31 Jul 2009

E3 - 2: The formation of Telecenters Sustainability Networks

If sustainability gives a meaning of continuation of existence, it also gives a demanding target to exist forever. Which of course a question to me as our experiences are only 3-4 years; But there is a common consensus that sustainability is a result of continues evolution like evolution of mankind and science.

For Telecenters to sustain or to continue existance, they should continue to evolve in their communities, regions and nations as networks. As we have experienced, this process of evolution does not happen automatically like the human evolution was not automatic, in history many actors had made it happen. From Invention of the wheel to communication satellites evolution continued and will continue to future. Telecenters are also an invention, therefore needs to evolve to become sustainable and actors to make it happen.

The question is that "how do we facilitate this evolution?". Four years ago when we setup first VGKs, they were aimed to provide ICTs for the rural communities as a means to bridging digital divide. At the beginning Teaching MS Office was a cash cow. Access to internet was a luxury and mobile phones were a few. Now after four years so many people have learnt MS office, use mobile phones and use computers at home with broad band. The market is drying up for traditional ICTs and still there are poor people who are unable own ICTs. Unless Telecenters offer better courses and services, they are not able to make adequate revenue to pay their staff, pay utility bills and mange other expenses.
This means change. A change of Nenasala sustainability model and how they are to be supported ?, what norms to be made ? and plan for expected impact.
But how?

Before answering this titanic question, which of course has many answers, I think it’s better to understand little bit of background of Nenasala in local context.

In Sri Lanka ICTA under the president office lead the Telecenter establishment. The initial pilot was 20, and later planned to scale up to 200. The first 20 setup had much equipment and support. Then, ICTA reached 500 Telecenters by speeding up the process, The new model did cut down on equipment. In Uva province 28.3% Nenasala provided only two computers.

The first ones were provided with 4 PCs and newer ones given 3 PCs. Lack of photocopiers and multi media projectors were a major concern among operators. "If we have Multimedia projectors we can reach non ICT community like farmers and women" Mural Krishna a well sessoned Nenasala operator says. However general impression in Sri Lanka for Nenasala are improving now. People are begining to accept Nenasala exsistance as they are serving some of their needs. This increased distribution, reach and penetration of Nenasala into rural communities commended by Worldbank and greatly appreciated by community, and specially children benefitted impact in e education, Nenasala becoming a breeding ground for future professionals of our nation is becoming a reality.

Although 587 Nenasala were established, Some locations have no internet access. This may be due to informal processes influenced by different socio economic and political factors. During E3 the Uva Nenasala Internet access availbility grew from 40% to 79% which is much higher figure compared to other regions. However non of the Telecos were able to cover locations Balagolla, Anadaulpotha, Wekumbura like remote places who continue a good community service even without internet access.

The sustainability was never a question for Nenasala owners at the start as they got all equipment, internet access and technical services free from the state agency ICTA. Some argue we would have thought sustainability first, and some say the more distribution and numbers is much better. My point of view is that quality in establishment can achieve both as each motive has it’s pros and cons. However this is a tough ask in a country where development is mixed with political will, state beurocracy and local community needs. Nenasala have to satisfy all is a big ask.

Uva province 40% of Nenasala are setup on Temples, 20% are privately owned and rest are managed by CBOs and NGOs. One interesting finding is that It's the Most of the Temples based Nenasala are the leaders in the network achiving both financial profitability and social sustainability. The poorest ones are CBOs as well as large NGOs who lack focus on Nenasala. This actually influnce us to setup more Nenasala in Temples and break misbelief that large NGOs and CBOs are the best form of ownership.

The designers thought as rural communities lack access to ICTs, the demand for ICTs will be created to make Nenasala becoming self sustainable. This has become an illusion, as many Nenasala needing some sort of external support to continue. Eureka in Ethimale Nenasala says “We did a promotion, some people came initially and dropped, and now we wait , people are not coming” She and her friend open Nenasala situated in a corner of the village everyday and wait for a new customer to come in. They have a near by school with no computers but has over 400 students including secondary education students. They have never made a promotion in School or event didn’t talk to principal about it. Someone has to help them to make the bridge. That peice of support can change their form of sustainability.

As we studied, the support needs of Nenasala vary by type and scale in the areas of Technical support, training, financial assistance, internet access, content and services as well as mentoring. As an example a financially profitable Nenasala like Bibile, Haldummulla and Thanamalwila need assistance in business planning, obtaining a credit card, writing a project proposal, small loans and sometimes they just need someone to talk.

