Today, the spread of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is rapidly changing the way business is conducted. The Government of Rwanda has underscored ICT as one of the core priorities for economic transformation and has put in place the right policies for youth to use ICT in job creation and several cooperatives and companies owned by youth have been created. Despite these initiatives, however, several youth cooperatives and companies have very limited access to digital literacy and technology, which affects their overall performance and productivity. This project focused on research that discussed the extent to which digital literacy skills affect entrepreneurial performance and the livelihoods of the members of cooperatives in rural areas of Rwanda. With the aim of getting to the core of the subject, a case study of Digital Art Works cooperative (DAW) in Rwimiyaga sector, Nyagatare District in Eastern province of Rwanda was conducted. Digital Art Works is a cooperative created by a group of poor youth (mainly girls and teen mothers) . They have identified weaving and home décor as their main activities and they make clothes, tablemats and beads for women.
The study indicated that the level of knowledge and skills with regards to entrepreneurship and the use of digital tools, especially smartphones and computers, by DAW cooperative members was generally very low. Only 28% of the cooperative members owned a smartphone at the time of survey and only 36% had a chance to use a computer. 92% have never had an opportunity of entrepreneurship-related training. It was also realised that the general tendency towards embracing digital technologies in daily DAW cooperative operations is very high. 69% of respondents strongly agreed that embracing digital technology in business and having access to e-services will greatly increase DAW cooperative performance.
It was also revealed that 77.1% of respondents believed that digital literacy and skills among the individual cooperative members will improve the performance of their cooperative through effective communication, proper management of the cooperative’s data, using digital marketing or marketing their products online through different platforms. The study indicated a strong correlation between the level of access and skills to digital tools and the performance/livelihoods of members of small cooperatives in rural areas.
Despite cooperative members’ willingness to acquire digital literacy and skills, they also highlighted a number of anticipated barriers that impede them from using digital tools in their daily businesses. The cooperative members’ current level of digital skills, their education level and lack of accessibility to digital tools were highlighted as the major stumbling blocks. Most of the major barriers indicated by the study were all addressed through the project support.
In fact, with the support of the project, all cooperative members were given individual smartphones, sewing machines and three computers were made available for the cooperative’s management. All members were trained and now have basic skills in ICT. Some of them gained more advanced ICT skills to create and manage cooperative’s website, and the majority of them can now use the internet, carry out research to improve their products, and use social media platforms such as Facebook, twitter and Instagram. After receiving the equipment and digital tools from the project and being trained, their production line continues to increase, and they are now actively using social media platforms to market their products.
If you’d like to know more, you can contact the project Principal Investigator here.