Revi Sterling: Technology gives women a voice
Revi Sterling, USAID-GBI Deputy Chief of Party for NetHope, will be a speaker and moderator at the 2015 Game Changers Summit hosted by United Methodist Communications, Sept. 17-19, in Nashville, Tennessee. This year’s focus will be harnessing the power of information and communications technology (ICT) for global good. The aim is to demonstrate how ICT can be used to improve all facets of life throughout the developing world. Join us for this exciting event.
Revi Sterling doesn’t believe in one-size-fits-all.
“I’ve worked on projects in Nigeria where I found women very assertive and they took to the technology boldly, and other countries where the women were meek and it took some prodding. I often hear talk about making projects to scale, but there are so many cultural variables that you need to take into account. You could find a different dynamic just a few kilometers away,” she says.
“I’ve been in this field 20 years and it’s funny what assumptions I’ve made and found out are wrong.”
Sterling works with NetHope, which specializes in improving IT connectivity among humanitarian organizations in developing countries and areas affected by disaster. One of her main focus areas is how access to technology can empower women.
Sterling says one misconception in the ICT4D (information and communications technology for development) world is the statistic listing Africa as the fastest-growing region in the world for smart phone usage. “That doesn’t necessarily translate down to the people you and I are working with,” she points out.
She says women in developing nations rarely have smart phones — if they have a phone at all. She cites a recent training for 3,000 women in Nigeria: When she asked the participants to pull out their phones, only two had smart phones. Most had phones that were a decade old with cracked screens.
“That’s the infrastructure we’re dealing with and it makes our content delivery, agricultural projects and maternal health projects a bit ‘cart before the horse,’” Sterling says.
However, she adds that when mobile phones were introduced, there were no bells and whistles, just voices, “and the voice is still empowering. Women have a lot of things to say and often, only men have the technology.”
Sterling cites another program she ran in an area of Kenya with little mobile availability, but a strong presence of community radio. She helped create devices that allowed women to record their own shows and transmit them to the stations to be played.
“I interviewed several husbands who decided if the radio station played what their wives had to say, perhaps they should be listening to their wives, too,” Sterling says. “It took technology to put women’s voices out there in the general public for them to be respected within their own home. What else are we missing because we’re not getting women’s voices out there?”
As technology access opens up more of the world to users, information has become a currency, of sorts. Unfortunately, the people who are on the wrong side of the digital divide were already on the wrong side of the socio-economic divide.
That’s where ICT4D works best, by helping to narrow the divide.
“Your average Joe doesn’t have the means to send a shipment of corn to South Sudan, but they can support a food-finding app that helps people find food and water that may be protected by UN forces so they aren’t going to get shot at,” Sterling says. “It’s one of the only development efforts people can get involved in first-hand. You can bring it close to home by downloading that app on someone’s phone so they can experience it, too. We can better connect the donor community at a personal level with the things we’re doing in the development community.”
*Butler is a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications.