In a recent article in The Guardian, author Loren Treisman details the struggle to bring access to information to those who are offline or illiterate, and the role that NGOs are playing in fixing this problem. With cell phone usage at nearly 72%, one may be led to believe that the digital divide is not all that great in Africa. However, this statistic tells only part of the story. A mere 18% of mobile phones in Africa are smartphones, and those who use smartphones are concentrated in regional enclaves. Even those with access to cell phones and the internet may struggle to take full advantage of the technology, as the lingua franca of these platforms is typically English.
However, Treisman mentions several organizations that are taking an inventive approach to working with local communities to solve these issues. Many of these groups operate by combining both low and high-tech approaches to assist citizens. In Liberia, iLab Liberia is working to transfer key information found online to murals and information boards throughout busy intersections in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. These chalkboards are written using photos, illustrations and diagrams in addition to text in order to help those who may be illiterate gain information vital government services.
iLab Liberia, in addition to the other organizations that Treisman mentions in his article, provides a key service to individuals who are outside of the digital world. It is easy to forgot that using technology is not all that simple, and that even when one has access to the technology using it properly can be difficult. Organizations that work to bring online information to individuals outside the digital world by using platforms that may be more palatable offer an interesting take on how to shrink the digital divide. Perhaps we will see an increase in such organizations as their success stories are shared throughout the development community.