November 13, 2012
For the 12 days leading up to Thanksgiving in the U.S., we’re featuring 12 stories from six different countries we work in, as a way of saying, “Thank You” to our supporters, who make our work possible. We hope that you enjoy seeing the difference that you’re making in the lives of poor people around the world, every day.
Sarah Mugisha, of Masaka, Uganda, joined Grameen Foundation in January 2009 to help recruit, train and oversee Community Knowledge Workers (CKWs). She is now a network and training manager, overseeing a team of 14 people supporting a network of more than 900 CKWs in 30 districts. This network is expected to grow to 1,200 CKWs in 36 districts by next year.
After 10 years of working with organizations to alleviate rural poverty in Africa, I joined Grameen Foundation because it addressed the missing link: empowering small farmers, who make up 80 percent of Uganda’s population, to improve their livelihoods through effective and scalable innovation. By equipping a local intermediary with up-to-date information and cutting-edge technology, we offer a rural development solution that broadens the knowledge base of poor households.
Our smartphones enable farmers to access information on planting, post-harvest handling and fair market prices. We also have information on animal care, weather, service providers and all sorts of advice to help them make profitable decisions. This technology has given rural farmers a ray of hope that they have not been forgotten, and that someone is seriously thinking about their challenges.
Initially, there were some limitations with using the phone in rural areas, but we’ve found ways to overcome them. One of the major problems we still contend with is sporadic network connectivity. We’ve made much of the information we need permanently available on the phone, so it can be accessed without a network connection. But when the CKWs are submitting surveys or getting more updates, they need to find a place where connectivity is good.
The best part of my job is training CKWs and making a difference in people's lives. When I see the radiant glow in a farmer’s eyes because a piece of information has helped them, that makes my day. Organizations are now approaching our CKWs because of the skills they have acquired, and many want to help them do community mobilization and promote different activities. We are advising them on whom to engage with and whom to be cautious with.
We would like to have a 50-50 mix of male and female CKWs, but it’s difficult, because not many women out there are literate enough to join our program. In Uganda, we have more than 50 ethnic groups and languages, and we can’t translate everything, so the content on the phones is in English. We need someone who is educated enough to be able to look at the content, understand it and then translate it for the farmer. That’s what limits the participation of women.
The sky is the limit for what we can make available to the unreached masses, via the smartphone. That said, we always keep in mind that though we can still reach out and offer support remotely through technology, it can never replace the impact of human touch.
Thanks to your support, our CKWs have helped more than 100,000 farmers in Uganda. Help us reach even more by supporting Grameen Foundation today.
Our 12 Days of Thanksgiving series stories were collected and edited with the help of Bankers without Borders® volunteer Nicole Neroulias Gupte.