In our first “Woman in Mobile Spotlight,” we featured a computer scientist who created multilingual mobile-based STEM learning tools. In this edition we are proud to feature a woman whose skills in mobile policy were first honed while working for former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. Angela Baker, Senior Manager for Qualcomm® Wireless Reach™, shares with us how she leveraged her education in international relations to help shape an exciting career in tech, which includes providing government guidance for mobile health and mobile learning initiatives worldwide. We think she’s amazing because how many people can say they have contributed to improving maternal health in Morocco with mobile ultrasounds?! 

How did you get into the mobile industry?

My background is primarily in politics. I worked on political campaigns and in government for 10 years. In 2008, I worked for Secretary Clinton on her presidential campaign.  An opportunity opened up about two years later to work for Secretary Clinton at the U.S. State Department in her Innovation and Technology Office – an office she created when she came in as Secretary. It, was a small office, but she was making a big push for the use of technology in diplomacy. I came on board to do planning and project management, and that was when I became really interested in technology. That was in 2011 and during my time there, we did a lot of cool things, like work on internet freedom and building the capacity of NGOs through the use of technology in a program called TechCamp. […]. I co-led a technology delegation to Brazil, which included a woman from Qualcomm with whom I really hit it off. When I decided to leave the State Department in 2012, I reconnected with my Qualcomm contact, who happened to be hiring for a senior position on the Wireless Reach team, which was very serendipitous.

Coming from a non-traditional mobile industry background, how does what you studied apply to what you’re doing now with Qualcomm?

Wireless Reach is a strategic corporate social responsibility program (CSR).  It’s unique to other CSR programs, as we’re housed in the Government Affairs division. A lot of our programs are done in conjunction with foreign governments because we’re funding projects around the globe in the areas of education, health, entrepreneurship, public safety and the environment. For the most part, those are issues in which governments are interested. My Bachelor’s degree is in International Relations and my Master’s degree is in International Conflict Analysis and Resolution.

For my Master’s, I studied about the effect of conflict on women, and now I oversee the mWomen vertical at Qualcomm, which focuses on women and mobile.  My background and experience are helpful, because when working with different governments, we believe mobile can have a positive impact on the economic and educational issues they are facing. I think there’s a big tie-in to the traditional path of study I took to the work I am doing now.

Do you have a favorite project that you’re working on at Qualcomm?

We have a really great program in Morocco where we trained ultrasound technicians to take ultrasounds, and transmit the images over the 3G network. This enables doctors or ultrasound technicians in rural areas to get second opinions on images in a faster, more cost efficient way. It started as an effort to help prevent placenta previa which is a fairly common condition in pregnancy, but because it often goes untreated, it results in maternal health problems. Angela BakerThe only way to detect those issues are with an ultrasound. We ran the first trial in a few rural areas of Morocco. There were a number of successes that came from it, the main one being that the amount of time to share ultrasound images and to get a diagnosis significantly decreased. Because of the success, the Government of Morocco has agreed to scale the project to ten health clinics around Rabat and eventually nationally over the next few years.

What is your favorite mobile learning app, one that you use yourself?

I use a lot of social media to get access to information. I don’t push a lot out on Twitter but it’s where I go for news and information and I follow a lot of mobile leaders. Snapchat is sort of growing in that area and people are sharing information on that platform.

What advice do you have for other women who might be interested in pursuing a career in mobile technology?

We’re trying to do a lot of work at Qualcomm to help build the pipeline of girls and women who study STEM. We’re trying to focus early on because research has shown that girls start to lose interest around middle school.]. For girls and women interested in mobile tech, I would say that there are a lot of real world applications. We have this preconceived idea of an engineer or a coder, sitting in a room, crunching numbers all day or reading lines of code. I love my job because we’re really looking at how we can leverage the benefits of mobile for social good. If you are a girl or a woman and you want to change the world, or you want to help women and girls, the mobile device is going to be the way to do that. What better time to study mobile technology than now?

Back in March I co-authored a blog post with Sarah Johns about the proliferation of mobile-based tools to aid women when they are facing gender-based violence. Spurred in part by a rash of globally publicized rape incidents involving women and girls (most notably in India), these mobile tools were either lauded or questioned because of their utility and relevance to the contexts in which they were being used. A common yet sometimes forgotten refrain on the topic is that it is important to teach men and boys not to rape in addition to any other protective measures women and girls might use mobiles for in order to prevent or alert others to threats of gender-based violence they face. One initiative that I think may be another step in the right direction is the launch of ‘Help Emergency Assistance Rescue Terminal’, or HEART in Gujarat State, India.