We can continue to argue why not all Telecenters establishments deliver expected results? But I think the learned lessons are more important to develop sustainability strategies. This requires inclusion of all key players and openness. As an example giving life back to VGK Focus Group (Now Nenasala) could be a good Start.

One major factor affected Nenasala was shrunk in local economy due to war recently ended. Lack of local content and lack of cash in their communities was also a problem. But some ask question how can people have no money if they have such a number of mobile phones. They say over 9 million phones in Sri Lanka. I think the growth of mobile phone is a talking lifestyle rather than a information need. I am not yet convinced that mobile phones are a threat to Telecenters.

Some Nenasala did well taking advantage of their location but many faced an issue of charging from their communities. Chief priest Kandewinna said “People know that, we get free services from the government and how can we charge people as a temple”. This is true in cultural aspect, but not logical in business aspect. We need to find a solution rather than pushing Kandewinna for getting money. One way is to make nenasala owned by community, who can invest in it. But this means sharing of ownership, which is still a question.

Another problem was local youth leaving village for popular jobs easily available in garment sector and Army. These jobs do not require ICT skills. Nenasala owners faced a problem to find volunteer operators. I mean people who work for free until some money is made and get a small portion of what they made. No one considered Nenasala Operation as a permanent employment. Some efforts to bring people from outside village did not work as they did not continue to come. Plan international assisted Therulla Nenasala finding a Teachers for the Nenasala, 40 students registered and dropped to 5 when class fees were demanded. The teacher stopped coming. Nenasala went back to still state.

This requires Nenasala movement to re-consider volunteer model and find ways to transform it to a volunteer but a professional development model. "Protect Nenasala operators to protect Nenasala" a blog wrote was well appreciated by Nenasala operators. Professional development of Nenasala operators is one major area we focused on E3. We have been able to keep many operators in the movement as we formed an community association for them and leadershio training helped them to hang on to the network built by E3 process. I can't imagine any process which can succeed, if it exclude simpact community at strategic decision making level. We need to make grass root empowerment a reality not an illusion for sustainability. E3 from day one, designed to empower grass roots, although it's tough task and a big ask to achive.

We found that every Nenasala focused on kids who loved to play with computers. But they did not make much income as the kids could not pay from their pocket. When I asked Dilhani, Balagolla Nenasala, Why they are making less revenue when 60+ students using Shilpa Sayura. She said “There is a monthly payment of Rs 100/=, but when we ask for it. They stopped coming, therefore we don’t press for payments”. When we deployed Shilpa Sayura which made their users grew in numbers, yet less revenue as the village is a corn growing poverty pocket which is one of the poorest AGA divisions in Sri Lanka. My friend Nuwan in Bibile Nenasala, may not agree on the principals of democracy, But we need a special package for sustainability of these Nenasala who help make social change in a location we need to change.

Among 60 Nenasala researched for an Year, we learned many stories what impact Telecenters sustainability. Location of Telecenter is a great impact on financial profitability, how ever social impact depended on certain factors which sometimes lapsed in financially successful Telecenters. I remember my ICT4D friend Rajiv Ranjan who is gone missing in somewhere in Africa, once said at e Society focus group that “If state money is spent on Nenasala, They should focus on social impact rather than business”. I bring out this little stories to suggest that Sustainability is an evolution and it has several forms and faces which we have to unleash by more research and development. E3 is just that.

Some people suggest that It's hard for Telecenters to achive social impact and financial profitability. I agree that It is a challenge but believe it can be done, proved with examples of Talakumbura, Mahiyangana, Girandurukotte, Siyambalanduwa Nenasaala which were closed when E3 first moved into Uva province, after an year they have become Network Leaders. Each one is distinct by location, community and culture. What made them become excellent Nenasala and Network contributors is a real area for research. To start with it's a result of e-leadership development. I got the idea of e-leadership from Dr. Naggy Henna, but focus was changed to make leaders at the bottom of the pyramid.

In Uva Nenasala Network, majority of Nenasala who sustained, did well in the social context first. Actually, I didn’t know anyone with a business plan when started E3. Talakumbura Nenasala serving over 100 children and charged no fee, sustained. Balagolla, Kandewinna and Wekumbura Nenasala continued to exist even without internet, less than Rs 3000/= revenue using volunteer services. Thanamalwila Nenasala ICT scholarship program for poor children, Hingurukaduwa e village innovation, Siyambalanduwa teaching English on Skype, Heeloya providing better seeds for farmers, Mahiyangana developing school drop offs are finest examples of social sustainability. E3 would like to study each of these cases in deep for higher learning of Telecenter sustainability.

