Internet Saathi

In rural India, only three in 10 internet users is a woman. A partnership with Tata Trusts, Internet Saathi gives women access to the digital world, and knowledge they can use and share. The program trains “Saathis” — specialists — who in turn can train their community and neighboring villages.

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Launched in partnership with Tata Trusts,“Internet Saathi” was launched in 2015 to equip women in rural Indian villages with internet skills. It is the result of an effort that involved a pilot program and extensive ground research in villages in Rajasthan, Jharkhand, and Gujarat. In this ongoing program, “Saathis” are selected from among the village women and provided with hands-on smartphone training. They then pass on that knowledge, providing internet access, and becoming ambassadors of digital literacy in their communities.

Women’s internet usage in India

With over 400 million internet users, India has the world's second-largest online population. However, only 30% of India’s online users are women, and in rural areas, this number drops to 12%. With equal access to information, women are not only exposed to the world’s knowledge, but are more likely to start new businesses, transform their communities, and contribute to the ways in which we we all learn, work, and live.

Getting women online through unique programs

Since we began our program in 2013, we have designed approaches to address three key barriers to digital literacy.

It’s important for internet users and non-users alike to understand how the internet can benefit women. We created the “Internet Moms” program to encourage non-internet users to take the first step in learning about the internet and how it can help them and their families.

In 2014, we ran “Reach For The Sky,” a campaign co-run with Indian actor Farhan Akhtar’s organization, Men Against Rape and Discrimination (MARD). The goal of this campaign, which targeted current internet users, was to drive a conversation on the issue and encourage people to become mentors for first-time internet users.

HelpingWomenGetOnline (HWGO) was launched to help women learn how to use the internet, with training on topics such as using a smartphone and searching for information online. HWGO is available in multiple languages and with voice assistance.

Launched in partnership with Tata Trusts, “Internet Saathi” was launched in 2015 to equip women in rural Indian villages with internet skills. It is a result of a pilot program and extensive ground research in villages in Rajasthan, Jharkhand and Gujarat. In this program, “Saathis” are selected from among the village women and are provided with hands-on smartphone training. They then become ambassadors of digital literacy in their communities, sharing their knowledge and providing smartphone access to others.

In two years, more than 10 million women have benefited from this program, which spans 100,000 villages in 12 states, including Andhra Pradesh, Haryana, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, West Bengal, Tripura, Assam, Gujrat, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Rajasthan and Maharashtra.

As Saathis spread their influence in their communities, their voices have become strong forces in driving the conversation about women and digital literacy. They have shared their stories at the global Womenwill conference in front of hundreds of attendees. And on International Women’s Day 2017, journalists spent a day with Saathis to capture their life-changing stories.

Stories of Saathis'

Laxmi Rani

Laxmi Rani

Patahensal, West Bengal

Before Laxmi became an Internet Saathi, she thought the Internet was a place where you could get songs — but only through a computer. Her motivation to join the Saathi program was to help herself and other women in her home state prosper. While her husband supported her joining, other men in the village weren't so encouraging. They didn't want her to teach others, apprehensive about what the Internet would bring to the village. The women, while interested, didn't even know how to hold a smartphone.

Laxmi started by teaching women how to take selfies and showing them new food recipes, which created a lot of interest. She has used the Internet to get information on farming, submit forms for Government schemes and find news to share with her village. She's also helped women in neighbouring villages learn new stitching designs, leading to an increase in income. But her proudest moment came when she was able to stop an incident of child marriage in her village by showing the parents the laws related to child marriage, as well as information on how harmful it is for the girl.

Now 23 years old, Laxmi wants to learn how to use a laptop.

Preeti Pandey

Preeti Pandey

Deoria, Uttar Pradesh

Preeti is 27 years old and has an MA in Hindi. She's a teacher in a college and was a volunteer with Nehru Yuva Kendra Sangathan, working on development of sports among youth. She knew the Internet offered a lot of possibilities but had no idea how to use it.

Always interested in helping improve the lives of women in her village, Preeti became an Internet Saathi because it gave her the chance to meet a lot of women and help solve their problems. But she found most women in the villages were skeptical of learning. They didn't own phones of their own and their husbands wouldn’t let them use theirs -- so she started with training the younger girls in the village. Today, she's helping adolescent girls search for the best available college in terms of tuition fees and choice of subjects, and has been helping them with career advice.

One of Preeti’s favourite stories is the time she helped a divorced, unemployed woman with two daughters learn how to make blouses. That woman is now earning on her own, happy that she can give her daughters a better education. Preeti says her next step will be connecting women to capital to start their own businesses.

Visit the program's website to see how participants are getting inspired.

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Mridula Doddadevarapadu, Andhra Pradesh
Mridula Doddadevarapadu, Andhra Pradesh
Preeti Pandey Dewariya, Utter Pradesh
Preeti Pandey Dewariya, Utter Pradesh