The COVID-19 pandemic has changed life for most people globally. The need for social distancing has forced much of the world to try to continue daily activities – such as work, schooling and getting crucial health information – online. But the transition to digital life has been rocky for many. The digital divide – in access to computers, reliable Internet connection and relevant skills – has become more crucial than ever to close.
To help individuals and communities grapple with the new normal, we awarded Beyond the Net Small grants and several projects focused on addressing challenges that emerged in light of the pandemic. Here’s a sneak peek into our grants in three countries: Botswana, Somalia, and Trinidad and Tobago.
Teleworking 101 for Small Business Leaders in Botswana
Like many countries, the Government of Botswana enforced work-from-home orders to reduce the spread of COVID-19. However, many of the country’s small- and medium-sized business leaders are not tech-savvy, or simply don’t have the skills or knowledge to take full advantage of teleworking tools and technologies. To address this need, the Botswana Internet Society Chapter’s Beyond the Net project will offer “Teleworking 101” training for small business leaders.
“Our goal is to reach a wide audience (employers, employees and the general public) by livestreaming the trainings of up to 160 business leaders via Zoom, in groups of 40, spread out over four 2- to 3-hour sessions,” explains Chapter President, Phuthego Chere. “We believe that after our activity, trainees and other people who followed our trainings will adopt telework amid the pandemic and into the future. Botswana has a slow adoption of technology and even popular video conference solutions like Zoom are not being widely used. Our event can promote adoption locally.”
He hopes that some small businesses that are currently losing sales or closing-up shop will be able to stay afloat in the short-term and ultimately become more productive and profitable through telework. By inviting public-sector officers who facilitate business to participate in the training, the Chapter also hopes that the Government will promote teleworking internally.
Participants will learn to use tools such as remote desktop and real-time applications, as well as video chat apps. They will then introduce them to encryption tools. The sessions will be conducted by experienced engineers and the business community.
Helping students access education during lockdown in Trinidad and Tobago
As in most parts of the world, schools in the Caribbean nation of Trinidad and Tobago have been closed since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared in March 2020. Some online teaching was introduced in the education system; however, an estimated 60,000 students do not have computers or other devices to access this material at home.
“COVID-19 created a perfect storm for our education system,” noted Nihan Beharry, Project Lead and President for the Internet Society’s Trinidad and Tobago Chapter. “Untrained teachers were forced into emergency remote teaching and did the best they could with some support from the Ministry of Education; however, existing challenges include the lack of online access for many families at home, and the fact that many parents have been furloughed or laid-off due to the pandemic. Our goal was and still is simple, to get as many of those students access to the learning resources they need as quickly as possible, in partnership with other NGOs.”
To address this gap, the Internet Society’s Trinidad and Tobago Chapter’s project collected unused computers and related equipment to refurbish for students and provide access to online teaching. They’ve already received 50 computers from an NGO and they’re reaching out publicly for more. The Chapter is working with the Principal’s Association and the Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society to identify and prioritize those students most in-need.
Additional online learning resources will be made available via websites and the Trinidad and Tobago Chapter is working with local Internet-providers to get that content zero-rated (so that it won’t use data and will be free for students). The Chapter also plans to talk to the Government about developing a community network through its public Wi-Fi program.
Increasing the reach of critical health information in Somalia
In Somalia, health facilities are limited and medical staff are a scarce resource, making COVID-19 risks even more severe than elsewhere. At the same time, many people lack access to reliable health information about how to avoid catching and spreading the virus.
In response, the Internet Society Chapter in Somalia developed a community health-awareness campaign to provide timely, accurate information about COVID-19 prevention. Using websites, social media and online videoconferencing tools, as well as promotion on traditional media, the goal is to bring health information to a wide audience, with local stories told in a variety of local languages.
Local input is a key element, explains Hamid Haji Aadm, Chapter Finance Officer and Project Lead. “We wanted the community to be part of the campaign and make them feel not just like participants, but also contributors. The local stories used in the awareness-raising content and shared via the Zoom sessions reached more communities as people talked about it with other friends and family members.”
Online conferencing provided a platform for stakeholders and medical experts, as well as community members, to share their experiences and information with the wider society. They were coupled with easily shareable media files and videos on prevention measures such as proper handwashing.
These are just a few of the selected short-term projects aimed at helping communities navigate a rapidly changing post-COVID world. The Foundation also recently awarded COVID-19-focused Emergency Response Grants for four organisations.