Can the power of mobile innovation radically disrupt systems of poverty?

At Girl Effect it is our mission to stop poverty before it starts. One of the ways we do this is by empowering and educating girls with mobile and interactive technologies.

Last week at the Mobile World Congress, our CEO, Farah Ramzan Golant, addressed some of the most influential leaders in the industry about how Girl Effect is using mobile innovation to unlock change for girls and women.

As Farah explained, mobile tech – be it groundbreaking peer-to-peer research or the delivery of inspiring content and vital information – can disrupt poverty. Here’s how...

Today's mobile innovation tends to treat the symptoms of poverty, not the root causes.

We’re seeing amazing, disruptive innovation in the mobile space today - from M-Pesa, which allows people to transfer money through mobile technology, through to Mama Rescue, which provides emergency obstetric care to mothers using a cloud-based transportation system.

At the Mobile World Congress’s Glomo Awards, we saw how Jio and Samsung Networks have rolled out the world’s largest nationwide greenfield high-speed 4G mobile internet network in India, while Turkcell’s “Hello Hope” app has brought essential connectivity to the Syrian community in Turkey.

At Girl Effect, we recognise the incredible work and impact these initiatives are having. However we believe that, in order to make lasting change, we need to stop poverty before it starts. To do this we need to tackle the cause: we have to reframe what it means to be a girl in her community.

Traditionally, girls have been thought of as part of the ‘poverty problem’; we believe that girls are the world’s biggest untapped resource.

Girls are the most marginalised people within their communities, making them the hardest to reach and empower. But we know that when a girl is visible, has voice, is valued and is connected, she becomes an active, empowered participant in society. And when girls rise, they bring their whole communities with them and start to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

When we put mobile technology in girls’ hands, we can transform them from being the recipients of aid to co-creators and agents of change.

But before we can empower girls at scale, we need to understand them.

Conventional research methods have limitations when it comes to understanding girls in hard-to-reach communities. TEGA - or Technology Enabled Girl Ambassadors - is a girl-operated research tool that creates paid digital researchers who deliver authentic, unfiltered insights. The data collected can be translated and analysed within 15 minutes of being uploaded, providing us with insights to inform our work and unlock change.

TEGA is a breakthrough in mobile research that has been validated by DFID Nigeria, MIT and the Market Research Society. However, more than anything, it has helped us uncover insights for our work and the work of our partners - improving the overall programming to reach and empower girls.

Once technology has helped us to gain a deeper understanding of girls’ realities, we can use this information to connect them with inspiring content that increases their knowledge on health, education, financial security and safety.

Through mobile we can provide information and tools to unlock change.

The online world is not built for girls and much of the content online can entrench harmful stereotypes. But through Girl Effect Mobile (GEM) we have created a platform that provides girls with an online space that is truly their own.

Created in partnership with Facebook’s Free Basics, our GLOMO nominated GEM platform provides inspiration, information and tools to help girls unlock change. We create content with and for girls. One of our most popular stories, “16 and pregnant”, was originated in Malawi and is now reaching and resonating with girls from Nigeria to Mexico to Pakistan. We also create monthly  “In Your Words” story competitions, which allow girls to share their own stories with other girls in their own words. GEM ultimately gives girls a platform to learn and grown together.

Innovation with and for girls.

Girls have participated in every stage of Girl Effect programme design, becoming content creators, journalists, field researchers, data collectors and community ambassadors. Working with and for girls, we have enabled them to drive change for themselves, their families and their communities.

So can the power of mobile innovation radically disrupt systems of poverty? The answer for us is a resounding yes, especially when it is in the hands of girls themselves. We want to make girls not just the participants in innovation, but the innovators themselves.

We are constantly working towards a future when the next breakthrough is conceived, designed and delivered by girls in Mumbai or Lagos, because innovation, in the end, is not something that’s given, but a force that’s unleashed.

To watch a video of Farah's speech click here.