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A web of voices and images

India’s women are taking advantage of low cost smartphones to access the web and open biz. Image credit: PixelFusion3D/GettyI Images

India still have a large number of illiterate people, 1 out of 4 adult are illiterate (2018 data) and most of these are women. The situation is improving year over year but 200 million women are still illiterate.

Nevertheless, the combination of low price smartphones (under 100$) and low cost phone data plans (the cost per GB has decreased from 3.1$ per GB in 2016 to 0.09$ in 2020) is creating an opportunity for women to use the web and become part of the productive economy.
Being illiterate meant that the use of the web was off limit. Also, notice that in India there are some 30 official languages, most using characters that are different from the English ones being used on the web, so that you may be literate in one of those languages but yo are still cut off from the web. No longer so.

With smartphones it has become possible to communicate using a mix of voice and images, as well as to retrieve information using voice search. This has been a game changer for many illiterate people. One can now call a person just by tapping on the image with his face and can send voice messages associated to a photo taken with the smartphone.

Literacy in the world. Data are based on 2015 observation. The situation is improving and smartphones contribute to increasing literacy in developing Countries. Image credit: Our World in Data

Women in India have started to leverage on smartphones as education tools. Google and Tata are providing lessons over a four days period on using smartphones that can be watched on the smartphone screen showing how to use voice command in local languages. Once educated on its use they act as evangelists educating more people.

This opens up the possibility of accessing the throve of practical information content available on YouTube, like how to stitch fabric to create nice patterns that can be sold on the market. In turns, this allows quite a few women to become entrepreneurs officially entering into a labour force that has been precluded to them (only 5% of of them were formally part of the labour force in the the state of Haryana).

This is not restricted to India. In several other South East Countries and in Africa the smartphone has become a tool for emancipation through education and entrepreneurship.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the Industry Advisory Board within the Future Directions Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.

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