Designed to empower and educate women around the globe, the SmartWoman Project is an innovative mobile learning platform, launched by the social enterprise Change Corp. Today, 300 million women worldwide have no access to a mobile phone and the life-enhancing services that mobile phone technology provides. SmartWoman works to bridge the digital gender gap.
Operating on a membership fee basis, the SmartWoman Project enables women in selected countries to access a mobile phone and receive regular text messages offering information ranging from business tips and guidance for female entrepreneurs to advice about raising children and maintaining one’s health. SmartWoman gives women access to a dynamic online community where they can exchange experiences and rally behind women’s causes that they care about.
W4 interviews Louise Guido, Change Corp CEO, about the SmartWoman Project.
In 2010, Louise Guido created the Foundation for Social Change, a non-profit organisation that provides standardized, basic educational content for women, training them in rudimentary business and vocational skills and offering more general advice about health and life skills.
“We felt this was important because all of the trainings that were being done, in girls’ education in particular, were very vertical,” Louise explains. “They focused only on health or only on life skills or only on math and science. They didn’t deploy a holistic view of learning, involving decision-making and problem-solving and the ways they impact financial budgeting, etc.”.
After partnering with Nokia to help develop content for the Nokia Life Tools program, Louise launched the social enterprise Change Corp and she and her team began developing their own mobile learning content channels, from which the SmartWoman Project sprang.
SmartWoman is unlike any other mobile app. Its content is particularly innovative because of the variety of topics on which it provides information and advice, and also because of the way it adapts to the culture of each of the countries in which it operates. In addition, SmartWoman complements its platform with entries written by sponsors and users themselves, thereby generating more interaction and building a genuine network of women.
SmartWoman is funded in two ways. First, users can pay a monthly fee of $1, which Louise believes to be crucial because women only purchase a product if they recognise its value. If a woman can identify with what SmartWoman offers her, there is a greater chance that it will become a tool for her own empowerment, and that of her family and community. Part of this fee is used to offer the SmartWoman service to another woman unable to afford it herself. Second, sponsors, either companies or individuals, can support the initiative through a $100 donation, funding access to a phone and the app for a woman for a whole year!
But why is the SmartWoman Project key to women’s empowerment? In today’s business world, the playing field remains uneven; men continue to occupy the majority of positions of power. Women need access to tools that allow them to start and flourish in their business endeavours, and this includes crucial access to information.
Mobile phones are a powerful tool for broadening women’s access to such information. Louise explains that, for a woman in a developing country, access to a mobile phone is crucial to the educational process: “When you talk to someone using your phone, it’s a much more personal engagement; it is something that you can absorb at your own pace”. A mobile phone is a personal device; it increases the productivity of women by making them feel safer and more independent.
W4 asked Louise Guido about her plans for SmartWoman. One of Louise’s key priorities is to extend the project to other countries: opening the platform not only in developing countries but also in developed ones. Louise is excited about the launch of SmartWoman in the United States, Europe, and in some countries in the Middle East. She is nonetheless acutely aware of the challenges that SmartWoman faces in terms of marketing and cultural adaptation, for example, working with the precepts of Islam.
In addition to extending the geographical scope of the project, Louise plans to reach new potential users — and this is where Smart Girl and Smart Sister enter the scene. These apps will be specially designed for girls and young women and will be free to access. Smart Girl will focus on providing a “holistic education” from a younger age, while Smart Sister aims to create an environment for young women that allows them to share their concerns and ask for the advice of their peers.
As Louise explains: “[in universities] there is too much pressure from classmates, too much violence, unreported rape … And girls do not have a safe environment where they can discuss these topics, even with their friends. So we want to create a content system where girls can communicate with other girls anonymously and discuss what is being done to respond to these kinds of problems.”
Women’s empowerment is tied inextricably to increased access to information and connectivity. Discover how you can support the SmartWoman Project and help provide the tools women need in order to thrive in their careers here! Visit our portfolio of projects to discover the social programs which W4 is supporting and help us support the promotion of social entrepeneurship.