The ‘digital divide’ between those with access to technology, and those without, is a huge problem worldwide. It is unfortunately associated with other ‘divides’, including north/south and rich/poor, as well as education. This means that it effectively widens those gaps, and is therefore increasingly a focus for development agencies. A partnership between International Professional Practice Partnership, or IP3, part of IFIP, the International Federation for Information Processing, and the charity Rotary, aims to do something to help. We caught up with Liesbeth Ruoff, board member of IP3 and longstanding Rotary member, to talk about her work on this issue.

Liesbeth, what’s the background to this project? How did it start?

At last year’s IFIP General Assembly, in October 2019, we talked about the idea of bringing together leaders from the ICT world and non-profit organisations to cooperate and exchange knowledge—and maybe combine to do some good! Back in the Netherlands, I contacted Wouter van Putten, a former governor of Rotary and currently a member of a worldwide Rotary committee on regulations. He contacted Rotary colleagues from within his international network, and we got some very positive reactions, and started to think about how we could work together.

What were your first actions?

It very quickly became clear that I needed to find more resources. One of my first jobs was to find a suitable partner for the project, with both a Rotary and an IT background. I’m now working with Ad Kroft, whom I knew from the IT world, and is also a member of Rotary. Talking with Rotary, we understood that we had to start by applying for a Global Grant to get more visibility and prove that there is need for digital skills and trust development on all levels. We called this concept ‘digital capacity building’ and the project is now known as Everybody everywhere digital skills. 

What is the focus of the project? 

Fundamentally, the focus is on creating digital capacity and preventing the ‘digital divide’ from developing and worsening. We felt that it was important to build capacity that was not dependent on goodwill and commitment from one of the ‘big five’ tech companies—and that was a crucial point to explain to people in Rotary. The second aspect that was important was to focus on implementation, which is much harder than simply buying computers. It takes time and energy, and it needs to match the needs and starting position of the community, region or country. This means that we are relying on local Rotary organisations to know what’s happening on the ground, and be prepared to get involved. It’s likely to need local partners, and we have a couple of possible projects under discussion now.

Can you tell us a bit more about these?

One is in Ghana, and would involve working with two NGOs, a Dutch one called ‘Climbing the right tree’, and its Ghanaian partner, Maxim Nyansa IT Solutions Foundation. The two are already working together to contribute to digital transformation in Africa. They have approached us about potentially getting involved in their work, and suggested two possible examples. One is a digital skills program for high schools, and the other is about professional training programmes to give young people IT skills, and prepare them for work. 

And the other project?

We have been approached by an IFIP community member in Botswana. She was very positive about the potential for a pilot there, and offered to help. We also have Rotary Botswana on board, and another IT expert is now involved. That group has offered to carry out an initial assessment about which needs are most urgent, and which fit best with the terms of the Global Grant. They will use an OECD framework, Going Digital, and we hope to discuss the results of their assessment very soon by Zoom. Both Tanzania and Rwanda are also possible sites for a pilot, so there is plenty going on. Our work has also been strengthened by the focus of the incoming worldwide Rotary chairman, Holger Knaack. He said in a speech that “The digital revolution has affected us much harder than we anticipated” and that it is important Rotary does not ‘look away’.  I hope, therefore, that Rotary contacts in other countries will also come forward with ideas—but it does feel like we are already off to a flying start. 

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

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