The case of an association of women workers in the informal economy

Vivi Mattsson

Master’s Thesis, 2022. Advisor: Patrick Shulist

Data governance is a hot topic in the corporate world, but traditional frameworks and policies may not work for organizations with different values and principles, like worker cooperatives in low-income and low-literate settings. Take the Megha Mandli agricultural cooperative in India, for example. They have a unique set of contextualized data attributes, community attributes, and governance rules that reflect their social and cultural values and local resource availability.

Data is collected and shared on an as-needed basis, so scarce resources are not wasted on redundant data. Some data is collected and shared digitally, while the rest is shared through off-line methods, mainly owing to the limited access to technologies within low-income communities. Limited access to technology means that instead of complex big data, future technologies should focus on elementary data that meets the resource capacity of low-income and low-literate cooperatives. 

Community attributes are also important, with worker-members taking on different leadership or educator roles that help pass on data insights to those who lack access to technology. However, high costs of data technology must be addressed to prevent members being completely dependent on leaders and educators to collect and share data insights. Considering that the community seeks to use data insights as a medium of women empowerment, it is imperative that future technologies must be affordable to access and simple to use. 

Capacity building is also important, as members may not fully understand data sharing practices, and data lacks culturally equivalent terms in low-income settings. To facilitate decentralized decision-making in data governance, programs like data privacy tutoring could be useful. 

India’s lacking data protection legislation tends to extend to its cooperatives as well. They employ informal norms of governance, such as data sharing based on values of trust, and informed consent through merely oral agreements. While ‘trust’ is an important value within the co-operative, it cannot be a sole governance mechanism in the future.  The cooperative must set clear ground rules for data sharing, access, and use, including defining responsibilities and processes for handling data-related accidents and misconduct.

Overall, data governance in low-income and low-literate cooperatives requires a unique approach that reflects their values, resources, and social and cultural contexts. By addressing these challenges, cooperatives can use data insights to empower marginalized members and support their communities.

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