 

1368873458_gujarat-police

 

This toll-free service was launched so that police can have immediate contact with and a better response time to women and girls who are subjected to distress. One thing that I believe is unique and potentially very helpful is the fact that women only need to dial the toll-free number (which can be accessed via mobile or a landline) and their location will be pinpointed and police sent right away. This sounds similar to emergency response services in the US. Other promising aspects of this service:

  1. Women and girls will be encouraged to register their details (in either Gujarati or Hindi, so bonus points for language accessibility) so that when the help line receives a call from the woman or girl, up to 10 of her designated contacts will be notified, too;
  2. Police personnel are being trained to respond to women and girls that are encountering or have encountered violence, in addition to gender-based violence sensitivity training.

 

Nevertheless, I will reserve my excitement on this development after finding an article from December 2012 which raises questions about whether this service is legitimate.

Fake India help line number

A previous help line launched in Gujarat State with the same ‘1091’ number was found to direct callers to a shop keeper instead of the police! At the time, police spokespeople had no explanation for the mix-up and initially thought that the problem was isolated to calls received from mobiles; it was found that landlines were directed to the shop keeper as well. Given this, one can only hope that the revamped version of HEART has been tested to ensure that women and girls can receive the help that they need if they use the service.

Overall, I think that this initiative is one that has great potential if women and girls are connected to police when they need it because it will entail a collaborative response effort and involve law enforcement who have been made aware on some level what the women and girls might be going through. HEART seems to buck the mobile hype in this area to create a tool that is sustainable, localized and affordable for users. It will be interesting to see if other Indian states follow suit and what will happen to those found guilty of any violent acts.

This is a co-researched post with international girl advocate phenom Sarah Johns who works for Plan International. With this post we recognise that today is International Women’s Day and that much remains to be done to ensure that women and girls throughout the world feel – and are – safe in their communities.

 

Rehana, 15, walks head down through the Delhi streets to her school, 15 minutes from home. When she walks past the local park, the boys stop playing cricket and stare, whistle and make rude comments. She shares the public toilet nearest her home with 250 other people, and knows of girls who have been attacked there. She and her friends are pretty creative when it comes to ways of protecting themselves: chilli powder and safety pins are the current home-made weapons of choice. Rehana also learns martial arts. She says “If there’s one thing girls should learn in life, it’s karate.”

A city is an uneasy environment for girls. Anyone who has grown up in an urban landscape knows what it means to be street-wise. Staying safe as you travel around is like a dangerous game, trying to stay one step ahead of your assailants. Yet cities can also provide crucial opportunities for education and employment for girls. Each month, five million people are added to the cities of the developing world, and it is estimated that by 2030, approximately 1.5 billion girls will live in urban areas. [1]

Plan International’s latest research [2] with over 1,400 girls and boys in five cities in low and middle income countries shows some disturbing results. In most cities, only a small minority of girls felt ‘always safe’ in their city; in Kampala, Uganda, 80% of the girls who New Plan reporttook part reported feeling ‘very unsafe’ or ‘unsafe’ in public spaces and in Delhi, over half of the girls ‘never’ or ‘seldom’ felt safe on public transport, with similar numbers reported for public spaces.

In cities like Delhi, women and girls are also increasingly turning to technology to keep themselves safe. In the wake of the recent highly publicised attacks, there’s been a huge growth in mobile phone apps aimed at helping women to call for help if they are threatened. Apps like FightBack, developed by two female journalists, Shweta Punj and Hindol Sengupta, records your location on a Google map and posts a message to your Facebook wall and well as sending an SMS to your friends and family.

In many countries, mobiles are also seen by parents as a way of keeping a virtual eye on their daughters, keeping in touch wherever they are. Apps like BSafe and MobileKids, created by female entrepreneur Silje Vallestad, both became popular with parents in New York in the wake of a hike in violent incidents last summer. The apps transform their child’s phone into a personal alarm/parental monitoring system.

Yet despite reports that nine out of ten women feel safer by having a mobile phone [3], some bloggers question the efficacy of using mobile apps to address violence against girls and women in cities. Apps don’t deal with the underlying causes of violence against girls in cities, and may even supply would-be attackers with location information and 24/7 access to their victim. And whilst mobile apps are useful for those with a smartphone, the most vulnerable girls may not have access to a phone at all.

Moraba is one app that might just change the game for girls. Developed for feature phone and aimed at teenagers, particularly boys, the app was influenced by extensive interviews with young Southern Africans about violence against girls.

 Moraba

Moraba’s goal is to change boys’ attitudes, in particular those attitudes that could lead to domestic violence as adults.

We guess the reality is that technology is a tool, not a solution, in combating violence against girls in city environments. Developers must take care to manage expectations of what can be achieved with their app. One step towards this would be to research how and why these apps benefit girls, while also identifying – and modifying – areas where girls might become more susceptible to violence through the use of those apps. And the individual nature of mobile phones means that somehow, the design of the response must incorporate ways to build collective awareness within the community (including with religious, law enforcement and government officials) of the challenges that girls face.

