Reliance Foundation and USAID’s Joint Initiative to Bridge Gender Digital Divide and Empower Women

Women and girls often have less access than men and boys to technology and the internet. According to the National Family Health Survey, only one in three women in rural India have ever used the internet, compared to 57% men. Inadequate access to digital technologies lowers women’s earning potential and affects their participation in society. 

The WomenConnect Challenge (WCC) India, a joint initiative by Reliance Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), aims to help bridge the gender digital divide. How? By supporting innovative solutions to improve women’s and girls’ access to technology. 

The first round of the challenge was launched in 2020, where ten organizations that were selected for the challenge, developed solutions to improve skills, confidence, and access to technology,  for positive social and economic outcomes, in a period of 12-15 months. Over 3 lakh women and girls will have benefited from the initiatives of the first round. 

For Round 2, Reliance Foundation will select up to 10 organizations that will receive funding of up to Rs. 1 crore. If you are a non-profit organization, with an idea to bridge the gender digital divide, you can apply for the challenge here. The last date to apply is 14 November 2022. 


Technology for empowerment

Sapna Singh (39), a resident of Dalelpur Village, Uttar Pradesh, is one of the women who benefited from WCC India, Round 1. She was able to overcome the digital divide and grow her business. Here’s her story – 

In 2020, Sapna struggled to run her dairy business during the pandemic. Earlier she would make payments to her suppliers and vendors through cash. However, there were bank restrictions and ATM closures which hindered her business. 

“I was stressed about how to pay people for the milk they sold me. How would people make their necessary payments if they didn’t receive the money? It then hit me that if I got acquainted with online transactions, I could send money to someone’s bank account directly,” says Sapna. 

Adapting to technology 

Slowly, she started to use smartphones and adapted digital transactions. Today, she not only runs her dairy business smoothly but also works as a community mobiliser for the Civil Society Organization, Solidaridad India, whose experts trained her in good dairy practices, and financial and digital literacy in 2021. This training was supported through the WomenConnect Challenge India, Round 1.  

Now, Sapna is convinced that technology could help liberate women economically. 

She says, “I know that the road ahead will not be seamless—dairy price hikes and probable new charges on UPI payments are likely to come up. But given the challenges I have already surmounted, I am confident that I will forge ahead. Financial independence is important for women and that is what I teach my 4-year-old daughter too.”

In the future, Sapna hopes to participate in more training programs and get acquainted with using a laptop. Additionally, she wants to spread knowledge among other women in her village and empower them. 

Women Connect Challenge Round 2

If you are an NGO with an innovative idea that can bridge the gender digital divide, you can apply for Reliance Foundation and USAID’s joint initiative – WCC India Round 2. Up to 10 organizations will receive funding of up to Rs. 1 crore each from Reliance Foundation, to implement solutions that close the gender digital divide and increase women’s economic empowerment using these strategies: 

  • Changing social norms and cultural perceptions 
  • Creating economic opportunities
  • Cultivating confidence 
  • Incorporating creative women-centric technology, and
  • Developing community support 
  • Eligibility criteria to apply

  • Applicants must be entities with a registered office in India. 
  • Organizations such as a foundation, trust, non-profit, or Section 8 company (or erstwhile section 25 company) with a track record of at least 3 years in related fields can apply. 
  • Applicants may apply as a partnership or a consortium. 
  • The projects proposed should not be longer than 12-15 months and should have the ability to demonstrate clear outcomes within the timeline.
  • Applications are also encouraged from: 

  • Diverse groups have clear, strategic, and collaborative models to tackle the complexity of the gender digital divide. 
  • Applicants that promote more gender-equitable access and safe usage of existing digital infrastructure (as opposed to solutions that necessitate new infrastructure.) 
  • Projects that address gender and digital safety, fraud and technology-facilitated gender-based violence. 
  • Projects that focus on the most socially and geographically marginalized. 
  • Organizations with women in leadership positions.
  • Click here to register for Round 2. The last date to apply is 14 November 2022. For more information, you can also watch this YouTube video



    Roshini Muthukumar

    Roshini Muthukumar, a native of Chennai, started her career as a content writer but made a switch to journalism to pursue her passion. She has experience writing about human interest stories, innovative technology, entrepreneurs, research blogs, and more. Previously, Roshini has done internships with The Hindu, Metroplus and worked as a correspondent with The Better India.