RIT assignment we were involved in was one of the key strategies of ICTA to improve Nenasala Sustainability. It had a clear goal what the assignment was to achieve. The ICTA RFP said “Nenasala would be able to generate sufficient revenue to ensure its sustainability in the long term". Is a clear statement of state policy on Nenasala sustainability which is looked at a long term impact. Our mission was to create a foundation within assignment period for ensuraing long term Nenasala sustainability, in which we believed that ideas for a foundation for long term sustainability doesn’t come from sky. It has to evolve from the impact community on a collaborative vision. This is where building human networks became most important. As a techie, I have build networks that flow information and communication needed for business, but human networks to sustain Telecenters was a new challenge. E3 found a solution to build human networks among Telecenters, which will serve as the sustainability network for Nenasala.
E3 was the process of building this foundation was layed not actually by us, but Telecenter Operators trained and empowered through


Read how we did it from my next blog in the E3 series.

Niranjan Meegammana

28 Jul 2009

E3: How e-learning, e business and e Leadership Join in for Sustaining Telecenters ?


is an idea evolved through Shilpa Sayura Experiences and learned interactions in e-India 2007, followed by GK3 and Stockholm Challenge 2008 which expanded our world of ICT4D. We began to redefine boundaries of our knowledge. Having interacted with Nenasala closely, we found that Telecenters needed something special for long term sustainability. In Sri Lanka many of the Telecenters has taken up ICT literacy development model for sustainability, which is a natural tendency and seems ok when government subsidized the internet access and technical services, however Nenasala have to stand their own, but how?

We began to question ourselves to find out how Telecenters can rise as successful enterprises. How they could be a unique resource in their communities? Talking to farmers, women, youth and professionals, we found that a change in Nenasala model is the need of the hour.

I could frankly say, visiting DSV and meeting Earl Mardle, Bjorn Peterson, Prasad Jayaweera, Love Ekenberg, Henrick Hanson, Peter Mozellius was a major turning point in E3 idea evolution.

Being in private sector for a long time and e learning experiences from Shilpa Sayura, We thought that Nenasala Telecenters can generate revenue from e learning and e business and provide leadership for social change as a sustainability strategy. Everyone thought it’s a good idea, but where it could be applied to find answers and How E3 could be proved as a hypothesis was a mind blowing challenge.

We had an opportunity to work on our own backyard with ICTA Regional Impact Team Assignment which aimed at sustaining 60 Nenasala Telecenters in Uva Province. E3 was our designed strategy for Telecenter Sustainability. That was how E3 concept for Telecenter Sustainability got realized. Since June 2009, we had been researching E3 to enhance our learning on Telecenter Sustainability.

After a year we have interesting results, important findings and new questions which we want to share with concerned Telecenter community. We will be presenting E3 in e-India 2009 to initiate a discussion among Telecenter community on E3 and it’s global applicability as an adaptable, replicable framework to sustain Telecenter Networks.

This is my first post of a series of blogs which I intend to write to create space for E3 discussion and I hope both my Research paper on E3 and this blog series will complement each other. Still at early stages of learning E3 provides us an insight into future of Telecenter Networks, that cater e-learning, e business and e Leadership to develop a knowledge society.

The E3 idea is simple for anyone to grasp, but the questions in our hand are how we use E3? what tools and methods that will make Telecenters sustain with E3. These questions to be answered from more research and application of what we learn for development.

In my next blogs I intend to further elaborate on E3 framework and it’s building blocks and how them impact in real ground situations in Telecenter Sustainability.

Niranjan Meegammana

“Truth is what stands the test of experience.”
-Albert Einstein

22 Jul 2009

නවගොවියා - ICT 4 Modern Agriculture ප්‍රධාන මං සලකුණක් !

නවගොවියා ව්‍යාපෘතියේ එක් ප්‍රධාන මං සලකුණක් තමා නැණසළ ක්‍රියාකරුවන්, කෘෂිකර්ම ගුරුවරුන් හා දක්‍ෂ ගොවීන් 100 ක් එකතුකර දින හතරක් පුරා පැවැත්වූ e-Agriculture පිළිබඳව දැනුවත් කිරීමේ වැඩමුළුව.

පේරාදෙණිය විශ්වවිද්‍යාලයේ මහාචාර්ය බුද්ධි මාරඹේ ප්‍රමූඛ කෘෂිකර්ම පීඨයේ ආචාර්ය මණ්ඩලය තමා තිරසාර හා ආර්ථිකව සපලදායී කෘෂිකර්මය පිළිබඳව නවගොවියා මූලික පාඨමාලාව සැකසූවේ. සිංහල හා දෙමළ භාෂාවෙන් නිමාව නැණසළ මගින් ගොවින් වෙත ලඟාවන නවගොවියාගේ අරමුණ සිංහල හා දෙමළ භාෂාවෙන් e Learning තුලින් ගොවීන්ට නවීන දැනුම ලබාදීම.

