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High Hopes Haiti: Digital Empowerment Means Opportunities and Social Transformation

Young women in HHH program learning computer skills.

In April 2013, I traveled to Haiti to continue expansion of the High Hopes Haiti (HHH) project through US-headquartered nonprofit Mothering Across Continents. In May, I wrote the second installment for my Women Weave the Web journal. Now, it’s the beginning of August, and I’m contemplating doing something that will take our efforts to a whole new level . . .

With input and ideas from Haiti and the US, I’m developing our plan for launching a women’s institute in Haiti that would truly integrate English language, digital literacy and vocational business skills. I’m imagining January 2015 as the target for going back to Haiti to test the plan with young women who have been participating in our programs, and representatives of the business sector, nonprofit partners, and educators.

I share this with you as I consider the two key questions that World Pulse is asking in the current phase of the Women Weave the Web campaign: 1) Why do you think digitally empowering women is important? and 2) How will it help women transform the world?

I’ve been “sitting” with these two questions a lot lately and paying close attention to signals around me as I consult. In the process, I read a recent report from the International Monetary Fund and an associated interview with Christine Lagarde, the first woman to head the IMF. Study conclusions included: many of the world’s women are not in the paid workforce most often because they are not allowed to be, or they are underutilized, underpaid, or not paid at all for their labor. Where this occurs, a country’s gross domestic product suffers for it.

When I reflect on the above information and also consider that the simple truth is that the world is shifting and will keep shifting to a digital focus, it seems obvious that digitally empowering women is important.

But what about how women can use digital technology to transform the world? I read an interview with Erika Smith of the Progressive Communications Women’s Networking Support Programme on women using ICTs to mobilize. She said: “Without a doubt information and communications technologies are changing the way we carry out our activism – in our neighborhoods or globally – and women’s rights activists are in the thick of it.”

What Erika said certainly moves me. At the same time, my thoughts about the impact of ICTs turns to and stems from my experience in Haiti and what I’ve been learning about Rwanda through my association with nonprofit Mothering Across Continents. I see and am regularly told that women in both countries, when they can increase their incomes, use their income for the betterment of their families and communities – for better food, education, and healthcare. And in both countries, the ability to use digital tools in a formal job setting, in a small business, or within a cooperative makes women more efficient, better business managers, and higher income earners.

Again, with my experience in Haiti in particular and our relationship with an organization called AFASDA, we are giving young women in our High Hopes Haiti project access to a telecenter equipped with computers in Cap Haitien. We funded WiFi for the Center, and it’s fascinating to see what information women search for and how they put it to work. So often, the information is about how to create opportunities or address issues that they face in their lives and communities. Without access to these tools, their understanding of opportunities available to them are limited to what they see, hear and experience within a limited geographical sphere around them. Access to alternative information and views via the Internet and using basic business software changes their perspectives. Add this to a new reality - business leaders in rural, northern Haiti predicting and planning growth in sectors including agriculture, textiles, and tourism, all of which now require digital literacy – and you’ve got fertile ground for change in the Haitian female experience and the ways Haitian females can transform their communities’ experiences.

Is it easy to achieve? No! . . . only a small percentage of girls graduate from high school in rural, northern Haiti. And many specialized programs developed for girls and women in Haiti do not integrate leadership development, English, digital literacy and business tools and skills. Programs start on basic skills vs. a more holistic development and empowerment. As I’ve written before, my career background is sales, marketing and business start-ups. I’m not interested in computer-based training as an idle or “for fun” exercise. I’m committed to linking the Internet and digital literacy to real-life changes through increases in for-profit business income. That’s why I believe in the need for a women’s institute in Haiti, in the area where we work, that would bring these things together.

So, wish me luck as friends, volunteers, collaborators and partners help me flesh out the plan and clarify funding needs over the next few months. And if you have any interest in or experience around what I’m saying here, and you want to help me think – I’d love to hear from you!

Courtney Jackson

This story was written for World Pulse’s Women Weave the Web Digital Action Campaign. Learn more »

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