Learning and Sharing with Peers: The eAsia Telecentre Forum 2009

Filed under: Featured,March 2010 |

March-2010

Dil Piyaratna

Programme Head
Information Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA)
dil@icta.lk 

Overview

Asian region is currently home to thousands of telecentres, which provide many rural and disadvantaged communities with their first chance to go online, learn computer basics and away online services. In order to foster the development of the Asian telecentre movement, ‘Telecentre Forum has always been an integral part of eAsia, which is an  international ICT for development event with the objective of reinforcing technology and knowledge-centric growth and needs of Asia. This year, in December 2009, Information Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) was privileged to host eAsia 2009 in Colombo, Sri Lanka in partnership with Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies (CSDMS). The eAsia conference and exhibition, which was inaugurated by the President of Sri Lanka, was a fitting ending to an event filled year named as the ‘Year of IT and English’. Spanning over three days from 2nd to 4th December 2009, the event comprised of six unique thematic conferences,  plenary sessions with an  attendance of over 1000 foreign and local delegates and one of the largest ICT Exhibitions ever  held at BMICH, Colombo, Sri Lanka.

The Telecentre Forum

eAsia Telecentre Forum was focused on knowledge sharing among the new and emerging telecentre networks in the region. The forum also provided a platform for presentations and discussions on the key issues facing the Asian telecentre movement and the way ahead. It brought together over 30 speakers, 20 technical paper presentations and 150 delegates representing 16 countries including India, the Philippines, Nepal, Bangladesh, Uganda, Male, the USA, Canada, the U.K, Cambodia, Malaysia, Egypt, Spain, Brazil and Sri Lanka. There was active participation of representatives from government institutions, private sector, non-governmental organisations, academia, telecentre networks, grassroots level telecentre managers and operators, covering over thousands of  telecentres in the Asian region along with a large audience from the Nenasala Telecentre Network. As a result, it  created wonderful opportunities to support research and exchange of information among people working in the telecentre field.

Telecentre Forum sparkled among the rest of the tracks, as it created an ideal platform to discuss the best practices, access to ICTs, digital divide and creation of economic and social opportunities for the rural masses in the  Asian region. The Forum was constructed around ten sessions scheduled over two days.

The inaugural session of the Telecentre Forum, which was held on  3rd of December 2009 was dedicated to the theme “Telecentres and their role in socio-economic empowerment”. Basheerhamad Shadrach chaired the session and delivered the opening remarks.  Following his address, Tim Dubel, Director of Global Programmes and Community Affairs, Microsoft, USA, delivered the keynote address on ‘Telecentres for the socio-economic growth of the emerging markets’. Following his presentation, Ashis Sanyal, Senior Technical Director, Department of Information Technology, Government of India presented on the role of the Common Service Centres in India and their contribution to socio-economic empowerment. Kshanika Hirimburegama, Vice Chancellor, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka made a very valuable contribution to the session by presenting on a very appropriate topic titled, ‘the role of telecentres in reviving a knowledge-based agrarian society’.

The second session of the telecentre forum was dedicated to technical paper presentations on the topic ‘Current status of global telecentre movement’. The session was chaired by Aminata Maiga Fofana, President, Afriklinks GIE, Mali. During the session, Karim Kasim and  Purvi Shah from Egypt presented on  understanding the sustainability of telecentres: the Egyptian experience (IT Clubs).

Other presentations included   ‘Making Localisation Effective: User Guides and Training’ by Gihan Dias and Sanath Jayasena, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, University of Moratuwa, Sri Lanka; ‘Analysis of factors affecting the effectiveness of telecentres of Sri Lanka’ by L N A C Jayawardena and A D S Gunasekera, Sri Lanka; ‘Back to the community’ by Ismael Pena – Lopez, Spain; and ‘Up scaling and Replication: 150 Experiences’ by Niranjan Meegammana, Sri Lanka.

The third session of the day was arranged as a group discussion and the session theme highlighted the significance of the Asian telecentre movement and the role of networks and their future. Reshan Dewapura, Chief Operating Officer, ICTA, Sri Lanka chaired and moderated the session and invited Xuan Zengpei, Director, Information and Communications Technology and Disaster Risk Reduction Division, United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific to deliver the keynote address. Afterwards, Srinivas S Tadigadapa, World Ahead Programme, Manager for South Asia, APAC, Intel, Singapore; Meddie Mayanja, telecentre.org, IDRC, Canada and Dil Piyaratna, Programme Head, ICTA, Sri Lanka participated in the session as speakers to discuss and share their experiences. The group discussions covered a number of issues that aimed to consider the role that  telecentre networks, namely, Asia-Pacific Telecentre Network (APTN) and telecentre.org can play in empowering the telecentre movement in the future. The discussion topics included the significance of telecentre networks, requirements of training and capacity building, strengthening regional cooperation and partnership, sustainability of telecentres and networks, among others.

