Revi Sterling

Revi Sterling

Revi Sterling is the founder and director of the first Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICTD) professional master’s program in the United States. Previously, Sterling worked with Microsoft for 10 years and has served on leading gender and technology boards. She moved into the field of ICTD to research the impact of technology on women’s empowerment in underdeveloped communities. Sterling has conducted longitudinal field projects in Africa, India, and South America; research and consulting in community readiness, field ethics, failure analysis, and gendered dimensions of technology and development. In 2012, she won the Anita Borg Institute’s Women of Vision award for social impact

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From July 2-July 13, Revi Sterling discussed the impact of technology on women’s empowerment with the Ashoka Changemakers community.

Please continue to join, check out other discussions and let us know how you see technology transforming the lives of women and girls in underserved communities around the world.

  1. 644 days ago

    Ahabwe Michael

    Thanks members for this wonderful discussion. I totally agree that technology can completely change lives of women and girls. I have been working with women and girls for 10 years now and I have seen how important technology and Internet can change them. For example, in 2008, my organization ICOD Action Network opened up the first solar powered Internet facility in rural southwestern Uganda to be used by rural women’s farmers and other community members to have access to information that can positively change them. It ‘s very exciting and inspiring to see illiterate rural women farmers learn to use computers and Internet. Some of them learnt their first English words when we started training them. They can now send emails to fellow farmers in western Uganda (near the Congolese boarder and tell them about the type of crops the have, share information on agriculture on sustainable production and inquire about market availability in other parts of Uganda. This is the link (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UqbEqDf3NHE) to a video where we featured one of the women Flavia. Our website (www.icoduganda.org) is currently down but will back online soon (feel free to visit our blog for now, http://www.icoduganda.blogspot.com). We have success of how rural women farmers have been able to use computers, technology and Internet to change lives and improve their social status in their communities.



  2. 647 days ago

    Lucas Akol

    Hi Revi Sterling

    I hope you are well, thank very much for these effort this is what i have hoped to do and i am determined to do it; I am happy to share with you this;

    Can technology change the status of women in the world is a question? Yes it can change
    This is the underlying question that I have always had: All this new technology is great, but how does it help an impoverished woman from any a developing region?
    My response is that new media is a tool, and that like any tool, can be used for good and bad. Let this technology be a vehicle for spreading positive and meaningful messages to help women. Although the Internet may not be able to directly change the life of an illiterate woman in the developing country, others can use the powers of this highly connective medium to create awareness, raise money and facilitate change.
    Nonetheless, the fact that these issues are so real and so easily overlooked really hit me. The digital divide grows by the day. Knowing this, how can we sit back and ride the tide of new technology further and further for women and young girls?
    The solution seems somewhat obvious tools are only what we make them out to be. Without the knowledge of how to use them, they provide no value. You cannot just drop a pile of laptops in a village and leave. Putting literacy software on their computers is one solution, having educators facilitate the process is ideal. For just this reason, their lives can change.
    What are your thoughts and ideas about this? Do you feel any obligation to help bridge the digital divide? How can we best use the tools at our disposal to help others?



    • Revi Sterling

      Hello Lucas and thank you for your thoughtful questions and reflections. I agree with everything you have said. The gendered digital divide is indeed a crisis for everyone – yet, it is just one new form of an old story — women have less than men and are less than men. Because this is an old story, it just doesn’t get the attention of newer stories. Look at all the hype and new stories in development over the past decade, like microcredit, the OLPC, and Coltan mining. Gender just doesn’t get that kind of attention. Those of us who are passionate about closing societal divides need to get better about marketing this story in a new way – we need to make economic arguments to the economic people; policy arguments to the policymakers, equity arguments to the activists, and workforce arguments to industry. We spend a lot of time talking to each other – the #girltech types – which is necessary for creating information and campaigns, but we need to have a larger, louder, more “flexible” message!

