For many around the world, life is becoming increasingly connected. Trains and malls are filled with the familiar sight of people using their phones; connectivity is as strong on mountain tops as it is in cities, and businesses are moving data and services seamlessly across whole continents. Young people are growing up in a digital world where digital access is essential to their education, finance, health and even finding an occupation.
Yet, whilst connectivity may seem as ubiquitous now as the air we breathe, 50% of the world are without broadband connectivity and many lack basic digital literacy. What may seem simple for some, such as accessing the internet or using a phone, are skills still unacquired by much of the planet. Bringing these people into the digital future is a major challenge that is filled with many obstacles. When the road to success is blocked off, difficult to traverse, or simply doesn’t exist; can putting digital skills on wheels be the answer?
In Machakos, Kenya, a converted shipping container on a trailer stands by the side of the road; its steel doors glistening in the morning sun. Whilst the container may look typical apart from the logos and messaging painted on the outside, barely advocating a second glance from passers-by, the door and windows cut out of the steel hint at something special within. Inside, its interior has been transformed and upgraded into a digital education space; fitted with desks, chairs, a large monitor, state-of-the-art touchscreen computers, smart phones, VR glasses and connectivity infrastructure.
Huawei has teamed up with Close the Gap to build a solar powered DigiTruck that aims to bring digital skills to people in under-served communities across the country. It is capable of reaching its most rural areas. By being solar-powered, the DigiTruck doesn’t rely on electrical grids, which are poor or non-existent in remote areas of Kenya; and by being mobile, the DigiTruck is able to go anywhere and bring digital skills to the people who cannot access it themselves.
Since 2014, Close the Gap has built six DigiTrucks with multiple technology partners, operating in four different countries in Africa, including Kenya, South Africa, DRC and Tanzania. Huawei is part of Close the Gap’s seventh DigiTruck that launched this year. Olivier Vanden, Managing Dirtector of Close the Gap, Kenya, stressed the importance of collaboration to the project: “I’m very happy to monitor the project and make sure our partners; technical, operational but also beneficiaries of the DigiTruck will be streamlined and everyone will contribute to exceeding their expectations of the project.”
Huawei has always understood that collaboration is integral to helping with worldwide digital inclusivity. Adam Lane, Deputy CEO of Huawei Technologies in Kenya, explained the larger significance of the DigiTruck: “Our mission is to bring digital to every person, home and organization for a fully connected, intelligent world, and we think there are people who need a helping hand. The DigiTruck is fitted with 20 laptops, VR headsets, and a router for internet access. The DigiTruck is a project that has been launched as part of our TECH4ALL initiative.”
TECH4ALL is Huawei’s initiative to bring digital technology to 500 million more people in the next five years, using digital inclusive innovations to empower people and the world. In Kenya, the DigiTruck is already seeing this vision come to life. Crop farmer Daniel Mwanza was able to use the skills he obtained to market his products online. “Every time I go online I am able to access information,” he explained. “My family’s welfare has improved. I have taken my son to secondary school.”
The DigiTruck usually stays within a rural community for a month, allowing widespread access for the citizens. The materials are free and can be used by anyone, both young and old.
Agnes Mbiti is now contemplating becoming a local business owner in Kenya since the DigiTruck has enabled her to learn new skills: “We have learnt how to improve our cooking skills through the internet. Our plan to open a cake business is now within reach.”
Connectivity can mean many things for different people. Whether it’s new information, new networks or new opportunities, digital access is the foundation for self-improvement and business innovation. Phoebe Kiboi is the Market Engagement Manager for the Connected Society Program at GSMA and she believes connectivity and phone access are the foundational blocks to a better life: “At the Connected Society Program, we provide materials that will be used by the DigiTruck to enable people to learn how to use basic mobile internet skills and access information. They are able to access tools that can enhance their socio-economic status.”
There is an old African proverb that says, we go fast alone, but we go further together. By bringing digital skills and connectivity technology to everyone, Huawei believes we can build a fully connected, intelligent world that brings greater expertise closer together, to solve mankind’s greatest challenges and push technological advancements further than ever before.