The Empowering Self-Help Groups in Kenya Through ICT for Better Education and Alternative Livelihood Opportunities project aims to alleviate economic poverty, promote sustainable development, and empower women’s self-help groups in coastal areas of Kenya through the use of information and communication technologies (ICTs). The project was spearheaded by Coastal Oceans Research and Development Indian Ocean (CORDIO), in partnership with the Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI) India and Nykopings Folkhogskola School of Sweden, with support from the Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (SPIDER). Through the project, women’s groups are assisted with ICT training and facilities to engage in alternative livelihood activities and improve productivity.
According to the organisers, the objective of the project is to introduce ICTs into a poverty-alleviation strategy, which includes an adult education programme, to empower villagers in coastal communities in Kenya. The goal is to support environmentally sustainable livelihood activities in order to help improve the standard of living among coastal communities. CORDIO, who had been working with local fishermen for ten years, came to realise that some economic needs of the community were not being addressed. The organisation therefore decided to involve women to enhance household income, health, education, food security, and self-reliance within the community.
The project initially assisted five women’s groups in the Kwale District that had over 130 members, but organisers intended to expand and have expanded to other coastline regions. The self-help groups include Mwamlongo, Karoyo, Wakunga, Lolarako, and Gazi Women Mangrove Boardwalk. The majority of the groups work in poultry and duck cultivation and one group focuses on tourism. In 2008, the project incorporated additional groups - Tulisubiri Women Group, Dzisotoko Women Group, Diani Kongamano Women Group, and Kaya Muhaka Self Help Group. The members from these 4 additional groups are undergoing training on computer use, and adult literacy classes are being set up.
The project initially sponsored a number of trainees, mainly women, to attend a computer college. The computer course included an introduction to some Microsoft products, including Windows, Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as well as internet use. Others have been trained in the workings of a 'community payphone' project and were supplied with the necessary equipment to set up this type of phone service, including mobile phones. All the groups have also been provided with calculators to aid in calculations, for increased accuracy and efficiency in income, expenses, and contributions accounting. Each participant is also provided with a cashbook for data recording. One of the women’s groups received a computer, furniture, and financial support to install electricity.
Organisers say members of the group have acknowledged that having a community phone enables them to obtain market information and technical services. This helps them to sell their products or services and, at the same time, generate direct income. The project is being implemented in collaboration with the local national women’s network, local administration, mobile telephony service providers, the social service, and fisheries departments.
Organisers say that despite its successes, the initiative faces many hurdles, including inadequacies in infrastructure, access to electricity, security of housing facilities, and internet connectivity. Other obstacles include a lack of ready markets for products, mishandling of equipment, and political instability, as well as difficulties in accessing market prices and lack of sharing of information on experiences and best practices.
Suganthi Devadason Marine Research Institute (SDMRI) India, Nykopings Folkhogskola School of Sweden, Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (SPIDER)
eLearning Africa website on May 29 2008 and email from Sarah Ater on July 10 2008.