The Fletcher School explores digital gender divide with Digital Portfolios of the Poor

The Fletcher School has partnered with social research pioneer Decodis for a study of risk and vulnerability in the digital lives of low-income populations in India, Pakistan, Kenya and Nigeria.
The Fletcher School at Tufts University explores digital gender divide with Digital Portfolios of the Poor

Medford, Massachusetts (Nov. 1st, 2022) – The digital gender divide presents a tremendous barrier to progress for the poor, particularly women – but by better understanding how people engage with technology, we can help design digital products and policies that reduce gender gaps. This is the focus of Digital Portfolios of the Poor, an innovative multinational study launched today by the Leir Institute for Migration and Human Security at The Fletcher School in partnership with social research firm Decodis, with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The study seeks to develop insights that will transform the digital environment of products and services tailored to the needs of low income and often first-time digital populations.

Over 18 months, Digital Portfolios of the Poor will develop insights into respondents' digital lives by collecting anonymous, self-reported data at scale about the use of different types of digital tools as well as their philosophies about the benefits and risks of using these tools. That is possible thanks to a new method developed and piloted by Dr. Daryl Collins, founder and CEO of Decodis. Working across India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Kenya, the project will listen to 1,000 research participants in each country. The resulting insights will help transform digital product development for low-income people, especially women. Among other issues, social norms can have an overbearing influence on digital use, which in turn prevents women from engaging fully in the digital world.

"Gender impacts digital lives. Our early research shows that women experience trust, risk, security and confidence in the digital world differently than men," said Collins, whose bestselling work Portfolios of the Poor established her leadership in elevating the voices and perspectives of vulnerable people.

"This forward-thinking project leverages tech-led social research to collect responses at scale in people's own languages and dialects. With a gender lens to better understand the nature of these trust deficits, we can better learn about the entire portfolio of digital services that low-income people use to shape confidence in participating in the digital ecosystem."

Digital portfolios offer researchers deep insights into people's perceptions of digital technologies through surveys and interviews that listen to respondents in their own languages, dialects and voices. Answering questions about how vulnerable people use digital technologies – and whether they recognize the benefits and risks inherent in their growing digital footprint – informs decision makers seeking inclusive and equitable product designs.

The innovative research method by Decodis combines Interactive Voice Recording (IVR), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and sociolinguistics to unveil the way people use their digital ecosystem to thrive – and where gender gaps lie.

In addition to Decodis and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Digital Portfolios of the Poor also includes valuable contributions from additional project partners, including Africa Instore Solutions (AIS), Copia, Gram Vaani, Learning Lions, Swahilipot Hub Foundation and Visions Magnet Theatre.

"Digital Portfolios of the Poor fits perfectly with the Leir Institute's mission of privileging the voices of vulnerable populations, focusing on local partnerships, and pioneering innovative methodologies to generate policy-relevant research on complex global problems," said Dr. Katrina Burgess, co-principal investigator and director of the Henry J. Leir Institute for Migration and Human Security at The Fletcher School.

"We are very excited to be partnering with Decodis and to have our graduate students be part of the research team as they prepare to become policymakers and practitioners who make a difference."

Digital Portfolios of the Poor In-person Launch Event
Date: November 16, 2022
Time: 6pm EDT
Location: Mugar Hall 200 at The Fletcher School, 160 Packard Ave., Medford, MA 02155 USA

Digital Portfolios of the Poor Virtual Launch – Americas
Date: November 30, 2022
Time: 12pm Los Angeles / 2pm Mexico City / 3pm New York
Location: Zoom Webinar (sign up below to receive the invite)

Digital Portfolios of the Poor Virtual Launch – Global
Date: December 1, 2022
Time: 6am New York / 11am London / 4:30pm Delhi
Location: Zoom Webinar (sign up below to receive the invite)

About Decodis

Social research company Decodis believes that actively giving people the space to express themselves as they wish – in their own language, in their own dialect, in their own voice – elevates our understanding of their lived experiences and opinions. Led by founder and CEO Dr. Daryl Collins, acclaimed author of Portfolios of the Poor, Decodis pioneered an approach centered around tech-led research methods that allows for the collection of scalable, cost-effective data. For more information, visit

About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people-especially those with the fewest resources-have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington, the foundation is led by CEO Mark Suzman, under the direction of co-chairs Bill Gates and Melinda French Gates and the board of trustees.

About The Fletcher School

For almost ninety years, The Fletcher School has worked to educate and prepare individuals for positions of national and international leadership and influence. Through a deep and multifaceted understanding of the world's most pressing challenges, and with the guiding principles of mutual benefit, security, and justice, our community endeavors to maintain the stability and prosperity of an increasingly global and complex world.

About the Leir Institute for Migration and Human Security

The Leir Institute for Migration and Human Security's mission is to help policymakers and practitioners develop more equitable and sustainable responses to migration and its root causes by employing a human security approach. It achieves this mission by connecting and creating synergies between experts on migration and experts on drivers of displacement; training current and future policymakers and practitioners to bring human security expertise and adaptive leadership skills to their work; and partnering with local NGOs and government agencies to build local capacity and produce applied research that uses innovative methodologies informed by the human security approach. The Leir Institute is based at The Fletcher School.

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