The fourth Session of day one, ‘Impact of Mobile telephony on telecentres’ was chaired by Tenzin Norbru, Senior ICT Policy Specialist, World Bank and the keynote address was delivered by Priyantha Kariyapperuma, Director General, TRC, Sri Lanka. Speakers like Rumy Mallik Mitra, National Programme Manager, NASSCOM Foundation, India; Simon Batchelor, President, Gamos Ltd., United Kingdom; Harsha Liyanage, Managing Director, Sarvodaya Fusion, Sri Lanka; and KK Gunawardena, Consultant – Telecommunications, Sri Lanka enlightened  the gathering on this very interesting topic.

During the fifth session, which was dedicated to technical paper presentations on the topic ‘New trends and innovations in technology for telecentres’, Danny Nagdev and Ashutosh Sharma from India took the opportunity to share their experiences on ‘Greener and Affordable telecenters’ and following their presentation, Ananya Raihan, Executive Director, D.Net, Bangladesh spoke on ‘Community Empowerment through ICTs: with Evidences from Grassroots in Bangladesh’.


Srikanth has set up an innovative enterprise that aims to make a positive social impact by offering benefits to the society, such as employment opportunities


The first session of Day two was dedicated to ‘Building capacity among telecentre operators for sustainable telecentres’. The session was chaired and moderated by Latha Pillai, Pro Vice Chancellor, Indira Gandhi National Open University, India. The keynote address was delivered by  Basheerhamad Shadrach. The session was enriched by presentations delivered by speakers, such as Jose Avando Sales, Director General, Association of Telecentre Network, Brazil; Harsha Wijeyawardhana, Consultant, University of Colombo School of Computing, Sri Lanka; Kamolrat Intaratat, Director, Thaitelecentre.org Academy, Thailand; and  Ashis Sanyal.

The 2nd session of Day two was allocated to technical paper presentations with the session theme: ‘Case studies of innovative application and practitioners of the global telecentre movement’.

Mahmud Hasan, Chief Operating Officer, Bangladesh Telecentre Network, Bangladesh chaired the session, while Raman V. Machiraju and Balwant Singh Mehta from India got the opportunity to present papers on ‘Telecenters through Community Based Organizations (CBOs)’. Further, Rehab Yehia, ICT for SMEs Project Manager, ICT Trust Fund, Egypt also delivered a presentation on ‘ICT for SMEs’.

Nenasala highlighted at the Telecentre Forum

The remaining two paper presentations were done by Nenasala (telecentre) operators from Sri Lanka. Their work, mingled with the essence of passion to serve the community, innovative thinking and best practices for telecentres, can serve as global examples. S Srikanth, Nenasala Manager and Operator from Koslanda Neansala, located in a remote village of Sri Lanka, presented on the challenges and achievements of his Nenasala. He has set up an innovative enterprise that aims to make a positive social impact by offering benefits to the society, such as employment opportunities for disadvantaged communities like rural women and physically handicapped people. Srikanth explained the way he established Koslanda Nanasala with the support given by ICTA and how he developed his Nenasala into a trusted business outsourcing service provider in the burgeoning field of international commerce by establishing rural BPO service centres, which are staffed and managed by rural women and the physically handicapped, who could proudly earn income in their own homes and villages.

Following Srikanth’s presentation, MA Pemalatha and  Bimal Prasad from Sevanagala Nenasala narrated the success story of the project ‘Srilankajobs.net’: an online Job Bank, which provides job opportunities in Public and Private sectors with relevant application forms, online applying procedures, information on vocational training opportunities, and mutual transfer request facility for government employees, etc. They further explained how srilankajobs.net was able to reach the rural marginalised communities through the 600 Nenasalas distributed across the island, and provide relevant job information to the job seekers in rural areas. At the same time, srilankajobs.net has provided the opportunity to the employers to publicise their vacancies at every level of the community and attract the best human resources according to their needs. Pemalatha and Bimal Prasad thanked ICTA and Samurdhi Authority of Sri Lanka (a Government Body established for the alleviation of poverty in Sri Lanka) for their support in facilitating the deliverance of this valuable service to the community and making the project a success. At the end of the session, Nenasala presentations were highly appreciated by the participants as it led to innovative thinking and showcased the multiple roles that telecentres could play in the global telecentre movement.

