Empowering the Youth in Rural Areas: Bridging the Digital Divide to Build a Brighter Future

7 de February de 2024

Figure 1: Herbs showcase garden at Otchitanda Weza Temperos, photo by I Fortez

In a world grappling with economic uncertainties, global crises, and rapidly evolving technological landscapes, the need for innovative solutions to address pressing issues has never been more critical. In this context, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), in collaboration with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) with additional support from Salesianos de Dom Bosco Angola, embarked on a transformative journey aimed at bridging the digital divide and equipping young women with the skills they need to thrive in the future world of work. This blog explores the first steps of the implementation of the "Digital Inclusion and Future Skills Education Pilot Project" in the Municipality of Cacuaco, Angola, from November 2023 to December 2024.

The Digital Divide and Future Skills Gap

Angola, like many other countries, faced numerous challenges exacerbated by international economic instability. A fragile economy, dependency on oil, and reduced fuel subsidies placed immense pressure on vulnerable families. Youth and women bore the brunt of these difficulties, with youth unemployment as a critical challenge. 

At the same time, there is a significant commitment to diversify the economy with a variety of government programs promoting industry and agriculture. Agriculture and the food value-chains are particularly at the center of all efforts as they not only contribute to food security, reducing imports and boosting local production and consumption. These sectors also encapsulate a series of business opportunities that might change the panorama of unemployment and informal employment in rural areas, which in turn would also move and turn the development wheel forward and contribute to decentralization. So here we are, we are looking at an open window of opportunity to unlock a systemic leverage that can accelerate development.

As Angola's young population continues to grow, so does the demand for internet access, digital services, and digital literacy. However, internet connectivity remains limited, particularly in peri-urban and rural areas. This digital divide has resulted in unequal access to digital opportunities and literacy.

Moreover, traditional education systems are struggling to keep up with the changing landscape of work. As digitalization advances, there is a growing need for new skills, mindsets, and digital literacy. Project-based and digital education is still limited for most of the population, leaving young people without access to academic training. To secure Angola's future in the global economy, it is essential to modernize the education system, create jobs, and promote economic development.

Figure 2: photo collage

A joint vision starts to unfold in Cacuaco

In 2022, the UNDP Angola Country Office embarked on an 8-month Deep Demonstration (DD) journey in collaboration with the CHÔRA Foundation and the UNDP Strategic Innovation Unit. This journey aimed to establish new capabilities within the UNDP portfolio to support system transformation. One key area of focus within this portfolio was the Future of Work.

Within the Future of Work portfolio, the "Digital Inclusion and Future Skills Education Pilot" emerged as a vital initiative. This pilot was designed to address the digital skills gap, especially among young women living in peri-urban and rural areas. These skills would not only open job opportunities but also strengthen self-owned businesses and ensure their sustainability.

The pilot initiative was launched in the Municipality of Cacuaco, where a selected group of young people, particularly young women, were engaged in a cooperative supported by the AgriPREI Project, where they had access to training in food processing and transformation to start developing capacity to expand business opportunities.

Looking at the potential of the cooperative and the youth that had been trained, UNDP came in with the project to provide access to basic digital tools and test a training package that included digital, management, marketing, and entrepreneurship skills tailored to young women in cooperatives.

Figure 3: Storage room converted into a digital learning center, photo by Carlos César

Empowering the Future Workforce

With the support from trainers from a local CSO, Salesianos de Dom Bosco Angola, the pilot is covering the following areas:

  1. Connectivity and Digital Access: ensuring young people, especially girls in peri-urban and rural areas, have access to basic digital skills, digital business tools, and e-commerce solutions, strengthening their operations and capabilities.
  2. Future-Oriented Skills: The project is testing a compendium of practical management, business, and entrepreneurial skills co-created with the private sector. This initiative aims to increase job opportunities and skills for youth involved in agriculture-value chain businesses.