Perhaps we’d be better taking our lead from the girls themselves. Plan International’s research, which will be used to advocate for the inclusion of girls within city planning processes, found startling similarities across all five cities with the changes girls wanted to see: public spaces that were well-lit and clean, safe public transport and accessible public services were the top priorities. As Rehana says, “When girls feel safe, they can go outside of their homes. If we don’t move ahead, we’ll be left behind.”

See Rehana and other girls from Delhi project talk about their experiences at http://youtu.be/667O4peOzco

Find out more about Plan International’s Safer Cities research at www.plan-international/girls

[1] Plan International (2010). Because I am a Girl: The State of the World’s Girls 2010. Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape. Woking, Plan International.
[2] Plan International (2013). Adolescent girls’ eye view of cities: a rapid needs assessment in Cairo, Delhi, Hanoi, Kampala and Lima. Toronto: Plan International.
[3] GSM Association/Cherie Blair Foundation (2011). Women and mobile: a global opportunity. London: GSMA.

For February I am sharing a guest post on the blog written by Sarah Johns, an academic colleague I know from Royal Holloway, University of London. Sarah works for Plan International and is presently completing the MSc in Practising Sustainable Development with ICT4D specialism, the course I completed prior to beginning my PhD work. It was at Royal Holloway that Sarah and I had an engaging conversation about gender and mobile learning, and our conversation inspired Sarah’s post. With her permission, I am reposting the text of the blog here.

Girl geeks and boys’ toys: The digital gender divide

Sarah Johns

By Sarah Johns, Plan International Publishing Coordinator
(originally posted on 30 January 2013 on the Plan International website)

At this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Plan’s Chief Executive Officer, Nigel Chapman, chaired a discussion on the ‘digital gender divide’. If you’re not sure what the digital gender divide is, imagine a world where your office IT guy is an IT girl, or where the first person to offer you help with your Powerpoint presentation is a woman. How likely is this in your office, your city, your country?

It’s a worldwide problem. For example in the UK, the information, communication and technology (ICT) sector accounts for a whopping 9% of the country’s economy – £81 billion – but just 17% of the people benefiting from employment in this sector are women. Ironically, 17% also happens to be the percentage of women participants at the WEF this year.

Economic opportunities
In low and middle income countries, the ICT sector is widely seen as a catalyst for creating economic opportunities for individuals, communities and states.

Ten years ago the debate was all about the digital divide – a canyon between rich and poor, urban and rural. Recently though, countries like India, Vietnam and Indonesia have seen economic growth partly because their governments have encouraged investment in digital communications and technology, and other countries, such as Kenya, Liberia and Ghana, are watching closely.

Barriers for women

There’s no doubt that there has been a growth in jobs and business opportunities in the ICT sector for those able to benefit from the opportunities, but it’s the same old story for girls and women.

Technology is seen as a man’s domain. Shiny new toys and gadgets are aimed at guys. The majority of people working in the technology industry are men. Even the language is gendered: geek, boys’ toys, scientist and engineer. Whether it’s learning ICT skills, or using computers, girls and women face all the usual cultural, social and economic barriers that come with being female. This is the digital gender divide.

“Girls are burdened with chores which do not provide them with adequate time to learn, access the computer and have time for leisure and play which are all very important for her development” – Abigail, 16 years, Ghana

Chance for change
There are two shining lights on this particular horizon though. The first is the mobile (cell) phone. The ability to have relatively cheap, personal, portable access to digital information and communication is not as revolutionary as some say, but it’s a technological evolution that has great potential to benefit girls and women.

If computers are male, telephones are female, traditionally used for family gossip and chatting with friends or listening to the radio. Women, on the whole, are already in control of this technology, which makes it a hugely powerful tool for change.

In many countries, girls are already using and innovating with mobile phones. In Kenya, the cost of owning a mobile phone dropped by two-thirds in just 3 years (US$10 in 2009 to US$3 in 2011) and this trend is continuing.

Schoolgirls in Nairobi use mobiles to catch up on classes and collaborate on homework. Groups like AkiraChix in Kenya, Women in Technology Uganda and Asikana in Zambia are teaching girls how to create mobile phone applications, particularly using the Android platform where development costs are low.

Women such as Juliana Rotich from Ushadidi and Sheryl Sanderberg from Facebook are also providing crucial role models for girls wanting a science or technology career path. And the future looks good: Asikana has mapped over 20 women’s technology organisations in Africa already, and more are in the pipeline.

What is Plan doing?

The second light on the horizon is us: Plan. We’ve got years of experience of working with girls and women in communities, and we’re increasing our expertise and our voice in this area through initiatives such as Because I am a Girl.

We’ve also got a growing amount of programmes that are integrating technology within more traditional programmes in education, health and disaster response.

I’ll leave the last word with Asri, from Indonesia, who took part in the Because I am a Girl Fast Talk Initiative on ICT and girls in 2011:

“I want to change the paradigm which says that girls aren’t used to technology like computer engineering…Girls with tools are okay and technology isn’t built for boys only. I want the girls to know that they are able to be computer engineers too.”