The third session of day two titled as ‘Empowering telecentres with appropriate content and services for the next five years’ was chaired and moderated by Juddha Gurung, Member-Secretary, High Level Commission on Information Technology, Nepal.

Vignesh Sornamohan, Controller, Drishtee Inc, India; Allen Tuladhar, Chairman, Forum on Information Technology, Nepal; and Angelo Juan Ramos, Chairman, PhilCeCNet, Philippines delivered presentations and had a lively discussion with the participants.

The closing session of the telecentre forum was dedicated to discuss, ‘The global telecentre movement and their lessons for Asia’. The session was chaired by Sriyan de Silva Wijeratne, Country Manager for Microsoft, Sri Lanka and the key note address was delivered by Florencio Ceballos, telecentre.org, IDRC, Canada. The session successfully concluded with contributions by experts. Speakers included Sherif el Tokali, telecentre networks in the Middle East and North Africa, UNDP, Egypt; Tess Camba, Director, Field Operations, National Computing Centre, the Philippines; Ravi Gupta, Executive Director, CSDMS and Chief Editor of the Telcentre Magazine, who related his valuable experiences in  telecentre forums in other eAsia conferences as well as his knowledge on telecentres. While delivering the closing remarks, Harsha Wijewardena, the Telecentre Forum Chair and Dil Piyaratna, Telecentre Forum, Coordinator expressed their sincere appreciation to all the speakers and delegates on behalf of the organising committee for participating in and contributing to the Telecentre Forum and for making it a huge success at Asia’s Premier ICT event: eAsia 2009.

Key Outcome of the  Telecentre Forum

Throughout the Telecentre Forum, different aspects of the recent expansion of telecentres were discussed and highlighted. One of the significant factors was that the telecentre forum generated a ripple effect by paving the way for mutual knowledge exchange among the participants. In other words, the forum was a gathering of peers which was also more interactive and participative. Further, the participants got the advantage of an ideal opportunity for exhilarating collegial exchange and knowledge sharing. On the other hand, the telecentre forum examined a number of models, best practices, and other possible ways in which it can influence the global telecentre movement, thus securing sustainability and establishing telecentres as a reliable public service.

Further, all the themes allocated to the telecentre forum were focused on how telecentres can play an efficient and effective role among their respective communities. During the sessions it was evident and emphasised that telecentres can be recognised as a mechanism to alleviate the problem of  digital divide. The telecentre forum discussed both positive and negative aspects associated with the telecentre movement as well. Despite the promising development opportunities, telecentres have also been accompanied with major criticism, especially for not being sustainable. In response to this criticism, this telecentre track brought out varied solutions, such as different ownership and financing models for telecentres, emphasising the balance between subsidy and revenue. It examined how these models can assist in ensuring long-term financial sustainability and how both the private sector and civil society can be mutually involved in the process. By the end of the telecentre forum, all the participants agreed to the fact that ‘telecentres are a development mechanism’. It was reiterated that telecentres are now becoming part of national roll-out programmes in many countries throughout Asia.

The ‘Resource Mobilisation Workshop for Telecentre Networks in Asia

The ‘Resource Mobilisation Workshop for Telecentre Networks in Asia’ was organised by Asia Pacific Telecentre Network (APTN) Secretariat in cooperation with telecentre.org at the Taj Samudra Hotel, Colombo, Sri Lanka on 1st December 2009. The workshop was the first large scale activity of APTN, which was set up as an initiative of UN-ESCAP, which is working towards creating a platform for telecentre networks, to share experiences on issues of their interest (content, sustainability, connectivity, etc.) and to cooperate on the development of solutions for common problems of the telecentres themselves in order to empower poor and disadvantaged communities with Information and Communication Technology (ICT) in the Asia Pacific Region. The main objective of the Workshop was to educate telecentre activists to create a strategy for sustainable telecentres by using an appropriate fund raising mechanism and applying suitable business models in their telecentres or telecentre networks.

Vivien Chiam, Program Officer, IDRC, Singapore, delivered the welcome address and explained the purpose of the workshop. Following her address, the workshop was conducted by Basheerhamad Shadrach, currently the Executive Director, telecentre.org Foundation. The workshop was organised and conducted in an innovative manner with priority to interactive participation and knowledge sharing. The whole day programme consisted of three distinct segments: Telecentre Idol Competition, Telecentre Talk Show and Telecentre Open Clinic.

