Knowledge Networks to Capacitate the Disadvantaged Communities

Filed under: March 2010 |


Nabil Eid

Knowledge Hubs in UN-ESCWA 

“The success of ICT projects in rural and disadvantaged communities depends on sustainability and the deployment of suitable infrastructure. ICT-related project should consider local needs and local skilled staff, or the adequate training and development of the local people. If such projects still depend on foreign staff and skills, then it is not a case of the transfer of technology, but that of ‘dumping’ of technology that is often outdated.”

Rural communities in Arab region are marginalised in this era of global integration by being denied access to ICTs. The direct effects of such marginalisation are:

  • The lack of information among disadvantaged communities – information that would enable them to make informed decisions about their own development.

  • The problem of the location of appropriate information, its delivery to the target user, and the coordination of its use by disadvantaged communities.

  • The lack of mechanisms that would enable disadvantaged communities to generate and share information with other communities for national and international development.

  • Disadvantaged community decision-making, conflict resolution and self-governance constraints on account of incomplete and often unreliable information. The need for capturing information from communities for effective development planning, governance and accountability.

    Main Objectives:

    The workshop titled “The Management and Sustainability of Knowledge Hubs” was organised in Khartoum from 11 to 14 January 2010. It was  organised in collaboration with and under the patronage of United Nations- Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (UN-ESCWA) and the Sudanese telecentre participating in the project, namely the Gedaref Digital City Organisation (GDCO).

    The main objective of the workshop was to empower disadvantaged communities by transforming selected ICT access points/telecentres into networked knowledge hubs by providing, developing, organising, sharing and disseminating knowledge in areas of sustainable development that includes issues related to persons with disabilities, retired and aged people, employment, education, gender and health, the project will improve the living standards of the targeted communities.

    Specifically, the workshop aimed at:

    • Bringing together telecentre managers from various parts of the ESCWA region in order to establish and consolidate relationships that will lead to the strengthening of the knowledge networks.

    • Familiarising telecentre managers with concepts and methods that are relevant to the goals of the workshop.

    • Training telecentre managers on establishment and management of small business ventures with a particular emphasis on the creation and sustainability of knowledge hubs.

    when designing an ICT access  system, due consideration must be given to the skills and capabilities of pensioners. Because of the ICT skills,  life has another meaning for them now. They are on the threshold of new vistas; their hopes and dreams did not end with retirement from job


    ICTs are opening up many new opportunities for citizens and consumers. There is a wide range of applications for them to take advantage of  like health care provision, transport systems, as well as innovative interactive systems for entertainment and learning. Innovations in ICT can help improve disease prevention and health care safety measures, facilitate active participation of patients and enable personalisation of care. It can also tackle problems associated with the aging population.

    Some major benefits accrued to the citizens through ICTs include connecting with friends and family, travel and the environment, education and training, working from anywhere, awareness and social connections. Also, it is providing some major benefits to persons with disabilities. ICT is enabling them to participate fully in the social and economic life of their communities. It’s a significant force in terms of giving choice and opportunity to the persons with disabilities.

    Generally, a wide realm of interested communities could benefit from this event in the long run, however, the direct beneficiaries can be listed as follows:

    • The local community and the marginalised

    •  Disadvantaged communities

    • Persons with disabilities

    • Elder and retired people

    Workshop proceedings

    The workshop was a success thanks to the Sudanese people and their kindness, hospitality and the welcome. It was  seen that, in fact, they have exerted sincere efforts to make this event possible. The programme was full of useful discussions and exchange of expertise and experiences among the  participants. They had extensive discussions on a variety of themes relevant to their main concerns. The participants were eager to collaborate and share their experiences. Seven Arab countries- Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Sultanate of Oman, Yemen and Sudan. from the ESCWA region participated in the workshop. The number of participants reached over 35. The workshop included presentations, panel discussions and hands-on training sessions. It covered the following issues:

    • A short introduction to the ideas, concepts, aims and objectives of the project targeting participants, who could not attend former meetings and workshops.

