Rwandan operators Airtel and MTN have announced they will start a digital inclusion program as part of the GSMA’s We Care initiative in Rwanda. We Care is being launched in collaboration with Rwanda’s ministry of ICT and innovation and the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA), supporting government efforts to boost ICT penetration and digital services across the country. As part of this initiative, Airtel and MTN will be using the GSMA’s Mobile Internet Skills Training Toolkit (MISTT) to train sales agents and educate customers on how to access mobile internet services.
According to GSMA Intelligence, only 1 in 4 citizens in Rwanda currently subscribe to mobile internet services. A lack of digital skills among the population and a perceived lack of locally relevant content are among the key barriers to large-scale adoption.
MISTT is an easy-to follow visual curriculum that helps trainers demonstrate the functionality and value of the internet on smartphones. It includes modules on Wikipedia, Facebook, WhatsApp, YouTube and Google, as well as introductory ones on basics such as internet safety and costs. Airtel and MTN Rwanda will train 10,000 sales agents in techniques to teach their combined customer bases functional digital skills within the first year of the campaign, and the MISTT modules will be adapted to reflect local needs.
Amid the triumphalist chortlings in the media about smartphone adoption rates worldwide, the fact remains that there still exist markets in which access to the mobile internet is woefully lacking. Rwanda, for example, has a dismal 25 percent rate of mobile internet use. In such a climate, it is incumbent on operators to educate the population as to the benefits and techniques of smartphone use. Working in tandem with an industry-wide initiative such as the GSMA’s We Care is an excellent way to access the resources necessary for doing this.
Spreading information and building skills are, of course, key, but there is another important piece of the puzzle. Airtel and MTN also need to make sure that smart devices and network access are affordable to low-income and geographically isolated Rwandans. All the knowledge in the world will be to no avail if the economics do not work. “Digital inclusion” must also involve financial inclusion powered by low-cost or even free subsidized budget smartphones and aggressively low-priced service-package offers. Together, these things will be able to bring markets such as Rwanda’s into the digital age and give meaning to the often-used word “developing.”