      647 days ago


    • Lucas Akol

      Revi, thank you once again

      646 days ago


    • Lucas Akol

      Revi, thank you once again the points you have made are so clear; here in Africa generally, the digital divide has been designated as the issue of access to technology. The digital divide has been perceived as a kind of have and have-not around the world, Africa still remains very much a have-not where the Internet is concerned. So the digital divide has been the justification for a lot of policy to make sure that there’s equal access to technology and its benefits. What has generally been the focus of the digital divide policies in the United States has been access. If you look at the first people, at who was online three or four years ago, it was much more white male, middle or upper class, higher education, higher income. Your worst fears about diversity were true. If you look at who has gone online in the last year there would be a lot of reassurance, more women than men, more minorities than whites, more lower and middle class people, or more poor people and middle class people and people with not a lot of education. There’s some evidence that there has been the kind of leveling off of the digital divide from an access standpoint. Those people online are still more white, more male, more middle to upper class, but not nearly as much so as they were three or four years ago. And there’s pretty good evidence with the price of technology falling rapidly with people that the digital divide access issues will go away over the course of time in the United States. This issue still exists to an enormous degree worldwide. Revi Sterling to me “The lack of access is not because they cannot afford or get access, it’s because they don’t have any interest in access” We have been arguing at the center in our work on the Internet that access to the Internet is just one aspect of the “Digital Divide,” and as I say one that’s being dealt with. There’s now another issue as you wire every school, as more and more people have access. Some people understand what to do with the technology. Some people know what information is, where to find it and most importantly how to discern good information from bad. Some of us know how to look at information and to tell whether it has political motivation or not, whether it’s inferior research, whether it’s biased in some way. Others of us don’t. And there’s this kind of divide between understanding information. How can we create this larger, louder, more “flexible” message?

      646 days ago


  3. 648 days ago

    Ritse T. Erumi

    Hi Revi,

    Hope you are well! I’ve absolutely enjoyed reading through this dialog and I have a couple questions for you.

    In the work you’ve done and/or supervised in sub-Saharan Africa, what are the top 3 information needs you have encountered among women? How about in Asia? Secondly, in regard to technology adoption among women, what cultural impediments have you found to be unique to to them (in SSA and Asia)? Finally, how have you (or your students) tackled them? I realize this is a rather general question, so any specific examples you might have would be great.

    Cheers!



    • Revi Sterling

      Hi Ritse! I hope all is well in DC! How many people take the time to ask a community what the information needs are, rather than assume what the information needs are? Few. Thank you for being one of them! So, I’ll start general – the top info needs for the majority of women I have worked with have been livelihoods info, literacy training, and “being heard.” This has taken on different forms in each community I’ve worked in, but the needs seem to mostly fall under these categories when I interview women and do focus groups. Two caveats – these women may or may not be representative of the overall community, and their answers might be influenced by the others around them – that said, these are also women who are pretty outspoken once they feel comfortable, and have no problem challenging each other or me in discussions. Let’s look at livelihoods – most of the time, women want to know how to make (more) money. They want to know how technology will help them to do that. When I push them on the importance of financial benefit, almost uniformly they say that they need their own money in order to make their own decisions – in order to feel and be empowered. Literacy skills are another big one – many women I’ve worked with want to either learn English or learn how to write their national language in order to increase commerce opportunities – again, linking back to financial independence. The third – to be heard – is harder for me to get my head around, as it’s an information need of a different sort. I hear again and again “we need to let people know what’s happening” and “you need to get our stories out.” When pressed, they talk about how they want the world to know what their lives are like, and in most cases, to change policies and otherwise help the community. These are all hard to look at from a strictly ICTD point of view. I know what to do if someone says “I need antenatal health care info” or “I need to know the price of tomatoes.” In many cases, women want technology to solve these three less-obvious information needs, but they don’t know what technology will do it. There is this utopian view that technology will “fix” things, and it’s hard and disheartening to talk to them about the actual functionality of technology, or that telling their stories doesn’t mean that there will be an automatic audience who will jump in to make change. But these conversations lead to more conversations about the realistic, limited, AND powerful role of various ICT, and how they can be leveraged to create opportunities, be they livelihood or literacy or being heard. I owe you more answers but I’ll have to wait until I get out of class! Yes, I’m taking a course instead of teaching one this summer…

