Advancing the Clean Water Agenda Through Mobile Technology and Mentoring
For Ebele, who lives in a western African state, a typical day begins with a long trek to the nearest river. She brings along her eldest daughter, Dede, 5, training her for a task the poor child may carry for a lifetime. The pair’s silhouette is set against the growing dawn, Ebele with a large basin balanced on her head and her right hand holding her child’s left, while Dede carries 2 old plastic milk containers on the other side. They arrive at the river 5 miles away just as the sun breaks the horizon. There the mother bathes after giving her daughter a wash, fills both gallons and the basin with water, and then—just as unceremoniously as they have come—begin the trek back to their hut. Four hours have passed since they woke up, they arrive home and start to filter the water, removing parasites, before finally dividing the water into clay cisterns—one dedicated for drinking—a task that takes another hour to finish. Having spent half the morning just to fetch water, very little time is left for other productive activities such as farming.
This is how the shortage of clean water is putting many people into a growing spiral of poverty and hunger around the world. Ebele, whose name in Igbo-language means “mourning”, is not alone. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that globally multitudes of women and children spend a total of over 10 million years fetching water from distant, unsafe sources!
That is why multi-Grammy award winner Patti Austin looks to help empower women like Ebele through ChangeCorp’s The SmartWoman Project, for which she serves as Global Ambassador.
“Women are the main resource for finding and transporting water to their families in developing countries,” Ms. Austin says. “We want the women to participate, be aware so that they can advance from just being the water bearers.”
ChangeCorp launched this initiative using mobile technology as its platform. The SmartWoman Project aims to raise awareness on the plight of women around the world and to empower them by leveraging on the combined strengths of social networking and impact in developing countries and economies.
Louise M. Guido, ChangeCorp’s CEO, sums up these efforts in a recent Cisco.com interview.
“If you’re trying to reach a woman farmer or business-owner in Kenya, she probably doesn’t have a landline or a computer, but she does have a mobile phone,” says Guido. “There are more people in Africa who have phones than have electricity. So we figure, if that’s the only way to get to them, you might as well give them something they can use, that will be helpful, that will bring them up in society, help them learn what’s wrong and right about market prices, about dealing with social issues, and so on.”
Hoping that by targeting the entrepreneurial poor, particularly women, the e-learning content of The SmartWomen Project will trickle down to the grassroots and eventually empower women like Ebele through awareness politically and health-wise.
Ms. Austin lends a credible face to the advocacy, as she is known not only for her music but for her efforts in changing people’s lives through “mentorology”—a term she coined with her longtime best friend, songwriter Dawn Carroll—which simply means the art of mentoring.
“For me, mentorology is a powerful way to open the hearts and minds of people… (along with) social networking as the ‘stimulus package’ to re-energize the focus on forward thinking approaches to education as the key factor in eradicating poverty for the coming generation,” said Ms. Austin. “Learning should never stop for all age groups. We can empower millions to realize the opportunity to help shape a new society.”
The SmartWoman Project connects women around the globe to gain empowerment through support communities, networking, mentoring, job access and a marketplace. This initiative is officially endorsed by the United Nations ITU (International Telecommunication Union), encouraging governments to provide communities with digital access.