Every November 20, the United Nations marks World Children’s Day, in commemoration of the date when the UN General Assembly first adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959.[i] On this day, we are all called to think about how we can advocate, promote and celebrate the rights and welfare of children everywhere in the world.
The theme for this year’s World Children’s Day is “For every child, every right.” In today’s digitally driven world, this means ensuring the right to digital inclusion for every child. Digital connectivity and skills are fundamental to accessing and benefiting from the educational and social opportunities that help children live fuller lives and grow into more confident, well-rounded adults. And yet, the digital divide—the gap that prevents reliable, affordable internet access, education and digital skills development for certain groups—is vast and reflective of the pervasive inequity that disproportionally impacts historically marginalized communities.
At Equinix, we believe that digital inclusion is a basic human right. Through the Equinix Foundation and our Community Impact initiatives, we’ve worked to help bridge the digital divide in many of the global communities in which we do business. We also recognize that the digital divide presents itself differently in different places throughout the world, and that it’s felt more acutely by certain groups—like women.
The digital divide: A global problem that requires a collaborative approach
The Equinix business model is based around the idea of digital ecosystems. We believe that different organizations can generate more business value by interconnecting to exchange data, offer digital services to one another and pursue co-innovation opportunities. Similarly, we believe in taking a collaborative ecosystem approach to addressing some of the biggest challenges facing our world today, including the global digital divide.
One way we do this is by working alongside business partners that share our commitment to digital inclusion. For example, through our partnership with BT, we recently identified an opportunity to support the Outdoor School for Girls, an initiative of the India-based nonprofit organization Going to School.
BT has been partnering with Going to School on several groundbreaking programs going back to 2017. When introduced to the Outdoor School for Girls program by our BT partners, we saw an incredible opportunity to come together to support the program’s mission by providing funding, mentorship, volunteering and expertise toward the development of a digital learning platform. Employee volunteering is at the center of our support, whether it’s playing soccer with the girls on the field or helping them with training and project development.
The work of the Outdoor School for Girls aligns to our commitment to digital inclusion, particularly in the context of providing digital skills training for the next generation of women. The program pairs the opportunity to play soccer with digital training for girls. It is currently active in 190 schools in Mumbai and 120 in Bengaluru, serving girls from Grade 5-10. It represents the first time that girls have ever been offered the chance to play soccer in government schools in India.
The goal is to provide girls with the skills and resources they need to become sustainable business entrepreneurs after they leave school. Entrepreneurial opportunities for women in India have largely been limited to traditionally female sectors like childcare and food preparation. In contrast, girls that complete the program will have the opportunity to pitch sustainable business ideas generated in the program for funding. This could help them turn the skills they’ve learned into successful high-tech businesses that can generate jobs, provide inspiration for other girls and help address the challenges of climate change at the community level. It’s this bold vision that has inspired BT and Equinix to come together in support of this innovative program.
Soccer keeps girls coming back to school
The Going to School team believes in listening to children to learn about what they want. Early on, they learned that girls in Mumbai and Bengaluru wanted to play soccer. They also knew that school retention is a major problem in India, particularly among girls. And if girls aren’t showing up to school, they’re not gaining the valuable digital skills that can help them in their future.
Including soccer in the program was important to inspire girls to come to school. Additionally, playing team sports provides numerous benefits for girls that extend far beyond the field of play. Examples include leadership skills, improved self-confidence, experience working with a team toward a common goal, responding to failure and making decisions on the fly. It’s no coincidence that these are all skills that are essential for young entrepreneurs, just as they are for athletes. They’re also skills that children in India—and particularly girls—aren’t always able to build on their own.
Girls who participate in the program play soccer during school hours three days a week. The other two days, they work on building digital and entrepreneurial skills benchmarked to their grade levels. As the girls progress through the program, they work on increasingly difficult digital skills content. They also participate in group activities and complete independent homework assignments.
The digital divide in India presents unique challenges
There are a variety of challenges involved with delivering this skills training in India. For one thing, much of the training content available in India today is in English. However, the young girls who participate in the program have not always had the opportunity to develop their English language skills, which means the content is of limited use for them. Going to School uses funding from partners like BT and Equinix to help ensure the availability of digital skills content in Indian languages like Hindi, Marathi and Kannada. Funding and volunteer support also goes towards developing the digital content needed and the technology necessary for the girls in the program to access that content.
If not for the program, many of the girls would not have access to digital devices, or even the reliable electricity needed to run the devices, not to mention the content and training. One participant had this to say:
I live in Bengaluru so I hear a lot about technology and what it can do but a lot of girls don’t use it that much as you have to have your own laptop to use it, which I don’t have. There’s a lot of things you hear but you don’t know what it means—like ‘women should work and need digital skills’—so are digital skills what you can only learn if you have a laptop?”Nandita, Grade 10, Bengaluru
Advancing digital inclusion every day
At Equinix, we believe that World Children’s Day is an opportunity to pause and honor the digital inclusion work that Going to School and other organizations are doing throughout the world to create a more digitally inclusive and equitable future. The next generation of digital leaders is out there. As a digital infrastructure leader, we have a responsibility to ensure they have access to the resources and opportunities needed to reach their full potential. By collaborating with valued partners like BT, we can help scale the impact of the organizations, like Going to School, doing this important work.
To learn more about the work the Equinix Foundation is doing to support organizations working toward global digital inclusion, visit us today.