Over the past four years, Google’s Internet Saathi digital literacy program has been a gateway to the internet and smartphones for many women in India and has had a positive effect on 22 million women across the country.

In an ESOMAR paper, Google: Building a digital India for all – measuring the short to long-term impact of digital literacy education in rural India, Ashley Woods, brand marketing manager, Google Singapore, and Matt Beal, senior research consultant, Kantar Australia, outline what happened when Google provided women with an internet-connected phone – for free – and taught them how to use it.

They reported that Internet Saathi is having an impact not just on individual behaviour, but also at a wider community level.

Women in villages without the program, they noted, are using the internet mainly for personal or entertainment purposes like watching videos, looking up new cooking recipes, or messaging friends and family.

“Where the program exists, however, women are also using the internet for activities that improve their community like learning about government policies, healthcare, or watching videos to improve agricultural techniques.”

That has given them confidence to express themselves more freely in public settings as they become a source of knowledge within their communities.

There are also tangible economic benefits as the Internet Saathi program has made it easier to search for jobs. “Saathis are earning the largest amounts per month whilst beneficiaries [the people they in turn train] have higher levels of monthly income (+3%) compared to control villages,” the authors report.

And more women are starting their own business as a direct result of the program. “Businesses set up by Saathis bring in 60% of their total household monthly earnings and businesses set up by beneficiaries account for 52% of income – a huge proportion of self-reported total earnings.”

Recently, Google India and Tata Trusts announced the extension of the Internet Saathi program to support the Foundation for Rural Entrepreneurship Development (FREND).

Under this initiative, Google is working with the new foundation to create digitally-enabled livelihood opportunities for the Saathis. The authors also express the hope that Internet Saathi can be expanded to other areas of the world.

Sourced from ESOMAR