Digital-based learning is easier said than done. Nepal ranks 111th out of xxx countries in terms of internet access and speed. COVID has amplified this structural problem, isolating further poor communities and entrepreneurs who do not have access to computers, mobiles and the internet.
The World Bank’s Program for the Development of the Buddhist Circuit in South Asia is supporting 113 poor women entrepreneurs in the Greater Lumbini Area to overcome this barrier. Based on the findings of a value chain analysis conducted in the area in 2019, 113 women entrepreneurs in the area were selected to join the role modelling phase of the Program in Nepal. Living in some of the poorest districts in Nepal, Kapilvastu and Rupandehi, these women currently manage home-based businesses with no competitive marketing linkages nor business development support. In addition, 75% of them are illiterate and none has access to the internet.
To change this distressing reality, the Bank team first provided the entrepreneurs with a mobile phone on their name and a basic digital literacy training. For the majority of the women, this was their first mobile phone and wide door to their personal and economic independence. For those who were illiterate, the Bank has also organized a daily literacy training.
The new lockdown in Nepal due to the pandemic, however, has pushed the entrepreneurs back into isolation. The face-to-face trainings had to be stopped, and the only option left was to continue online. Without internet connectivity from both cellular data and broadband, however, the majority of the entrepreneurs could not attend the training. Access to internet is also costly at US$130/year the Wi-Fi subscription fee.
With grit, two out of the six groups of entrepreneurs involved in the Program quickly found a solution to continue their learning. They found a provider and decided to split the internet charges among them, cutting down the price of the internet fee to a more affordable US$7/ person/year. Their entrepreneurship spirit didn’t stop there. They decided to place the internet router at the community hall as a way of ensuring all 113 entrepreneurs in the Program have access to it, strengthening the bond among them and cutting even more their individual contributions. To cover the subsequent monthly payments for the internet, they came up with a scheme through which other village members and groups holding meetings at the community hall can have access to the internet at a subsidized rate. As the say goes: “If you want to walk fast, walk alone. But, if you want to walk far, walk together.”