      647 days ago


    • Revi Sterling

      Ritse – I’m picking back up on the thread – what cultural impediments have I found to be unique to women’s information needs? In most communities, the overall largest barrier to ICT is the lack of perceived relevance, which I’ve mentioned below. I see this over and over worldwide. Tech is seen as either too expensive to mess with, too much within the male domain, or a form of entertainment. More fear-based specific cultural issues have included a fear of seeing pornography, a fear of being tracked, a fear of looking stupid, a fear of doing something that will upset their husbands. Other cultural barriers affecting access and use definitely include caste, religions, race, tribe and age divisions in communities, even among women. Sisterhood is great when it happens, and no one builds stronger coalitions than a group of motivated women, but the reality is that women can be pretty awful to other women who are not “like them.” In my classes, we look at these issues and discuss them, especially after students have spent time in the field. In “fieldwork methods” we focus on several ways to get community groups and individuals to prioritize information needs, and we talk about the diversity of communities. A slum may look fairly uniform, until people realize that there are neighborhoods, social divisions, and all sorts of human dynamics at play. Our eyes aren’t trained to look at and for these nuances, so a lot of what we do is re-learn how to see and listen and not infuse the data with personal bias. As I mentioned above, I might walk into a community and immediately see information needs – according to me. Sometimes, they are consistent with community/women’s information needs, but often, they are simply my projection and if I/my students are going to be useful, we better find out what the top information priorities are and respond to them, even if we feel that we are right/the experts. Forego your expertise to show your true value. What is it like in the community you are from in Nigeria? Totally different? Similar?

      647 days ago


    • Ritse T. Erumi

      Hi Revi — Thanks for your response and I hope your class is going well! The information needs you describe are quite similar to what I’ve encountered in Nigeria, specifically in the oil-producing communities of the Niger Delta. For instance, many women are interested in achieving basic and functional literacy in the hope that these skills will assist them in their work and/or enable them better support their children’s educational pursuits (if they are mothers). Additionally, the desire to “be heard” or to “get the story out” is typically related to the desire to raise awareness about the poverty levels that characterize a region that produces most of the country’s wealth or about how their lives and different forms of livelihood are affected by repeated oil spills. They are also interested in ensuring their views on the needs within their communities are taken into account. As you rightly note, technology is not a pancea. The real (perhaps, exciting) ICTD work seems to come down to finding ways to appropriate or develop technologies that are responsive to the perceived information needs of the women in question. I am curious to find out whether some of the solutions you’ve introduced actually end up as a technology artifact of some sort or whether you find yourself working on issues related to access.

      642 days ago


  4. 648 days ago

    Sonigitu Ekpe

    My major concern is how to profile and database all citizens for proper allocation of National and Global resources. ICT is one key tool to go about ending poverty and bridging the gap. How do we go about identity profiling for all?



    • Revi Sterling

      Hello Sonigitu – This is really difficult. I’m not sure this is a realistic endeavor in many ways – censuses are expensive, and people can’t self-report if they don’t have the means (or don’t want to be recorded – privacy is huge). At every single conference in development that I’ve been to – no exception – there has been a call to create a database to track efforts and needs in communities and countries – gender efforts, policy, water, NGO – and I think I’ve seen about that many specifications and database-driven websites that get populated once, and then never visited again. So, for those of you submitting projects to this competition, please think about this – how do we how what information services (and services in general) are needed where? Perhaps this is where we need to focus on new approaches that do not require a human to try to track the impossible or to divulge information they don’t feel comfortable doing, but combine GIS data and weather data and infrastructure data and natural resource data into something that predicts conditions on the ground? People might be more willing to report that data rather than income or location information… This is a great question that I’d love to get others’ thoughts on…

      647 days ago


  5. 648 days ago

    Olawale Shakir Bakare

    Hi Revi, nice to be part of this good talk. Based on my past experience dealing with people in my communities many young girls especially from developing nations are ill-informed and well not knowledgeable enough about the use of new technologies. Also family backgrounds another key for most of these young girls – poor upbringing and lack of resources to enable them compete with their peers from well-to-do families. The third factor, developing nations have been suffering with brain -drain syndrome, this is particular to Africa nations. Why? Simply because of lack of support in terms of funding to get them convey or disseminate their ideas across to the needing ones. How best do you think people with great ideas could improve on lifestyles of these poor girls and get them based on standardized platform of living?



