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Executive Perspectives

EXECUTIVE PERSPECTIVE: Bridging the Digital Divide for Women

Sonia Bashir Kabir

06 Dec 2017

Women in Bangladesh now are able to take microcredit loans for the first time ever in the history of microfinance to do technology business.

He is in She. Male is in Female and Man is in Woman. We are meant to coexist. However, in this new era of digital transformation, women from my part of the emerging markets are not in the scene. One may try to research and analyse the myriads of reasons why but unless those efforts lead to actionable items which allow laser precision execution, we will be unable to bridge the digital divide. We will fail the women in our nations if we do not include them in our digital ecosystem.

In my country Bangladesh, women are smart even though they may not have had a formal higher education degree. They have the resilience to learn, relearn, fail yet succeed.

Microsoft CSR focuses on Digital Literacy for Youth and we roll out numerous programs and activities targeting youth. In Bangladesh, however, we decided to also bet on women who constitute 52% of the population (i.e. over 80 million).

With microfinance and/or microcredit being a major women-driven initiative, we focused on these women who constitute roughly one-fourth of the female population of Bangladesh. Our aim was to take these women from education to employment and then to entrepreneurship with our digital literacy program.

We changed the format of the prescribed training by:

  1. hiring computer science students as trainers (highly energetic and up-to-update with the latest trends of technology)
  2. taking the training to where women were based

One of the major breakthroughs in this journey was the partnership with Access to Information (A2I) division under the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) of the Government of Bangladesh. A2I gave us access to their 5200 Digital Centres Nationwide which is jointly operated  by a male and a female. We initially focused on these 5200+ females and continued our training programs with other microfinance organizations in Bangladesh.

The initial two-day Digital Literacy training began with a laptop. The hardware and software components were demonstrated and explained in detail. Each hardware parts of the laptop were opened up and their importance were discussed. Training manuals with illustrations were shared with all of the women.

The software training began with explaining the role of the operating system and continued with training on web surfing, email creation, document creating in Microsoft Word and calculation methods in Microsoft Excel. The concept of saving documents in the cloud and the benefits of cloud computing was also part of the training. The course ended with a graded exam.

We sorted our trainee database by performance. The top performers (roughly one-third) were given a week long extensive training on their areas of interest such as repair/service, train the trainer model and e-commerce.

Women in Bangladesh now are able to take microcredit loans for the first time ever in the history of microfinance to do technology business. Women in Bangladesh now are able to do computer repair as service engineers. They now run IT training labs and are operating their existing business through simple e-commerce models. The feedback we have from these women is simple: “It’s easy only if you try”.

Microsoft Bangladesh is proud of the women in Bangladesh and we will continue to work with these women actively to significantly bridge the digital divide.

Sonia Bashir Kabir is a 2017 UN Global Compact SDG Pioneer for women’s digital empowerment. She is a Managing Director for Microsoft Bangladesh and Board Director and Co-founder of D Money, a financial technology sector start-up. Sonia advocates digital literacy for women, and has let programs increasing women’s participation in the IT workforce. Through Microsoft she has worked to provide microloans to women to found IT businesses. Sonia is also dedicated the transformative power of education. She serves on boards of the Bangladesh Association of Software and Information Services (BASIS), the Business and Computer Science Schools of North South University and the Business School of the Independent University Bangladesh.
Read more about Sonia’s work as a 2017 UN Global Compact SDG Pioneer
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