Strengthening digital skills to scale digital transformation

Representatives from 13 new centres fostering digital skills in developing countries visited the headquarters of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in March to kick-off phase two of the Digital Transformation Centres (DTC) Initiative, a joint initiative with technology conglomerate Cisco.

ITU – a United Nations specialized agency that works closely with governments and the private sector – promotes inclusive global “digital transformation” as a key element to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

One fundamental building block is having the necessary skills to participate meaningfully in a digital environment. Unfortunately, not everyone has access to the right training.

ITU’s partnership with technology conglomerate Cisco aims to close this gap. Their joint Digital Transformation Centres (DTC) Initiative, launched in September 2019, aims to strengthen digital capacities in underserved communities around the world.

A pilot programme in 2020-2021 saw over 100,000 people in marginalized communities trained in basic digital skills.

Notably, nearly two thirds of those trainees were women, underlining the value of such initiatives to address the persistent digital gender divide in low-income countries.

How to become a DTC

DTCs are formed at the national level, with existing organizations applying to join the programme. To become an official Digital Transformation Centre, applicant organizations must undergo a rigorous review process, which assesses three main criteria: government support, infrastructure, and resources.

This year, five new DTCs have completed the review process and joined the global network. They are located in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Morocco, Pakistan and Uganda.

The new centres – just like existing DTCs in Côte d’Ivoire, the Dominican Republic, Ghana, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Rwanda, and Zambia – will benefit from access to Cisco learning programmes and training material, exclusive networking opportunities, and support from partners at the national, regional, and global levels.

Ghana sees “ripple effect” of training

The DTC project in Ghana, which is funded by Norad and ITU, targets citizens in underserved and marginalized communities, aiming to reach those who might otherwise be left out of digital transformation initiatives.

In March, the Ghana Investment Fund for Electronic Communications (GIFEC), which was selected as part of the DTC Initiative in Ghana, completed a series of digital skills training which reached 2673 Ghanaians, including women entrepreneurs, young people, students and teachers.

70 per cent of participants reported that this was their first time attending any kind of digital skills training.

Among the topics covered were connectivity, cybersecurity, the Internet of Things, and digital entrepreneurship. Participants accessed basic and intermediate training content on the Cisco Network Academy platform, and received  certificate upon successfully passing the final assessment.

Aishatu, a local female entrepreneur, has used her newly acquired digital skills to expand her business. Building on her DTC training, Aishatu is using social media to promote the clothing she creates and to communicate with prospective clients.

She was also able to share these new skills with fellow trainees, who have gained knowledge on how to use social media to promote small businesses of their own after the traineeship.

“I hadn’t stopped learning,” said another woman participating in the programme. “I didn’t know technology was this sweet. I still go on YouTube to learn new things.”

Another woman was prompted to improve her basic literacy skills:

“Through the training I have realized I am deficient in reading, so I am part of the non-formal lessons being organised by the trainers.”

The Ghana-wide DTC programme has so far provided training at 88 centres focused on information and communication technologies (ICTs).

#KaziPower Zambia

Last August, 150 girls were selected from three underprivileged areas in Zambia to undergo digital skills training hosted by the country’s DTC, the Smart Zambia Institute.

National mobile service provider Airtel Zambia supported the programme by providing the necessary ICT equipment and connectivity, including routers and data, for the duration of the project.

The company also provided mentors drawn from across the ICT industry and offered job-shadowing opportunities for trainees to continue learning after the formal part of the programme.

“It has been quite a wonderful experience as we have learnt so much,” said one of girls trained last year. “Judging by everyone’s excitement, we are all looking forward to the next stage of this programme.”

Dubbed #KaziPower, meaning “the power of girls” in local languages, the programme encourages girls and young women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers.


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