    • Revi Sterling

      Hello Olawale – you bring up some of the most difficult challenges that exist. Let’s take them one by one. Many girls are not knowledgeable about technology and what it can do, but this is not a new problem. Those in really remote areas or those in very poverty-stricken areas often are the last to get information. This is the heart of the issue – information poverty. And in all likelihood, they may never catch up to those who have more advantages. This is true in developing and developed countries alike. There is so much that has to be motivated at a personal level – the girl (And family) has to fight hard and sacrifice to go get the scholarship and the extra training. Adelakun-Adeyemo Oluwatoyin’s post below is one possible approach that I’ve seen in rural Indonesian and Nepali communities (I haven’t focused on this elsewhere) where the addition of one technology – Ushahidi, Facebook, SMS – can assist people in their economic pursuits. I’ve worked with women who don’t know how to use computers but have facebook-based e-commerce sites that help them expand sales a bit – usually just enough to get a mobile or take a technology class. But this does take a lot of motivation. I think the i-Hub and incubator models in Africa have great potential to reach people and understand how to connect valuable information services to people who need them most – especially those who come from such backgrounds and really understand the issues of both information poverty and access. Regarding brain-drain – I am amazed at how many ICTD jobs are open outside the US. I’d say for every job I see in the US, I see on in Kenya or Angola or Ghana or India for ICTD specialists (check out http:/delicious.com/srsterling/ictd_jobs). I think hubs again will help with job creation, but brain drain is one of those inevitabilities in uneven economies. Brain drain trends change, though – with the BRIC countries, and the emerging IT star countries in Africa and Asia, the new brain drain will be to Brazil and Kenya. The south –to—south economic ties will become stronger. I’d be interested in talking specifics here – can you give us a description of a community that maybe we can look up on a map, and describe issues/infrastructure/gender dynamics/services? Then we could perhaps play out a tech and access scenario in a more concrete way. I look forward to hearing more from you!

      648 days ago


    • Adelakun-Adeyemo Oluwatoyin

      I personally think that the biggest brain-drain in our inability or refusal of play on the international stage. We see things happening all over the world – how standards are set but we constantly are unable to raise our game prefering instead to take the path of least resistance. This is why even private sector companies do not grow – because they are not producing anything of high quality or worth. Everyone knows that the wealth of a nation is directly related to is ability to draw foreign exchange. As long as we refuse to learn the lessons and set standards for all our endeavour, brain drain will continue to occur. i think India can be a proverb to SSA..

      647 days ago


  6. 648 days ago

    Adelakun-Adeyemo Oluwatoyin

    Hello Revi, great opportunity to talk with you. I see technology as a wide open door for women empowerment. Through it women can find their voice on several issues on which they have had to be silent for years – just a twitter and facebook account can be the start of a major revolution! Economically, eccommerce creates great opportunities for women to sell their ideas (skills and products) worldwide. The wealth of information on the internet also means that women (even if confined to their homes) can still learn. They can get a self-paced education. While all these and more are the highlght of the impact technology can have and is having, I usually meet a road block when seeking to implement ICT4D initiatives for the developing world. How can ICT be of use if it can’t be accessed (sustainably)? This is the big question of ICT4D for developing world how can access be made more affordable and sustainable? without accessiblility, impact is but a dream. What are your thoughts on this? Thanks



    • Revi Sterling

      Thank you – and great points! You’ll see I reference them in another post. You also ask the huge question that we all struggle with – ICT can’t be helpful unless it’s accessible. The Universal Access initiatives, esp the new one coming out of the State Dept/GSMA/ITU and high tech companies, are interesting and promising, although they will take a long time to implement, and who will pay for them? If UN member countries don’t pay their promised share to the UN to start with, do we expect them to pay for universal access? And why do we think service providers will want to lower their costs, or subsidize services? I don’t think the economic arguments have been made yet – or the models. Can information be commoditized to the level of a currency unit so that people get microinformation loans instead of traditional microcredit? I think we need to get super-creative and see how other exchanges of goods and services operate and see what we can learn from them. Maybe some good ideas will come out of this competition – let’s talk about this more!!

      648 days ago


    • Adelakun-Adeyemo Oluwatoyin

      Thank you Revi, I like that you said “we need to get super creative” … I better crank my brain up then, for a brainstorming session!!… Really, one has this sort of alter-ego knowledge that the solution exists, we just haven’t pinned it down yet and I hope we do very soon. I notice that in the developed world, accessibility is driven by affordablity. Most families can afford computers and internet access even if it means paying for it on a three year loan contract. Such consumer loans are not common place in developing countries. In the worst instance in the developed world, each person would have access to an internet enabled computer along with accessories such as printers, scanners and speakers/microphone be it at home, school, or public places such as libraries. This is not the case in developing countries. (Banging my fist on the table!) How can we make ICT hardware accessible and/or affordable!!! You also commented about Universal Access Initiatives but you also asked the question: Who will pay for them? What comes to mind at the moment is that we as ICT4D champions should really concentrate our efforts on ICT sensitization – getting these people (who are not currently using ICT) to realise the importance of ICT, what it is and what it can do for them and their communities; what they are missing out on. In this way they can take ownership of their own pursuit for accessibility in ways someone external to their community can’t. In Nigeria, many communities organise themselves into cooperatives which run contribution schemes (Ajo in Yoruba language) – each member deposits a sum of money each month and then cashes in at the end of the specified rotation period. I think this model can be useful in helping to get the benefactors involved in the process of supplying ICT infrastructure. When a structure like this is on ground, it generates local enthusiasm and anticipation and a sense of ownership which will make accepting new technologies feel home bread. The people themselves will become the evangelist and the big donors can move on. I think it will be work exploiting such an option with a case study and see what results are achieved.

