March 05, 2019: The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity has inspired makers and innovators from all over the world to find solutions that can address the challenge with bridging the Digital Divide and promoting Digital Literacy to overcome inequality globally, particularly in marginalized communities.
With the objective of providing people in remote areas with access to reliable and affordable internet connectivity, the Digital Divide and Digital Literacy Challenge is one of four Global Maker Challenges that form part of the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity, which was launched by the Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit (GMIS) in 2018.
More than half the world’s population have no access to the internet, meaning roughly 3.2 billion people are missing out on the vast opportunities that connectivity offers, such as boosting economic growth and efficiency, enabling a more productive workforce, improving service delivery, and expanding educational opportunities. Moreover, in countries that are connected, male internet users outnumber their female counterparts. Overcoming the ‘digital divide’ is dependent on having digital infrastructure in rural communities to enhance the speed of connectivity and ensure the availability of sufficient training required to navigate such technology.
The Digital Divide and Digital Literacy Challenge seeks to tackle all of these problems by inviting makers and innovators from all around the world to put forward manufactured products and innovative solutions that could bolster and scale the use of existing technologies to accelerate the spread of global connectivity, create affordable opportunities for underserved communities to access digital technologies, and promote equitable use of digital services and technology that empower marginalized communities to overcome barriers to digital literacy, education, and economic opportunities.
Badr Al-Olama, Head of the Organising Committee for GMIS, said: “The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity is about solving real-world challenges, and creating a movement that will be led and driven by a community of ‘makers’ globally. Digital Divide and Digital Literacy is something the world needs to address – whether it is to evenly distribute the potential opportunities brought by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or simply to close the digital gap that unfortunately exists in remote and rural parts of our world”.
“We have received some incredible submissions so far, and the best part is that these solutions are coming from all over the world, including developing countries. This is just the beginning, and we are excited by the potential impact of the Global Prosperity platform in channeling efforts and creativity towards global good.”
One of the solutions submitted was by Congolese-Canadian start-up Ascoderu who developed a custom software and hardware device called Lokole. The device enables emailing in places where there is already cellular coverage, but at a fraction of a network’s normal data costs. Once plugged into a power source, the device acts as a modem and creates a local WiFi network that up to 100 users within a 25-metre radius can connect to and create an email address to start emailing. Lokole plans to run a pilot project of this solution to the digital divide in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) by July 2019.
“Lokole focused on a bottom-up approach. We didn’t reinvent the wheel, but used existing technologies and services and adapted them to the real needs of rural people,” said Nzola Swasisa, the CEO and founder of Ascoderu. “Through Lokole, the students, educators, nurses, farmers, non-governmental and civil society organisations in the remote villages will be able to access important materials and be able to send and receive emails with attachments right in the village, without having to walk several kilometers to the main city to access the internet.”
Commenting on the success of their platform so far, Dee Saigal, EAK’s CEO, said “Solely through word-of-mouth, our prototype has 150,000 players in over 100 countries, of which 55% are girls and young women. Furthermore, 95% of all EAK’s players want to learn more about coding after playing, and this data was collected via 12,000 feedback forms at the end of the game. Through beta-testing with schools in the UK and Syria, we found that EAK encourages young women to become researchers, teachers, problem-solvers, team builders, writers and designers, as well as coders. Our team is very passionate about closing the gender gap in tech, and we're working towards building the best learning tool possible to help make this happen.”
There was also a submission sought to aid the visually impaired which the World Health Organization estimates to be at 285 million people worldwide. Providing an innovative solution for people suffering with sight issues to better access the digital world, Smart Braille is the first mobile application that implements a keyboard based on the Braille alphabet that is designed for use by blind and visually impaired people. It enables faster and more private communication through efficient typing, editing and auto-correct functions, while text is detected by a mobile camera read to the user in real-time. The app is currently available for Android, with plans to make it available for iOS and to integrate different language interpretations of the Braille Alphabet.
“Technology offers so many opportunities, and we believe that to truly benefit from it, people with visual impairments need solutions that are developed specifically for their needs,” said Stefan Tasevski, one of the founders of Macedonia-based Smart Braille. “It is about more than just making the standard solutions accessible, it’s about providing solutions that help improve lives, and we want to bridge that gap."
With access to prizes worth up to US $1 million dollars including access to mentorship from global organisations, the Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity has created an inspirational platform accessible to ‘makers’ who want to solve some of the world’s toughest societal problems. Aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the initiative aims to empower entrepreneurs, innovators and technologists to drive social innovation and advance global prosperity.
A humanitarian champion who has impacted and improved the lives of over 130 million people across 116 countries, His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, and Ruler of Dubai, has placed great emphasis on the role of innovation to reshape industries, and strengthen economies and societies. The Mohammed bin Rashid Initiative for Global Prosperity combines the Global Maker Challenge, an online open-innovation platform designed to promote and accelerate global prosperity through product innovation; and the Global Prosperity Award, a prestigious global accolade that recognizes and rewards corporate social responsibility that advances resilience, community, harmony and dignity across the world.
The four Global Maker Challenges, which, in addition to Digital Divide and Digital Literacy, also include Sustainable Energy, Sustainable Cities, Rural Transformation and Zero Hunger, were determined in partnership with eight UN agencies and NGOs, and were detailed through challenge design workshops in Boston, Vienna and Cairo led by experts from MIT University’s Solve initiative. The workshops brought together over 300 global experts from governments, global organisations and private corporations, as well as start-ups, incubators and academic researchers. Submissions closed on 31st January 2019, and an independent judging panel made up of members of NGOs, academia and the private sector are currently shortlisting candidates from over 1,000 submissions for a live pitching session. Winners will be announced in July at the 2019 Global Manufacturing and Industrialisation Summit in the city of Yekaterinburg, Russia.
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