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How Is Technology Causing Breakthroughs in Youth Economic Opportunity?

By Linda Raftree on October 21, 2011

At the Making Cents International’s Global Youth Economic Opportunities Conference, the youth and ICTs panel mentioned a few of the many areas where new technologies can be integrated in youth development work.

To begin with, as moderator Wayan Vota from Inveneo mentioned, technology is one area where youth are viewed as experts over adults. They are often seen as thought leaders in ICTs. Via mobile phones, youth are starting to open bank accounts, according to David Mukaru from Equity Bank in Kenya, and this is demystifying aspects of finances and banking, even in rural and slum areas.

There are challenges though, as Lia Gardner from TakingITGlobal reminded. ‘ICT is not a self-fulfilling circle; you can share great ideas but what about taking online connections into the offline world?’

Jacob Korenblum from Souktel considered adults to be the biggest barrier. ‘Adults don’t see how tech can be leveraged and utilized for serious purposes. Older people really need to come on board and take youth seriously. Tech is a good way for youth to express views.’

Peter Broffman from Intel Learn Program recommended showcases with parents, teachers and community leaders to allow adults to see how youth and technology can be harnessed to address things that matter and to resolve problems in the community.

ICTs can also be used to engage youth and hear their voices and opinions. Korenblum commented that Souktel’s JobMatch idea was adapted and used to get feedback on 2 large-scale radio broadcast projects in Sudan and Somalia. The program implementers didn’t know what the audiences thought about the programs. Souktel developed a way for people to text in for free to give feedback. Some of the comments were selected and read out on the air. The texts began to inform the content of the radio programs.

“We saw hundreds, even thousands of SMS coming in. In one case we had thousands of messages coming in from Orphans and Vulnerable Children [after we did a radio show on the topic]. They were saying ‘No one has ever asked me about my concerns, thanks for this radio show.’”

In another case, thousands of people texted in saying they were not aware of the potential dangers of skin lightening creams. “We also had very frank and candid feedback like ‘you don’t represent enough Sudanese on your program.’ In Gaza we asked several thousand youth about the potential for a ceasefire. Youth wrote back their thoughts and said ‘this is the first time anyone has asked or cared about what I have to say.’” The feedback was shared with the television and radio stations so they could improve their programs, and in some cases it was played along the ticker tape on the bottom of Al Jazeera.

Mukaru commented that Equity Bank is known to be the ‘listening and caring financial partner’ in Kenya. ‘We listen to youth and clients. We have gone out to do focus group discussions to get to understand what youth are asking us to change, to do better, what they want to see in our services. We also use technology, SMS feedback. Our mobile phone number is displayed in our lobby where youth can interact with us and give their feedback. We’ve changed a number of things….They didn’t like our website – they said it’s too old, that it wasn’t talking to the youth. So we redesigned it to speak to the youth better. They said they want to bank small amounts of money and it costs them a lot to go into town, so this is why we started local agencies,’ he said.

It was encouraging to hear so many people highlighting the importance of the youth development approach and the fact that youth need to be listened to, respected and seen as valued partners in their own development as well as in the development of their communities and nations.


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Written by
Linda Raftree has worked at the intersection of community development, participatory media, rights-based approaches and new information and communication technologies (ICTs) for 20 years. She blogs at Wait... What?
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One Comment to “How Is Technology Causing Breakthroughs in Youth Economic Opportunity?”

  1. sburton says:

    It certainly is encouraging to see such an uptake of the youth development approaches, and even more so that youth enthusiasm for participation in critical discussion and social development is being demonstrated through these approaches–which in turn reinforce their usefulness.

    I can see how adults can sometimes be a barrier to ICT uptake, and that youth uptake of new technologies and ICT-based initiatives is likely to be higher due to their relative expertise and comfort with the tools. This makes me wonder if there is a way to leverage the skills and enthusiasm of youth populations to build the capacities of older generations, particularly in relation to ICT.

    For example, UAP Insurance just released their Salamasure insurance scheme in Kenya, which essentially aims to make personal accident insurance accessible to low-income individuals by 1) offering coverage at a very low cost (starting at 200Ksh or $2 USD/mo) and 2) conducting all transitions (claims, payments, etc) via mobile banking services. I think this has the potential to be a great service, but I’m wondering whether adults might be slower to adopt because of its newness and ICT-based platform (although most Kenyan adults likely already have the skills to utilize the service due to the prevalence of MPesa).

    So I suppose that, more generally, I’m wondering whether there are ways to (or examples of projects that do) leverage youth’s comfort and expertise with ICTs to support the adoption of ICTs and related services among adults?