      647 days ago


  7. 649 days ago

    Natela Gıunashvılı

    Hi Revi,
    I am new there and am happy to join your blog.
    I am taking part not only on my behalf, I am representing the growing network of women and girls from Georgia.
    We are very grateful to Daniela for advising us about this very interesting directory.
    Before we ask our questions, we would like to look through other posts in order to avoid the questions already answered by you.
    Natela



  8. 653 days ago

    Emily Bosland

    Hi Revi,

    My 14 year-old cousin loves math and science. However, she feels that as a top performing student, she’s expected to go the route of medicine. Who are some role models of women in tech (even biotech, perhaps?) you know of that I could share with her? What’s your elevator pitch to very young women about considering tech as a career?

    Thanks for your opinion!

    Emily



    • Revi Sterling

      Hi Emily! I hope all is well in DC! I have a few suggestions for your cousin – I’d recommend looking up the work of these creative and technical women. Agreed that there is lot of pressure to go a medical route – it’s like the tall kids being expected to play basketball! From our very own University of Colorado, I’d check out Katie Siek (http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~ksiek/) and Leysia Palen (http://www.cs.colorado.edu/~palen/Home/Welcome.html), who work on health informatics and crisis informatics. Justine Cassell at Carnegie Mellon is a huge inspiration to me (http://www.justinecassell.com/), and there are some fascinating women in design like Mary Flannagan (http://www.maryflanagan.com/) and social networks like Danah Boyd (http://www.danah.org/). In my field of ICT for Development, women like Melissa Densmore combine computing and solar energy (http://www.melissadensmore.com/) and has also worked in healthcare technology. Shikoh Gitau does great work in developing regions as well (http://www.expatriate.co.za/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=66:kc-rottok&catid=38:profiles&Itemid=48). Another list to check out would be the past Anita Borg Women of Vision award winners (http://anitaborg.org/initiatives/women-of-vision/past-recipients/). For an elevator pitch, I’d say that having a strong technical background enables people to have impact in a variety of areas, especially in medicine and healthcare. How else will we be able to scale health programs and services to places where there are no doctors or nurses? As you are building that network to connect hospitals and remote communities, you see how your knowledge and skills can also bring educational services to the community, perhaps on the same technologies. This is just the beginning – by providing access to information, you are helping people cook more nutritious foods while teaching them how to better remove the wood smoke from their homes through simple exhaust system diagrams. You are enabling people to find water and school uniforms and bus times and jobs. As a technologist, you are the “swiss army knife” that can apply your skills to many important efforts and not have to choose one, unless you want to specialize. Sometimes, I think that I’d choose medicine if I could do it all over again, just because health is the first priority, but I realize that working across sectors and problems is really a fit for my personality and ethos. Any time your cousin would like to chat about anything, you have my email J. And bring both of you to the Grace Hopper’s Conference in Baltimore this fall – a few thousand young women working on all sorts of technologies.

      653 days ago


    • Emily Bosland

      Thanks, Revi! These are great suggestions, all of which I’ll share with my cousin. I love your point about being the “swiss army knife” who can apply your skills to different efforts and fields!

      650 days ago


  9. 655 days ago

    Liat Karpel Gurwicz

    Hi Revi. It was really great to get your opinions on the #SocEntChat last week! I actually even mentioned it in my blog post today – Bridging the Gender Divide in Tech http://wp.me/p2z2yi-J. I was wondering what you think lies behind the gender gap in tech and what can be done about it?



