Training rooms in the digital centre Yaounde, Cameroon.
Mary-Lisa Durban is the Corporate Philanthropy International Development Manager for Europe and the Middle East at the Orange Foundation. She also manages the women’s digital centres program. She is project manager for the Women for Change Award and manages the calls for employee-led projects in France.
Why was the women’s digital centres program created?
We already have a decade of experience in supporting projects that empower women, particularly in the areas of literacy and maternal and infant health in Africa. The feedback for all of these projects has been very positive. Women reinvest in their family and their children’s education, and they are also very entrepreneurial.
Our problem is that we do not leverage our different experiences, and our initiatives weren’t really sustainable. Our goal, as a corporate foundation is to be recognized as “the digital solidarity foundation”, so we decided to launch a program aimed at women with a digital focus. In some rural areas, and even some urban ones, it’s almost revolutionary!
How was the program started?
The important thing for this program is that the Orange foundation or affiliate in each country gets involved. They are very knowledgeable about the situation of women and the digital landscape. They are the backbone of this program. We asked for their help in Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Madagascar and Tunisia. They each identified one or several partners (NGOs) with whom they have defined an action plan.
There are 4 very important themes in this program. The location, as the centre must be a safe place with a power supply, support from Orange employee volunteers, educational content, obviously, and the IT equipment (which is based on the digital schools kit). The women also have a USB stick which can be worn as a bracelet to store and transport their working documents.
20 digital centres are currently being rolled out across the continent. 3 centres have been launched to date:
1 in Madagascar and 2 in Cameroon. We plan to open more very soon in Côte d’Ivoire and Tunisia. The centres are opened gradually and training begins afterwards. The modules change depending on the women’s needs. Generally speaking, the training is focused on skills that help women to create an income-generating activity.
What relationship exists between women and digital technology?
The main problem is ownership. When we look at studies on digital usage in Africa, for example, fewer women than men own a mobile phone. It’s a situation which excludes them, as they don’t have access to certain knowledge or services. It’s becoming an increasing obstacle for them. It’s the same for other devices: computers, tablets, etc.
Training, supporting and assisting them is a real challenge. As with young people at risk and our
other digital education programs, the aim is to ensure that they make good use of digital technology. For some of them, it’s a real discovery. In Madagascar, for example, some women had never even touched a tablet before.
Digital centres in France
Thanks to the Orange Solidarity association experience with coordinating digital workshops for NGOs across France, we have learned a lot about the needs of non-governmental organizations which fight for the social and professional integration of women.
The goal is to improve the beneficiaries’ employability, as well as developing their financial independence. Training will be focused on digital skills, online reputation and modules about entrepreneurship.