Empowering Telecentres through Knowledge Sharing: the SATNET National Telecentre Workshop

Filed under: March 2010 |

March-2010

Dean Mulozi

Regional Facilitator
Southern Africa Telecentre Network
deanmulozi@yahoo.com


Background

Since the liberalisation of the telecommunication sector in 1994, Zambia witnessed significant growth in the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, specially in mobile telecommunications and currently, most of the rural districts have coverage. Despite this growth, access to ICT services, such as Internet and related technologies is more biased towards urban population, leaving out the rural areas that comprise over 65% of the country’s population. The rural communities mostly rely on shared ICT infrastructure and services offered through the community telecentres and/or Internet kiosks. However, the Zambian community telecentres are operating in isolation and their activities are not effectively coordinated. Very often, they do not benefit from each others experiences and best practices. Therefore, it is important to increase networking and coordination among community based telecentres to have overall impact on the lives of the local people and their development in general.

Objectives

With support from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), an EU Africa Caribbean Pacific organisation, Southern Africa Telecentre Network (SATNET), organised a national telecentre development workshop in mid December 2009. The key theme of the workshop was knowledge sharing and telecentre network development in Zambia. It deliberated on key challenges affecting the telecentre movement and identified the way forward for overall integration of ICTs and telecentre network development. It aimed at formulating concrete steps towards building sustainable telecentre network platform with a view to support increased collaboration and knowledge sharing among community based telecentres in Zambia. The workshop was attended by over 25 telecentre practitioners, managers, ICT organisations and government representatives from relevant development sectors drawn from rural and peri-urban areas of Zambia. The event was officially inaugurated by Lumana Soko, Director, Ministry of Communications and Transport, who encouraged participants to discuss critical issues and recommend practical steps that would facilitate increased ICTs use among the majority of the people particularly in rural areas in confirmance with the current Zambian ICT policy.

An overview of discussions

The participants represented civil society organisations and government agencies focused on ICT4D and telecentres development, such as the Zambia Association for Advancement of ICTs, Southern Africa Telecentre Regional Network, the Zambia Information and Communications Technology Authority (ZICTA), Copperbelt University School of Business and Zambia Development Agency (ZDA). The participants shared their experiences and expertise on the following topics:

Highlights, challenges and issues pertaining to ICT4D and rural telecentres in Zambia

This paper was presented by the SATNET representative and provided the workshop with some insights on the background and emergence of community telecentres in Zambia. Some of the key areas focused in the presentation included the value of ICTs to development and its potential impact in alleviating poverty in rural areas, the need for and common basic principles of how to start a community telecentre. Lastly, the presentation explained the importance and value of networks and this was substantiated through examples from other regions.

The role of telecentres in ICT awareness and economic development

The next presentation was made by the Copperbelt University School of Business representative, who explained how telecentres could play a role in providing ICT awareness and education to the local people. The paper made a reference to the research on Zambian telecentres carried out by the University. Furthermore, it proposed how the Copperbelt University can partner with the existing telecentres and the policy makers to come up with more viable, accessible and helpful Community Tele-service Centres.


The workshop deliberated on key challenges affecting the telecentre movement and identified the way forward for overall integration of ICTs and telecentre network development. It aimed at formulating concrete steps towards building sustainable telecentre network platform


The presentation noted that there is a need to identify telecentre services that best meet the needs of the local communities. Telecentres could become economically sustainable by offering highly targeted and affordable services. By reducing access costs and more closely aligning local needs to telecentre services, ICTs can play a much greater role in economic and social development.

Implications of knowledge sharing and information exchange among telecentres in Zambia

This paper implied the importance of information and knowledge exchange among urban and rural telecentres in Zambia. More emphasis was put on explaining how telecentre networks could benefit community based ICT centres. There was a growing need to create linkages among networks at the regional and international levels to increase telecentre impact on development. Exchange of innovative experiences and sharing of information provides a basic route towards achieving a knowledge society in Africa in general and in Zambia in particular. The need to establish a dependable telecentre knowledge platform at community and national levels could benefit existing telecentres. The presentation highlighted the values and opportunities provided by telecentre networks, such as facilitation of increased knowledge sharing and networking among telecentres, improved flow of information exchange, providing an axis for learning centre, sense of belonging, facilitation of access to resource support, facilitation of social and economic empowerment, contribute to stronger advocacy and bargaining and increasing linkages.


The presentation noted that there is a need to identify telecentre services that best meet the needs of the local communities. Telecentres could become economically sustainable by offering highly targeted and affordable services


Other presentations made at the workshop included the ‘Role of Zambia Investment Agency/ ZDA in supporting rural telecentres in Zambia’ and ‘The use of Universal Access Fund (UAF) in the development of rural telecentres’. The papers highlighted the roles of government agencies in providing capacity development to small and medium scale enterprises in rural communities. The ZDA facilitates investment opportunities for small scale entrepreneurs, such as community telecentres.

Participants’ observations

The participants made a number of observations during the plenary and group discussion sessions. It is important to identify community needs when starting-up telecentres, since they serve as agents of change in local communities. However it was noted that telecentres need adequate operational capacity, such as human, financial, technical and infrastructure in order to operate successfully.

Telecentres have huge expansion potential and operate with minimal competition in their respective locations. There is a necessity for increased partnerships between government and community based telecentres for releasing government information to local population and enhance access to funding for telecentres to increase their operations and service delivery capacities.

However, the participants indicated the need for telecentres to be profitable and sustainable in their operations through a review of service charges.


Macha Works, a rural development programme based in Southern region, runs a rural telecentre project in Southern and North Western region of Zambia, whose goal is to contribute to the deployment of rural multi purpose telecentres.


