Summer Session 3: ‘Digital inclusivity: is there equitable access to the new digital world?’
On the 16th August 2022 the SMP hosted the third and final event in its ‘Summer Sessions’ series. This informal, open-space discussion event created a space for SMP members and their partners to come together and discuss digital accessibility.
The full video of the discussion is available on this webpage and the chat log can be found here.
We recognise that, since the start of the pandemic, much of what historically was done in-person is now done digitally on platforms like Zoom and Teams. This has a great many advantages but also some challenges, not least stemming from the fact that not everyone has access to the computers, power and connectivity required to take part. This is what we mean by ‘digital inclusivity’.
- What has changed in your partnership in terms of ‘digital working’ since March 2020?
- What have been the advantages of digital working in your partnership?
- What have been the disadvantages of digital working in your partnership?
- What are the blockers to digital participation in Malawi and Scotland and who is excluded?
- Can you share an example of an approach you have taken, been involved in or have seen which you feel has helpfully built digital accessibility?
- Should we be endeavouring that digital cooperation will ultimately replace most Scotland-Malawi flights, as part of our fight against the climate crisis?
- What more (in very tangible terms) can we do as individuals and a community to challenge support digital accessibility?
- How do gender and digital inclusion intersect?
- How do we support both digital and gender equality?
BLOCKERS TO DIGITAL ACCESSIBILITY:
- Connectivity – The lack of ICT hardware, internet access (around 10% of the population) and reliable electricity (around 15% of population) are huge issues for many in Malawi.
- Cost of data – In July 2020 visualcapitalist.com used O2 data to show Malawi had the most expensive data access in the world (more recent 2022 analysis from Cable.co.uk placed Malawi as 149th most expensive country). Data in Malawi is around ten times more expensive than in the UK. When you combine this with the difference in GNI per capita (i.e. how much less the average Malawian earns compared to the average Scot), internet data in Malawi is over 600 times less affordable in Malawi than in Scotland.
- Credit cards – It is almost impossible for most Malawians (even organisations) to get internationally recognised credit cards which are required to use every-day subscription web-tools like SurveyMonkey, Mindomo, or even website hosting platforms to be able to have even the most basic website.
- Clarity – Feedback tells us that it can be hard to know from Malawi which events it is really useful for them to attend. It costs around MK3,000 (£3) to attend a Zoom meeting for an hour in Malawi (this is almost twice the GDP per capita per day): participation is therefore a major investment, so picking and choosing is key.
- Culture and timings – The way meetings are setup, how they are chaired, when they start (whether they factor in the time difference, the different working hours, and when it gets dark in Malawi) and how long they last, can all be major blockers.
TECHNOLOGY AND OPPORTUNITIES:
- Sending money to Malawi: The SMP has been involved in the development of Moto Money, a new web and app-based service for money transfer from the UK to Malawi. We are in the process of finalising a corporate partnership with Moto Money and we recommend the platform as an excellent way of easily transferring cash from the UK to as many people in Malawi as you wish. No bank account is required in Malawi as recipients get a SMS text message with a code allowing them to collect funds from a local bank. Other members recommended having used Xoom, which is connected to PayPal systems.
- Sending phone credit to Malawi: There are a number of different providers which allow you to directly purchase phone credit from the UK for phones in Malawi. The SMP uses ding.com, which is very quick and easy to use: you can send phone credit to your partner in Malawi in just a few clicks.
- WhatsApp: WhatsApp is widely seen as one of the most useful means of communication with Malawi as it is cheap, effective and very widely used in Malawi. WhatsApp voice notes are seen as especially useful in Malawi. Telegram is also well received in Malawi, albeit it is less prolific than WhatsApp.
- Communication and Resources Centres: Our sister network in Malawi, the Malawi Scotland Partnership (MaSP) has three Communication and Resources Centres (CRCs), in Lilongwe, Mzuzu and Blantyre. These are rooms with computers, all with web-access, which MaSP members can use without charge to support their links with Scotland. As long as your partner is a member of MaSP, they can therefore use the CRCs (which are kindly funded by the Scottish Government) to communicate with you.
- Which video-conferencing platform: MS Teams was seen as one of the least accessible in Malawi, with Zoom and Google Meets having strong feedback from Malawi as being more accessible and cheaper.
RECOMMENDATIONS TO BUILD DIGITAL ACCESSIBILITY:
- Ask your partners what platform works best for them.
- Ask your partners about the cost of participation.
- Look to reimburse the cost of participation, most ideally with direct phone credit, so participants do not have to make the journey to a bank.
- Schedule digital meetings at a time that is convenient for Malawi, factoring in the time difference (one hour in the UK summer, two hours in the UK winter), the cultural difference that in Malawi the working day starts and ends earlier, and the practical implications in Malawi of when it gets dark.
- Make sure the meetings are an appropriate length for your Malawian partner: if you’re paying twice the annual daily income per capita for each hour of data in a Zoom meeting, shorter meetings might be better!
- Have an open dialogue with your partners about what your discussing, how often you meet and how meetings are chaired.
- Think about using WhatsApp more, as a cheap, accessible and reliable way of communicating.
- Use the MaSP Communication and Resource Centres to suppout accessibility.
- Consider who in Malawi is able to take part and who may be excluded, and have this conversation with your Malawian partner.
The above is not an exhaustive or authoritative list but rather the outcome of the discussion in this event and communications with participants and partners in the following days. Please continue you email your thoughts, reflections and feedback on the question of digital accessibility to our CEO firstname.lastname@example.org and we will continue to update this page as an open sharing space.