensively packaging all the different components of this approach. This will enable a high rate of return for the funds invested, improving the quality of lives for marginalized women.

Idea Proposal Stage (choose one)

  • Early Adoption: I have completed a pilot and analyzed the impact of that pilot on the intended users of the idea. I have begun to expand the pilot for early adoption.

Tell us more about your organization/company (1 sentence and website URL)

Center for Sustainable Development (CSD) at The Earth Institute, Columbia University supports governments, organizations and research globally to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals; its education arm is Connect To Learn, whose mission is to address the lack of universal access to quality education, with an emphasis on the marginalized, especially girls, in resource poor settings globally. Website:

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.

In 3-4 sentences, tell us the inspiration or story that encouraged you to start this project.

In providing skills training to women in India and Rwanda’s rural and slum areas, we were inspired by their ideas, hard work, commitment and exponential growth. We realized their limited personal fulfillment and professional success depended on financial, but also psychological, gendered barriers they face in their communities. The proposed project attempts to bridge the identified gaps between mental awareness and technical skills that the women lack in their current circumstances.

Please explain how your selected topic areas are influenced, in the local context of your project (1,000 characters).

Peace is being disrupted by increased episodes of gender violence in India. In every newsroom, atrocities against women have taken front seat and the national government is losing popularity due to their failure to stop the epidemic of minor girl rape. India is on the cusp of a revolution led by women to stop patriarchal cultural practices and promote skilling to build women’s independence to stand up for their rights. Prosperity is influenced by disadvantages women face. For example, while Rwanda is thought to be a leader in gender-inclusiveness, in financial utility and access, women are 20% less likely to have a mobile money account. Planet is influenced by India and Rwanda’s massive, growing energy consumption, pointing to the urgency of more renewable energy. The roots of gender inequality can be addressed by offering women opportunities to empower themselves with knowledge and skills to influence a cultural shift toward systemic support for peace.

Who will work alongside your organization in the project idea? (1,000 characters)

Millennium Promise (MP) is a multi-national nonprofit in Senegal and New York with a field office in Rwanda. The Rwanda team closely works with local government and helped establish more than 30 cooperatives, improving the quality of life for hundreds of families. The team has extensive experience coordinating formal and non-formal education programs targeting marginalized youth and girls; their network and skills will help establish a Center with local ICT entrepreneurs, recruit participants for the ICT and life skills training, and ensure sustainability. MSK is a women-run nonprofit based in Bhopal, India established in 1994. It works for economic and social uplifting of women through education and skills training. MSK will hire a project coordinator for vocational training in ICT, English, entrepreneurship and life skills for in- and out-of-school youth and women. It operates 3 government-provided community centers that will be equipped with ICT resources and host program activities

Please share some of the top strengths identified in the community which your project will serve (500 characters)

In both proposed India and Rwanda sites, the communities we have been working with have shown commitment to the project scope in their past work. They understand the project vision of women taking initiative to further empower themselves. There is broader community buy-in on this initiative and in the initiation of a community ICT Center, with the potential users (more women in wider community) continually demonstrating strong interest levels during the pilot phases.

Geographic Focus

Urban slum in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh state of India and semi-rural Bugesera District of Rwanda.

How many months are required for the project idea? (500 characters)

The project idea will be implemented within 36 months, each year marking a phase. In the first year, the ICT Center is established and generates income for the Center through services open to the wider community women (electricity, classes). The first cohort of women will be trained. In the second year, some women will become co-instructors and support existing and new cohort of Center women and users. By the third year, some women will take on Center operations as a part of their business.

Did you submit this idea to our 2017 BridgeBuilder Challenge? (Y/N)

  • No

If Yes, how has project idea changed, grown, or evolved since last year? (2,000 characters)

Not Applicable

Attachments (1)


Open IDEO Bridge Builder Challenge User Experience Map for Women's ICT Center Model


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

bikash gurung curious if you have any questions around the program model?

Photo of bikash gurung

Thanks Ashley Tillman for the tagg. I am really enjoying the collaborative conversation happening here. Haein Shin thanks for sharing your great idea.
The program model is sustainable, bridges the gap between mental awareness and digital skills. But I am curious to learn about vocational skills/ ICT skills that are part of ttrainng content. You may say : English to Indian Language translation. In my experience, having a well designed training content opens an opportunity to employment & entrepreneurship. Also willing to learn what has been the challenges so far faced by your team? Also do you mean English skills as literacy on English or language fluency? I am particularly interested in seeing direct intersection between peace and planet as well from this program? Looking forward to learning more.

Photo of Haein Shin

Hi bikash gurung  Ashley Tillman Your inputs and these conversations have been instrumental in helping us further articulate and define our work. Thank you so much for this interest and questions. In addition to the existing artisan training on actual crafting of products, the curriculum piloted so far has focused on integrating computer skills to financial literacy and English language so that these new skills can complement their artisan work. For example, our content includes how to budget and to do costing of production to generate product cost using Excel, communication and marketing (photography, social media for products) so that artisans can reach a broader market and be able to reference online materials which are prevalently in English. Using features like Google Translate (for the 1st time for artisan women!) was helpful to acquaint with both local language (typing, learning letters) as well as hearing and speaking English. Conversational English is a priority so women can communicate with customers, foreigners and tourists interested in the women’s products. But as we develop the project, the plan is to host online literacy materials (both English and local language literacy activities) that can be easily accessed on the Center’s computers.

Current challenges are timing and sequencing of project activities. We are continuing with the vocational training, but until the Center matures with funding support to lead to self-sustaining business, replacing older computers, implementing the clean energy source through solar power, etc., it will remain at current training levels. Related to this, without the added Center features, the use of the Center for the community has not yet been possible to scale and we look forward to growth in this area in the 2nd phase.

Some conversations with women have already been taking place on sensitive topics, such as traditional customs related to gender issues. While the project plan integrates life skills and soft skills to utilize information for building the culture of respect, empathy, teamwork to break down gender barriers, varying perspectives that have emerged among the group of women have led to some tension. While we anticipated this, this has happened sooner than we had planned, so the project is working to catch up with additional content and facilitator preparation in areas such as mediation and conflict resolution to address these issues and help facilitate more constructive dialogue. Based on this, the plan is to integrate deeper reflective aspects into the more “functional” aspects of the vocational program. We are hoping that considerations of these parts will make the intervention more cohesive.

We are defining peace in our project as gender equity, and planet under the scope of renewable and clean energy. We are utilizing the access to sustainable clean energy to address inequities faced by women with social (education, training for women, peer networks) and productive (economic /employment growth, income-generating activities) components seen to contribute to peace.

Photo of bikash gurung

Thanks for the brief sharing. Keep up the good work.

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