Empowering Women Through Wireless Reach


Image: US Chamber Foundation

Gender Equality is one of the UN's core Sustainable Development Goals, and with the rising popularity of inclusive Women's Rights movements (from UN Women's #HeForShe, to TheToolbox.org's #WomenInFront), the conversation around gender parity is modernizing. As gender politics are debated in the workplace, as well as healthcare and education sectors; places where the use of technology is accelerating; tech as a tool for social good is becoming a major part of the narrative. 

At the United Nations DMZ, Qualcomm Wireless Reach gave deep insight on what the power of mobile broadband can accomplish in women's empowerment. From fewer maternal deaths to better business building, Wireless Reach is responsible for over 100 programs in 46 countries-- many of which benefit women, directly and indirectly, making long-lasting, sustainable changes in communities worldwide. 

Qualcomm Wireless Reach: Broadband For Good

The founding aim of Qualcomm Wireless Reach is bringing advanced sustainable wireless technologies to underserved communities. Qualcomm itself is the world's leading mobile chip set producer-- the tech that allows us to use our mobile phones and tablets. These technologies are used to systematically strengthen social and economic development in localized areas worldwide, creating a backbone for growth through a number of curated applications and devices. Wireless Reach believes in the transformative effect of tech: as a teaching tool, in fostering entrepreneurship, conservation, and resource-allocation.

With better tools, societies have the power for growth placed in their own hands. Rather than have a universal set of broadband tools, Wireless Reach researches which areas need help, and how specifically to facilitate positive change. The wireless tech is then curated specifically to answer a need. Personalization and utility are key. Communities with low electrical connectivity are provided solar-powered chips, for example.

Since 2006, Wireless Reach has collaborated with over 625 organizations, and their programs have benefitted over 8 million people. The initiative is underway in locations ranging from the United States to Senegal. Many of these programs are aimed specifically at women's inclusion. Qualcomm, as a company, takes its commitment to women's right and women in STEM seriously-- that company ethos is paid forward through Wireless Reach, to the long-term benefit of women worldwide.

Here are some of the most impressive programs in their portfolio, in emerging countries where women are benefiting from the leveraging of broadband technology like never before.

Spotlight Malaysia: Women's Entrepreneurship To The Front

In Malaysia, Wireless Reach has installed its Mentoring Women in Business program. Trailblazing, it uses 3G technology to connect local women entrepreneurs to business professionals around the world. It is a teaching program which builds invaluable skills for improving women's socioeconomic status. By program's end, the women have learned to put together business plans, build a marketing strategy, and also receive English language training.

Wireless Reach, which believes in long-term and sustainable impact, gives all graduates of the program their own 3G tablet and data plan. After impressing digitally literacy and technological skills that can be incorporated into growing women's companies, the data plan allows them to access up-to-the-minute information that may affect their business, and to reach perspective markets worldwide. Being mentored by other women entrepreneurs builds an invaluable network, and most graduates report a boost in their confidence as business owners and leaders after completing the program. The program trained more than 150 Malaysian women entrepreneurs by the end of 2014.

Spotlight Colombia: Fishing Communities Going Non-Traditional

In Colombia, women in traditional fishing communities are deeply benefitting from Qualcomm Wireless Reach's Fishing with Mobile Nets program. Using 3G and 4G LTE-connected smartphones and tablets, the program utilizes digital content and a virtual community platform to help sustain and promote the social and economic welfare of rural communities, which have been hit by the commercialized fishing market and global warming.

Very often, women become the teachers responsible for handling Fishermen training. They educate on how to use customized applications, improving income and safety through access to real-time weather information, navigation systems, sustainable fishing practices (including farm fishing), and which allow fishermen to track inventory, expenses, and fair market prices virtually.

"What I love most about this program is how women from the communities—many of which are teachers and business leaders—are driving the transformation. Through this program, we are training women how to use mobile devices and customized apps to support mobile education, safe fishing, improved business practices and the development of economic opportunities. In turn, the women are training fishermen, women and students throughout their communities on the use of mobile devices as well as information and communications technology ICT. They’re creating social and economic opportunities that were previously beyond this population’s reach."

-Marelis Carmona Burgos, a ICT adoption training leader in La Boquilla. 

The application of the Fishing With Mobile Nets program has raised the average monthly income in its original deployment locale, La Boquilla, by 15% from 2013-2014 alone. Often cited by Colombia's Ministry of Information and Communications Technology as an example of the positive impact mobile technology can have on economic development in the region, the program has already expanded from one community to three, and will expand to five in the coming year. Similar programs have been deployed in Brazil and India, to stunning success. The rapid growth of these programs shows the strong need and viability for broadband technologies in vulnerable areas.

Spotlight Maternity: Infant And Maternal Mortality Reduction

Nigeria is Africa's largest economy. But while it has accelerated as an emerging business sector, women's improvement has been plagued by one of the highest infant and maternal mortality rates on the entire continent: 5,301 per 100,000.

Much of this is due to limited access to pre-natal information, uncoordinated maternal health records across clinics, and low enforcement of vital attendant protocols. Qualcomm Wireless Reach has been alleviating the skill gap in health care facilities to better deploy resources, both physical and educational, so women can be better treated during pregnancy at the primary care level. CliniPAK Hardware is installed in local medical communities, with different electronic and networking capabilities depending on the needs and resources of the locality. Including a powerful server, solar-powered cells, and a self-launching wireless information sharing hub, is can access a cloud-based Clinical Database when connected to a cell data network. Durable and sustainable, since reaching Nigeria in 2013, Wireless Reach has given CliniPAK tablets with point-of-care data capture and decision support applications to health workers and midwives in over 50 rural Primary Health Centers, and have fully equipped two specialized Mother and Child Hospitals in Akure and Ondo. 

Over 100,00 women have benefitted from this technology, and their health and the health of their children will continue to benefit from it, long after birth.

The initiative creates a "connected care infrastructure", by having an "always on, always connected" health information nexus enabled by wireless that allows doctors to access and draw up patient-centered documentation, to conduct clinical protocol evaluations, and to adhere to patient treatment compliance.

Vitally, this technological literacy within a community's worth of hospitals creates a feedback loop across primary care, improving data quality and arming primary care workers with data and skills to detect and prevent new threats, while improving management practices. 

Patients thrive under aggregate data collection, with visit outreach and care schedules now ascribed to them via the technology. Providers are able to boost their capacity, saving time. Policy makers are more capable of allocating critical resources and anticipating demands for services. The immediate impact is on pregnant women and infants, but the trickle-down effect is knitting gaps in health care across Nigeria.

Similar programs have been launched in locations like India, to great triumph. 

The Future: #WomenForWireless

Advanced wireless technologies are driving global change, from health and education to entrepreneurship. Qualcomm Wireless Reach is doing this by making sure that the people in local communities have access to the tools they need, and the training to use them. More than ever, these technologies are becoming vital to help push for women's social and economic equality.

Qualcomm Wireless Reach and it's mobile broadband solutions for social good are helping to put #WomenInFront.

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