    • A training course on the management of small businesses that included sessions on planning and scoping, scheduling and time management, budgeting and cost management, quality management, human resource management, procurement management and risk management;

    • A session that introduced the ideas and concepts of entrepreneurship with emphasis on the creation and funding of micro businesses among the disadvantaged communities.

    • The activities of participating telecentres with special reference to telecentres attending their first project-related event.

    The workshop was attended by the telecentre managers linked to the “Knowledge Networks” and they shared their country specific telecentre related experience. Kenda Khoury from Syria presented on the importance of Computer Training Centres (CTC) in training persons with disabilities on ICTs. Their vision aims at achieving certain goals and focuses on addressing disability issues through ICTs. It also promotes the inclusion of the disabled through maximising and optimising the use of IT skills. She narrated the success stories of visually disabled and people with hearing impairment in the CTCs. She highlighted the vital importance of ICT tools in empowering and facilitating the use of language development activities. But there are still many challenges facing the telecentres, such as limited and insufficient finances and lack of specialised teacher training, limited flexibility in training options, limited availability of specialised hardware and software resources, and so on. Ahmed Eisa from Sudan presented his experiences with Gedaref Digital City Organisation (GDCO) and focused on persons with disabilities. He also explained the role of information society and it’s potentials to contribute more in the form of knowledge resources. He said, “The resources must be developed to meet the requirements of all people with disabilities in Sudan by overcoming the traditional barriers to mobility and geographic distance.”

    Success story from Sudan

    In this regard, it is worth sharing the success story of Huda and Hamza, a Sudanese couple. Huda suffers from  hearing disability. In spite of this disability, they are leading a successful married life. All the participants listened attentively to them. Huda used sign language to communicate and and her husband explained it in words. He exerted heroic efforts in bringing her back to normal life. Currently, she is studying fine arts at the Faculty of Fine Arts  in the University and her husband Hamza always helped her in studies. She used the computer for designing and decorating. The participants saw many examples of her work, which were fantastic. Huda was able to express herself clearly with the help of Hamza, who was a new light in her life.

    Site visit to Khartoum telecentres

    All the participants visited Al-Amal telecentre for hearing disabled people accompanied by the Minster of Education in Sudan and the chief of ICT division in ESCWA. The Al-Amal telecentre students with hearing disability organised their ideas and graphics and simulated writing as well as learning, thereby facilitating the learning of sign language. The participants came out with a positive feeling about their activities. They were especially impressed by their skills in using computer applications.

    It was followed by another visit to the retired people’s society, who are using ICTs to help retired people and make them feel comfortable in using computers. Knowledge of ICT is increasing the use of the Internet, but in terms of skills, pensioners continue to lag behind the younger generations.

    Therefore, when designing an ICT access  system, due consideration must be given to the skills and capabilities of pensioners. Because of the ICT skills,  life has another meaning for them now. They are on the threshold of new vistas; their hopes and dreams did not end with retirement from job. They gather in the telecentre to open new window on the world by surfing the Internet, chatting, writing articles on word processor, building ideas and getting involved with their community.

    Outcome of the workshop

    The main outcomes of the forum and workshop can be summarised as follows:

    • The review and assessment of ICT access points.

    • The development of a detailed implementation plan.

    • The selection of ICT access points and planning project activities.

    • The preparation of regional and global strategies on the transformation and networking process.

    • The design and implementation of a knowledge network portal.

    • Organising workshops aiming at building the capacities of telecentre managers.

    • The introduction of small business management concepts to telecentre managers, who were participating in the project.

    • Telecentre managers are expected to transfer this newly acquired knowledge to potential small entrepreneurs in the project’s target communities.

    • Building new telecentres for persons with disabilities.

    • Another outcome has been the selection of Nabil Eid from Syria as the Secretary of regional knowledge network in the ESCWA region to help and ensure the sustainability of knowledge networks beyond the lifetime of the project at hand.

    The workshop concluded with the following observation: “Let us work together, we are confident that we can, and we are very sure for a brighter future. We have a dream to make our world forever bright and green especially in the eyes of those marginalised people from the disadvantaged communities.”

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