The Workshop was attended by over 80 representatives of various telecentre networks; telecentre leaders, telecentre operators, knowledge workers and stakeholders from India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Indonesia, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Kazakhstan, Malaysia, Maldives, Pakistan, Nepal, Philippines and Thailand. In addition, there were telecentre experts from all over the world as well as representatives of IDRC, ICTA, Microsoft Sri Lanka and telecentre.org.

The first session of the workshop, ‘Asia Telecentre Idol Competition’ was conducted and managed by Basheerhamad Shadrach. The twenty contestants were selected and divided into four groups and each group was assigned a captain. The groups competed in two rounds where they had to answer two competition questions: What is the best way to raise funds for telecentres in the future? And, what is the best business model for telecentres in the future? The groups were requested to respond through a song, drama, dance, mime or any other creative form. The captains gave their comments after each group presentation and a public voting was held to determine the winner for each round.

The second session of the workshop, ‘Telecentre Talk Show’ was chaired by Mayan Quebral and Murray Culshaw. The session was moderated by Vivien Chiam. The talk show discussions covered two major issues that are crucial to telecentre sustainability in rural areas. Topics of the talk show included strategies for fund raising from private investors and the best communication strategies for fund raising.

The third session of the workshop was the ‘Telecentre Open Clinic, which provided a platform to the participants to consult individually about their telecentre related concerns with the experts for fifteen minutes each. Participants had the opportunity to discuss problems within their telecentres, share their views and experiences during their respective individual consultation sessions.

At the end of the workshop, winners of the Telcentre Idol competition were announced. The categories were Winning group, Runner up and third place. The winning group (5 members) received Compaq Laptops as gifts, Runner up group received Sony digital cameras and the rest of the competitors received DVD players and portable hard drives as gifts. The winners received their gifts (laptops) at the eAsia Gala dinner held in the evening at the Taj Hotel.

Evaluation

The participants commended the workshop as a success and they learnt a lot from the experts as well as from each other’s experience. They were appreciative of the fact that the workshop was organised in an innovative and participatory manner. The Participants were of the view that APTN and telecentre.org should organise similar workshops in future for the benefit of the telecentre movement in Asia. The participants recommended that the topics focused in the workshop were relevant and crucial for the telecentre movement as they addressed core issues that affect telecentre sustainability. The participants expressed their appreciation of APTN and telecentre.org for organising the Workshop, which greatly enhanced their knowledge on fund raising from the private sector and effective communication channels that can be used for fund raising for the telecentres in future. Vivien Chiam

Inviting Contributions for Book on 1000 Ideas to Make Telecentres Work

 As public access centres, telecentres are continuously experimenting with new ideas in the areas of content, services and technology to broaden their reach and also enhance their relevance and acceptability within the community. There are many such instances where telecentre leaders have used indigenous ideas to make their telecentres more responsive to the needs of the community being served along with making it economically sustainable for themselves.

Such telecentres and practices have the potential of becoming role models for the global telecentre movement, but it is realised that often such stories go unnoticed due to the lack of appropriate dissemination platforms and mechanisms. To address these issues and highlight the innovations and success stories in the telecentre domain, telecentre.org and Centre for Science, Development and Media Studies (CSDMS) have conceptualised a book on ’1000 ideas to make telecentres work’, which used to be a very popular section of the ‘telecentre magazine’. The Editorial Team of this book is led by Dr. Basheerhamad Shadrach, Executive Director, telecentre.org Foundation with support from telecentre magazine team. This publication would serve as a valuable resource and guide on the best practices in the telecentre domain and distributed across telecentre networks. In this regard, telecentre.org and CSDMS are making a joint appeal to all telecentre practitioners, researchers and stakeholders to support them in identifying such stories and contributing to the book. The contributors are requested to write such stories around the following template:

1. The Idea- An explanation of the original concept around which the project is conceived.

2. The idea originator- The person who conceived the idea and implemented the project based on this (photograph and brief profile)

3. The idea in practice- A description of how the project is being implemented on the ground.

4. Idea replication potential- Whether the project could be replicated within a certain region or globally.

5. Idea replication tips (for telecentres and telecentre networks)- It would include ‘why to replicate’, ‘who can do this’ (also suggesting relevant partnerships for idea implementation) and ‘how to proceed’.

 The contributions of the idea originator and the story writer (if s/he is other than the idea originator) would be acknowledged in the book. The stories should be narrated in approximately 1000 words. The contributors are also requested to send at least five High Resolution pictures to accompany the stories. For stories to be included into the book, it is important that the ideas are actually being implemented on the ground.

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