    • Revi Sterling

      Hello Liat and thank you for your post – and the shout-out in your blog! I enjoyed going through it today. It’s always great to meet up with someone who has interest in both gender/technology on a domestic as well as an international level. You are right on with your observations on the lack of young women in IT academic paths and careers in the US – and the orgs you list are all about the factors contributing to the gender divide. There are things that we need to do to attract, retain and advance women in technology – it’s certainly a pipeline. As a pipeline, we need to keep women in the pipe – that can be camps and special efforts at the younger ages, or offering supported maternity leave for women in grad school. There’s the Girl Scouts and Girls Inc, etc, but there are a lot of places where young women are that we don’t usually think of – the high school and yearbook editing rooms, the aspiring designers and textile creators, 4-H, church groups… I also think there is a bit of a crisis in traditional gender and tech research – now that technology is pretty much ubiquitous and part of the tools used in all sorts of disciplines, we get girls and women who really are technical but are in computational linguistics or integrative physiology or chemical engineering or digital music and performance. We tend to not count them because they are not in computer science degrees or companies. The last thing we need to do is bemoan the lack of women in CS/IT if they are being technical goddesses elsewhere – they need to be brought into the fold. I’m sure the dyed-in-the-wool computer scientists disagree – they want to get their numbers of female students up in a traditional degree program. But education and careers are not vacuums and we need to redefine and celebrate female technology creators everywhere. And for those women who are technical goddesses IN computer science, we salute you because it takes a lot to work in a field that is constantly changing and where you are a minority across the board. Not necessarily a comfortable position, either. What would I change? More scholarships to the Grace Hopper’s conference and other conferences, more 1:1 mentoring, and a year or two of programming in any major (what got me into the field). Less geeky but more relevant technology camps (no, I don’t have a silver bullet for that one). More connections to how technology affects the world and how the world affects technology – I don’t think we do a good job with overall context. And groan and send flame mails, but I want to do a few makeovers and in some cases etiquette lessons with young technical women. For those of you hiding in the lab or in Second Life because you think you only are good at technology, I want you to know that you can also be good – and great – at life. Life and technology are not diametrically opposed and you can shine in both and feel doubly accomplished, while being role models for other women and men – for society at large. I’m not the first to think this – for decades I’ve heard discussions about how we need an CSI or Gray’s Anatomy (although back then we used L.A. Law and Ally McBeal for examples…) that is computer science-centric. I know high-powered people who have taken that idea to Hollywood more than once. There’s a reason there is no show… yet. I also wish more visible women talked more about this – so many women do, but so many others could. I look at some VP and CEO-types and know they could dispel a lot of myths and stereotypes about women and computing. The ones I’ve asked about this have told me that they don’t want to get pigeon-holed as a “gender” person – they just want to be taken seriously in the board room and job. I don’t know what it’s like to be in their shoes, but I do think there are seriously wasted opportunities to somehow be both. Additionally, I think that fathers are key to the closing the gender gap. Let me explain – when I was in high tech, most of my male friends thought I made far too big of a deal about gender inequality. (Actually, a fair amount of women did too, but that’s a rant for another day.) Their daughters were equally as comfortable on the laptop as their sons. Their daughters were good in math and science. And then, POOF! Their daughters turned 11 or 12 or 13 and started saying things like “I’m no good in math” or “computers suck.” Somewhere, they are getting these messages loud and clear – and not from home or from a teacher, but from some influential kid at school. This is when my male friends come into my office and panic and realize that I’ve been accurately describing the way of things, at least in this culture. That’s when they decide to jump in and get involved. This is good – go dads! Just don’t be taken so off-guard by this phenomenon. Get ready for the gender gap instead of looking right over it. I meant to make this a domestic AND int’l answer but got carried away… would love to discuss more and to get your ideas!

      654 days ago


    • Liat Karpel Gurwicz

      Thanks for that awesome reply Revi! Recently, Twitter, General Electric, Google and eBay announced that they are joining “Girls Who Code” (http://www.girlswhocode.com/) to create a mentoring and teaching program. What do you think about this and does Intel have any similar plans?

