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Trickle Up: Leveraging Technology To Build Economic Opportunity and Drive Inclusion for Women in Extreme Poverty

By Charu Adesnik

Trickle Up: Leveraging Technology To Build Economic Opportunity and Drive Inclusion for Women in Extreme Poverty

By Charu Adesnik

Published 04-06-23

Submitted by Cisco Systems, Inc.

smiling women standing together

The Transformational Tech series highlights Cisco’s nonprofit partners that use technology to help transform the lives of individuals and communities. Toward Cisco’s vision of an inclusive future for all, Cisco is partnering with Trickle Up to help them leverage technology to increase financial inclusion, independence, economic security, and resilience for women living in poverty.

This blog was written by Nathalie Laidler-Kylander, President of Trickle Up. She brings over 30 years of multi-sector experience, including 18 years in international development. Nathalie holds a BS in Biochemistry from Imperial College at London University, an MBA from Harvard Business School, and a PhD from the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

Trickle Up partners with women in extreme poverty to build economic opportunity and drive inclusion. Driven by their talents and dreams, equipped with new skills and assets, and supported through coaching and mentoring, women in our programs start micro-enterprises, build confidence, and save money for the future. They forge their own resilient pathways out of extreme poverty for themselves, their families, and their communities, breaking the intergenerational cycle of poverty.

An estimated 650 million people live in extreme poverty in the world today. Many of them are women facing multiple forms of vulnerability, discrimination, and exclusion. But when women have livelihoods and resources, with the ability to make decisions over those resources, they invest in three things: nutrition, education, and health. Investing in women and their economic inclusion is one of the best ways to interrupt intergenerational poverty.

The Importance of Coaching

Our programs build on the Graduation Approach and offer participants an opportunity to join savings groups with women from their communities as well as access to training, coaching, and seed capital to build sustainable livelihoods. Individual and group coaching is one of the most important elements of our work. It enables us to accompany women as they build their confidence and resilience and create their own sustainable pathways out of poverty.

In our experience, the best coaches are women who are from the same communities that we serve. These community coaches understand the context, experience, vulnerabilities, and challenges facing our participants, They are ideally positioned to share the technical content knowledge the community can’t always access.

That’s where our tablet based Echb’eenink app (meaning “to accompany” in a local Mayan language) comes in. Pre-loaded with audio-visual content, including animated videos in local languages, it enables coaches to deliver important coaching modules to support participants as they build knowledge and confidence. New modules include coaching on gender-based violence, climate change, effective savings groups, and sexual and reproductive health.

Last time I was in Guatemala, I remember how everyone in the community gathered round to see the animated educational videos on the tablet. The children were so excited to watch them with their mothers. And the content from the coaching app sparked important discussion between the community coach and participants.

Trickle Up has benefited from Cisco Foundation’s generous funding which has enabled us to add four new important coaching modules and to translate Echb’eenink into two additional indigenous languages in Mexico (Tzotzil and Mixtec). We are in the process of training 50 community coaches in Mexico and Guatemala on how to effectively use the coaching app and they in turn, will serve over 8,000 women. Our goal is to expand the use of Echb’eenink to all our coaches and participants worldwide, modifying and contextualizing modules and translating them into local and indigenous languages. Not only will this empower and build the capacity of our community coaches, but it also creates consistent and high-quality coaching content that is most relevant for our participants. As we partner with other organizations and scale our work, Echb’eenink will be a key tool helping us coach our partner’s coaches. We will be able to leverage existing modules and content and adapt, contextualize, and translate them to meet the needs of the populations we serve.

Addressing the Gender Digital Divide

The gap in access to digital technology between men and women is substantial. Globally, an estimated 63 percent of women have access to the internet compared to 69 percent of men. For rural women in extreme poverty, the population Trickle Up serves, less than 25 percent are connected. Echb’eenink is part of a portfolio of digital tools and strategies that Trickle Up is developing and implementing to address the lack of digital access and increase both the effectiveness and efficiency of our program delivery.

In India, through our MPOWERED program, we train participants on digital skills and literacy, empowering community coaches and participants with smart phones and an app (the Package of Practice) that supports participants as they build knowledge and skills to enhance their livelihoods. Some of the women I met a few months ago have really leveraged their digital access and new abilities and have started ordering products to be delivered directly to them through digital marketplaces. They also love taking selfies and staying in touch with their friends and family through WhatsApp.

In Kamwenge Uganda, Trickle Up has also been working to increase rural women’s digital connectivity among refugee and host community women. With our partner organization AVSI Foundation Uganda, we piloted a digital literacy curriculum to teach vital digital skills. The curriculum includes a series of animated videos that cover all the basics of owning and caring for a smartphone, and how to leverage these devices to access an application focused on agriculture for the community’s livelihoods. The animations are available in English and in the main languages used by local communities, namely Swahili, Kinyabwisha, and Runyakitara. Partners such as CARE Uganda have adopted our EQUALS curriculum which is available for open-source use here.

Digitization for Scaling

Leveraging digital tools and technology is increasingly important as we scale our work and build the capacity of other organizations and entities to adopt and adapt our programming. Our bold goal is to reach a total of 5 million people in extreme poverty by 2030 through 1 million women. We plan to do this by partnering with others, leveraging their infrastructure and resources, and providing them with the digital tools and technology like the Echn’eenink coaching app and the EQUALS digital literacy curriculum, to take this work to hundreds of thousands of women.

I am so inspired by the smart, brave, resilient women that we have the privilege and honor of serving. I’m grateful for the ability to be, in a small way, part of providing the opportunity that enables them to unlock their potential and change the trajectory of their lives and the lives of their children, families, and communities. There is no other work I want to be doing and no better way to spend my days than investing in women who will change the world.

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