Exchange of rural ICT practices

As per the theme of the workshop, experiences from rural Zambian projects and organisations were also shared during the workshop. These included:

Telecentres and agricultural development

Darlington Kahilu, Agricultural Information Officer from the Northern region project under the National Agricultural Information Services (NAIS), a government agency, narrated the use of ICTs in disseminating agricultural information services to local farmers. The project encourages the use of ICT tools, such as radio and computers to facilitate this process. Farmer groups are established at respective centres, where they listen to radios and acquire agricultural information. Currently, the project is exploring ways to integrate telecentres to support agricultural information delivery to farmers in northern Zambia.

The role of telecentres in youth development in the rural regions of the Copperbelt Wandila Simon, a member of telecentre.org online community and a telecentre practitioner himself, informed participants about the value of telecentres in his project.

They are providing education and small enterprise development services to the ‘in school’ and ‘out of school’ youth. Telecentres are empowering the youth by providing them a variety of opportunities, such as information on online educational resources, e-Learning courses and social networking on issues of HIV/AIDS.

LINKNET multi-purpose community telecentre project

Macha Works, a rural development programme based in Southern region, runs a rural telecentre project in Southern and North Western region of Zambia, whose goal is to contribute to the deployment of rural multi purpose telecentres modeled around the Macha Linknet concept. The main beneficiaries are rural population, who use telecentres to access basic information services and resources. Fred Mweetwa informed the participants that the model comprises of telecentre infrastructure housed in containers. The container is refurbished with ICT equipments and accommodates 10 to 20 Internet users at one time. If the targeted site has no Internet Points of Presence (PoPs), a VSAT is incorporated to containers for increased bandwidth. The project trains rural people in the implementation, maintenance and use of technology and provision of services.

Development Organisation for People’s Empowerment (DOPE)

DOPE is an NGO based in Mpika rural district of Northern province and its mission is to facilitate development activities through the use of shared ICT infrastructure. Its model includes connecting the district with wireless network through which telecentres and other organisations can get connected and access Internet services. The concept of sharing the cost of Internet services reduces the burden on telecentres. The DOPE uses telecentres to provide social and economic information services. It emphasises on partnership with local organisations to achieve its goals.

In this way, during the plenary and group discussions, the participants deliberated upon the vast opportunities provided by the telecentres and also various challenges affecting their development, such as low literacy levels in the use of ICTs, especially in rural areas, high costs of telecentre set up, lack of ICT infrastructure in rural areas, high rates charged by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) affects service delivery, lack of capacity building support services, low management and technical expertise among telecentre practitioners, poor or no power/ energy access , especially in rural areas, difficulties in content development and access, which affect service delivery to clients, recognition of telecentres by government, lack of knowledge sharing opportunities among local communities.<hr/>

The participants recommended that Internet Service Providers interested in extending their operations in rural areas should be given tax incentives. It would encourage more private sector investments in rural areas for telecentre establishment.<hr/>
Workshop recommendations

The workshop provided the telecentre stakeholders with an opportunity to share their experiences, learnings and challenges faced in day to day telecentre management and operations. The workshop recommended the following activities to further strengthen the telecentre movement in Zambia. It suggested the following steps for telecentre and network development and policy influence:

For telecentre development, it recommended the promotion of exchange visits between rural and urban telecentres, increasing exchange of information among telecentres, resolving to establish a data base of Zambian telecentres, identifying sustainable business models for telecentres, increasing capacity building support in terms of technical skills and equipment maintenance support to telecentres, supporting content development, mobilising funding resources to support telecentre development.

For telecentre network development, it was strongly recommended that there is a need to establish a national telecentre network that would seek to resolve various challenges, promote sharing of experiences and increase knowledge exchange among telecentres. It was recommended that the national network will create a platform to strengthen the role of telecentres in national development by establishing clear operational structure, increasing collaboration among telecentres, creating an Online group, starting a help desk, scheduling contact meetings (quarterly and annual meetings), facilitating local and international telecentre exchange visits, contributing to financial resource mobilisation and policy implications.

The workshop recommended that government should provide backbone ICT infrastructure to rural areas to reduce reliance on satellite. They noted that the current tax procedures for importing ICT equipments need to be reviewed and they should be zero rated. Internet Service Providers interested in extending their operations in rural areas should be given tax incentives. It would encourage more private sector investments in rural areas for telecentre establishment. Participants observed that the process of accessing the government Universal Access Fund under ZICTA should be clear and shorter to encourage telecentre promotion. Telecentres should be given special preference in terms of their licensing and registration to facilitate speedy access to ICTs. It was recommended that the current ICT policy implementation should speed up to ensure effective coverage of ICTs to rural areas. The workshop also resolved to conduct advocacy activities in the areas of ICT4D, particularly telecentres. By the end of the workshop, a national network steering committee was elected comprising of nine steering committee members, and headed by a female as a national network chairperson.

PhilCeCNet Roadmap Online Consultation (April 2010)

The Philippine Community eCentre Programme Management Office (PhilCeC PMO) is holding an online consultation to draw a successor plan for the PhilCeC Programme Strategic Roadmap, 2008-2010. The consultation is organised on the PhilCeCNet online community (http://philcecnet.ning.com) under the PhilCeC Roadmap Online Consultation 2010 group. The online discussion, arranged around the four key pillars of the PhilCeC Programme, namely, Infrastructure, Content Development, Capacity Building, and CeC Development and Management, will run throughout the month of April 2010. While discussions on the first two pillars will be held from April 6 to 19, the latter two will be discussed from April 20-30. The online consultation will seek to highlight issues and concerns related to CeCs; propose strategies for addressing them and responding to the challenges; and determine new and innovative programmes and support systems for the CeCs. In short, it will help in determining the direction of the Philippines CeC movement from 2011-2016.

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