      654 days ago


    • Revi Sterling

      Hi Liat – appreciate the tweet! I would like to know more about Girls Who Code since they have some awesome people on board and have gotten good coverage but the website is so sparse! It’s great when tech companies combine their efforts around gender initiatives – so much more power in partnership. I do think that statements like “…pursue opportunities in technology and engineering” (from their site) need a second part to them – the “so what” factor that contextualizes why we should pursue opportunities in technical fields. To solve serious problems. To keep people safe. To promote peace and mitigate global crises. Maybe these sound a little lofty, but having those kinds of aspirations are helpful when you are knee-deep in what seems like a pointless homework assignment or project. I have an incredible PhD student, Heather, who has developed a technology that alerts health workers to early maternal labor problems in developing countries. Her system processes information at such a fast pace that predictions can be acted on hours earlier, saving infants and mothers. She’s been so underwater with code fixes and human subject research protocols that sometimes I have to remind her that – heck – she’s making a huge difference in people’s lives. That’s not to say that all technical women are supposed to want to save the world – the same graduate student built an app that I use as an alarm clock because it’s so much cooler than the one that comes with my iPhone. This is just to say that in both cases she saw a gap, wondered why no one else had fixed it, and did it herself. As women, we are such good problem solvers – look what your grandmother could create out of limited ingredients during the Depression, or how your mother could design a costume out of nothing but some sheets and a stapler. Technology is *our* canvas and opportunity to show our creativity and problem solving skills.

      653 days ago


  10. 657 days ago

    Allan Shore

    Great opportunity. Years ago we put together the original project that is still well recognized as the Take Our Daughters To Work Day, though it now is more about take our daughters and sons to work. The initial purpose was to have boys be seperated and learning about why it was necessary for there to be a special day for women and girls. The lawyers and those who still every seperation as discrimination won the day, which is why the project changed its name and focus. But the point is still valid that systematic injustice is not the fault of the victims. So what can men and boys do to support women and girls as they seek cyber justice? Or is gender invisible in the virtual world?



    • Revi Sterling

      Hello Allan and thank you for starting TODW day! This is often an unpopular stance given that most technologists like to think of technology as a gender-neutral meritocracy, but I am a strong advocate of programs that focus specifically on girls and women – at least until gendered barriers to opportunities and advancement continue. Exclusion is easy to see in other cultures, but it’s alive and well and *underground* in our culture due to anti-discrimination laws. If something explicit is illegal, people just get sneakier about it in order to not have to power-share. We need to get honest – save for the few true altruists in this world, people fear giving up control/power/money. When we try to broaden the playing field, that’s often the perceived (and sometimes true) outcome. We need to continue to work on strategies that let women advance while creating benefits to men. This brings men into the picture as problem solvers (and I know a lot of men who like to fix things…) and can address underlying social and cultural gender bias in a safe and palatable way. This is as true online as it is in the real world, although those distinctions become blurry in developing regions as most people use their mobiles for internet access, and many of the issues are related to technology access and use. I’d love to hear more of your ideas.

      656 days ago


  11. 657 days ago

    Dani Matielo

    Hello, Revi. First of all, thank you so much for joining our #SocEntChat last week. It was great to have you. Now, I would like to know your opinion about what you think is the biggest challenge in the field of #ICT4D and women. What are the most important thing to keep in mind when thinking about a program to empower women through the use of technology?



    • Revi Sterling

      Hello Dani – I really enjoyed #SocEntChat! As you know through your workin ICTD, women and men do not experience or use technology in the same way, especially in developing regions. There are some critical readings that discuss women’s barriers to tech use – cost, literacy (both basic and IT), time and relevance, among others. Relevance is often overlooked – if you are a woman living on less than 2 dollars a day, responsible for the health and care of your children, crops/animals and home, have to get water twice a day on a low caloric intake, and work two or three jobs, you may not have a lot of incentive to learn how to access the internet on your text-only phone or spend your money on an m-health application. As ICTD advocates, we do a great job at creating ways to access information, but we don’t do a good job at making our services relevant to the people who may benefit most from them. There is a significant body of research that demonstrates that a community can only advance to the degree that women in the community can, and that women’s empowerment is a critical requirement to any sustainable effort. This is because women are the “knowledge workers” in their communities. We need to understand exactly what kinds of information they want, how they want to receive it, and how valuable they perceive the information for the cost – is there a tangible benefit to their lives? The other key element is to understand how women in different communities, and within communities, define “empowerment.” It’s often very different from our own context. Some women focus specifically on financial empowerment, realizing that access to capital is the only way they can achieve their goals. Some women consider empowerment in cultural or institutional terms. Most of the time, the women I meet challenge my concept of empowerment. As an outsider, I can take inventory of the things I’d first change in their lives, but I don’t know anything about their experiences or the outcomes of what those changes would be. If you want to help women empower themselves, let them define empowerment. Then build the information system to support that definition!

      656 days ago


  12. 662 days ago

    Joellen Shafer Raderstorf

    I can’t wait for this important conversation with Revi!