The project's activities started with the establishment of a training space, equipped with basic materials to feel like a learning space. The second phase included the co-design of a comprehensive training program through community assessments and workshops including great participation from start-ups and private sector companies that have relevant work and connection with rural youth and the agri-food value-chains. At this stage, the trainers are delivering training to 20 young people, with 80% of them being women. These young participants are gaining essential digital skills, business acumen, and entrepreneurship expertise, setting them on a path towards a brighter future.

Learning at the center

We are approaching this initiative by looking at knowledge, attitudes, and practices, so we did a pre-assessment before the training and will do another one at the end. Additionally, we will also be looking at key hypothesis to test and key learning questions to explore. We will make efforts to explore insights from interviews, human interest stories and journey mapping to have a significant overlapping of information that will eventually be relevant to understand the system and the positive and negative implications of the training program. This flexible approach is enabling the project team to adapt and refine training components and methodologies according to the community's needs and feedback.

Despite limited access to desktop computers or laptops, most participants possess basic cell phones and smartphones with internet access, highlighting the significance of mobile devices in their daily lives, particularly in areas where traditional computers are less common. Gender-based disparities are evident, with a notable percentage of women not using computers, while men exhibit a more varied distribution in computer usage. In mobile phone skills, women tend to have higher confidence, but both genders exhibit significant gaps in software and internet-related challenges. The gender divide is also felt in the attendance and participation in the training. Many young girls between 19 to 25 years old have month old babies that they need to bring to the class, while others are forced skip training sometimes due to childcare duties. While the pilot does not include dedicated childcare support, in future iterations this is critical to ensure equal access to training. 

Internet access is a crucial issue, with half of the participants relying on limited mobile data and others lacking access at home or work/school. This underscores the importance of affordable and widespread connectivity. The analysis of gender and technological skills reveals that women excel in specific areas but have fewer diverse skills compared to men. Both genders exhibit shortcomings in advanced skills, underscoring the need for accessible learning resources and support for all.

The most common use of mobile phones is photography, with most participants mentioning that they take pictures every day or at least twice a week. Most participants use Facebook daily and some also use Whatsapp often, indicating that they are familiar and comfortable with communication platforms and social networks. This may reflect the importance of social communication and networking in their daily lives. However, the main reason behind the preference for Facebook is that it is currently free to use in the country not requiring data. 

However, tools like Microsoft Word and Excel are less frequently used, suggesting a need to enhance digital literacy and productivity software skills, especially in agriculture-related businesses.

This analysis underscores the importance of inclusive training and digital inclusion programs to bridge skill gaps and empower individuals to effectively use technology and digital tools across various contexts. While participants have basic skills in common communication and social networking apps, they lack knowledge and usage of productivity and design tools. There's a recognition of technology's potential for personal and professional improvement, coupled with a willingness to learn. Therefore, hands-on training and educational programs focusing on these areas and fostering continuous learning might enhance participants' overall digital competency.

Figure 4: young trainees during a class, photo by Carlos César

Walking the talk

The delivery of the training is on track, we are currently covering the digital literacy and capabilities module looking at key software’s and applications. We still have very interesting chapters ahead, including marketing, e-commerce, communication, and a final hands-on module focused on entrepreneurship featuring group work activities and business model ideation. For these final modules we will experiment with masterclasses from private sector partners who will share their experiences with the group. We are not necessarily expecting to arrive at viable business models to accelerate, but overall, we are hoping for a learning by doing approach that can enable the participants to gain the skills and be ready and empowered to venture into new types of businesses, when the opportunity comes.

The "Digital Inclusion and Future Skills Education Pilot" in Cacuaco, Angola, builds on the power of collaboration, innovation, and determination. By addressing the digital divide and equipping young women with essential skills, this project has laid the foundation for a more prosperous and inclusive future. As Angola continues to navigate the challenges of a rapidly changing world, initiatives like these will be instrumental in shaping a resilient and empowered workforce ready to embrace the opportunities of tomorrow.