The digital divide?

There are many reasons why small, local, non-profit organisations find it difficult to impart their work on social media. Though for the most part, social media is inexpensive to use as many of these online networks are free. One of the main obstacles is a poor internet connection which is often a country wide issue. The language of use in social media and the technical know-how are also significant hindrances. Many also lack time and manpower to focus on promoting their work on social media. But for some small, local, non-profit organisations, these concerns must be solved and social media activities become a part of the daily routine of the organisation.

Based in Islamabad, I’ve worked with this small, local, non-profit organisation as a consultant evaluating the organisation’s administrative system and structure. They have on staff a full-time media and communication officer. The organisation uses different social media to reach out to the community people they work with. They generally use Facebook and Whatsapp as these are the most commonly use social media in the area. The WhatsApp group was formed to promote dialogue among their trainees. At present, this group has more than 100 active members and continues to grow. On Facebook, they share relevant articles published in Urdu and English languages, post photos and upload videos. They also run campaigns on their Facebook page. The organisation’s website is fully functioning. It is updated with every activity and with significant resources which the organisation had produced.

Connectivity is the most prevalent difficulty in using social media and digital technology. As the community they worked with is a relatively less developed urban area, digital facilities are not available to everyone. Secondly, using social media effectively is an issue in itself. Though the communication officer is very experience and competent who had been working in newspapers as a news editor, reporter and blogger as well as a translator and copy writer in an advertisement agency, he still thinks that he has a need to receive more training on how to use social media effectively. Although having participated in a training on the use of social media, he expressed, ‘Whenever there is an opportunity to learn how to use social media effectively, I would like to go and learn more and more.’

Based on the extensive use of social media in this organisation and having a qualified staff concentrated on communication and yet, feeling the need to learn how to effectively use social media makes me wonder how wide in reality the digital divide for a small, local, non-profit organisation really is. However, as Pieterse (2005) argued, the divide is not digital but socioeconomic. It is about bridging income gaps. Most of these organisations don’t have the resources to hire a communication staff or to outsource the organisation’s communication functions. They don’t have funds to send staff to those expensive trainings. Most of them will not be even able to afford a fast internet connection. My question is, as a Communication for Development (C4D) practitioner, what will I do about it?

Pieterse, Jan Nederveen (2005) Digital Capitalism and Development: The Unbearable Lightness of ICT4D in Lovink, Geert and Zehle, Soenke (eds) (2005) Incommunicado reader. Amsterdam: Institute of Network Cultures


  1. Lisa Smyth

    Well done on identifying a common problem in the sector Rudelene – I would be interested to know two things – 1. Who are the audiences of the organization, and knowing that is social media the best way to reach them? and 2. If social media is the best option, does the organization have a social media strategy or plan based on their objectives, capabilities, and resources? Having a plan in place, with realistic targets, based on best practices used by similar organizations, can be a great reassurance to those who still don’t feel qualified to manage social media.

  2. Rudelene Nanette

    Thanks, Lisa, for your comment. The audiences are multi-level, from the partners, donors, supporters, potential supporters, government, stakeholders, all the way down to the community level who are ethnic minority people. Yes, they have a media strategy and interestingly, using the vernacular media is now a big trend in social media in Pakistan. Many people now write posts in their own mother tongue. Some languages are moving from sustainable orality to developing due to the use of languages in social media such as Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp and text messages. I hope to learn more from this organisation to pass on to others.

  3. Stella

    I think your experiences are interesting to read in the context of the digital divide for NGO´s in Asia. And its also good to know how they communicate internally and share the relevant information with Facebook and Whats app. I am asking myself, how did they communicate for 10-15 years ago before social media was there? Via phone and fax. This is so different from today. Everyone has a smartphone and is totally integrated in the social media, even if you say that “digital facilities are not available to everyone” and many of these organizations can not afford hiring communication staff as well. But I think in the future that some devices will become cheaper and this will open up new possibilites for many NGO´s.

  4. Rudelene Nanette

    Thanks, Stella, for your comment. Yes, such an interesting time in history. I’m also a part of the WhatsApp group of this organisation and it is exciting how it is use to share information, resources or just to say thanks for the job well done. As the mobile phones get affordable and internet connections on phones are made easily available, many opportunities are laid infront of us to help the work we do.

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