කාලයක් තිස්සේ මාත් ගොවි තානාපති වසන්ත දුග්ගන්නාරාළත් එක්වී කළ මේ ව්‍යාපෘතිය අප හැමට අළුත්ම අත්දැකීමක්. විශේෂයෙන් නැණසළේ තරුණ ක්‍රියාකරුවන්ගේ සහයෙන් ග්‍රාමීය කෘෂිකර්මය නංවාලීමටත්, නැණසළ හා තොරතුරු තාක්‍ෂණය ගොවීන් අතර ජනප්‍රිය කරවීමටත් නවගොවියා උදවි වේවි. නුදුරු කාලයේදීම නවගොවියා අන්තර්ජාලයේ නිදහස් වෙනවා.

නවගොවියා ICTA e-SDI සහයෙන් CIC Agribusiness, efusion, Peradeniya University, Nenasala, Shilpa Sayura සහ තවත් විද්වතුන් එක්කළ ව්‍යාපෘතියක්. ගොවියන් හට විශ්ව විද්‍යාල හරහා නවීන කෘෂිකර්ම දැනුම ලබාදීමෙන් ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ කෘෂිකර්මය තිරසාර සහ ආර්ථිකව සපලදායී කරවීමට දායක වීම සතුටක්.

ගොවීන්හට ඉහළම දැනුම ලබාගැනීමට තිබෙන පහසුකම් අඩුයි. වසර පණහක් ගොවිතැන් කළත් ගොවීන්ට පිළිගත් සහතිකයක් නෑ. මාස තුනක "නවීන කෘෂිකර්මය" පිළිබඳ පදනම් පාඨමාලාවක් (Foundation Course) ලෙසින් මෙය සංවර්ධනය කිරීමෙන් ඒ සඳහා මුල්වන්නට අපට පුළුවන්.

පාරිසරික සමතුලිත තාවය හා ආහාර සුරක්‍ෂිතභාවය සඳහා තිරසාර කෘෂිකර්මය ඉතා වැදගත්. ඒ සමඟම බලශක්ති අර්බුදයටද නවීන කෘෂිකාර්මික පිළියම් තිබෙනවා. ඒ සඳහා ග්‍රාමීය ප්‍රජාව යොමුකරවීමද නවගොවියා දීර්ගකාලීන අරමුණක්.

නිරංජන් මීගම්මන
ශිල්පසයුර සහ නවගොවියා

Navagoviya – e learning for farmers through Telecenters

Navagoviya - ICT for Modern Agriculture Project is a Public, Private Community Collaborative in Sri Lanka to develop farmers, providing local language e learning courses in modern Agriculture. The project aims to develop new farmers who would popularize modern farming knowledge in rural communities and encourage sustainable agriculture practices using appropriate technology and practices.

As a Telecenter based e-Agriculture initiative, Navagoviya aimed at developing new breed of farmers who would be motivated to transform traditional farming practices into sustainable agriculture with a greater concern for environment sustainability. Navagoviya implemented by CIC Agribusiness with ICTA e-SDI partnership assistance grant of Rs. 4.5m, partnering with University of Peradeniya, Nenasala Telecenters, e Fusion and Shilpa Sayura.

The 587 inter connected Nenasala Tele Center Network established in rural communities is a great potential as a Modern Agriculture Knowledge Center. The project has produced electronic content and an e Learning website for farmers to acquire Modern Farming Knowledge in local language. A group of Telecenter Leaders are being trained as e learning facilitators for the first foundation course in Modern Agriculture.

Speaking at the workshop held from July 17-20, in Kandy to train Nenasala operators on e-Agriculture, Professor Buddhi Marambe, Dean of Agriculture Faculty, University of Peradeniya said "This course designed as the foundation in modern agriculture with concerns for environment, economy and food security and provide a base for future agriculture education."

"Navagovia.org will go live in mid August as one of the most innovative projects implemented in Sri Lanka for modern agriculture development in rural communities" says project director Wasantha Duggannarala.

”This is real good product and opportunity for us to expand Nenasala services to farmers offering e learning in modern agriculture course” Thaminda Balasooriya Nenasala Operator said. Chathuri, A female Nenasala operator from Polonnaruwa said “We can develop female farmers to improve their home gardening with Navagoviya”. All Nenasala operators, Teachers, Farmers took part in the training expressed their deepest satisfaction for the 4 day course on e-Agriculture. They were able to learning something new, exchange knowledge and learn from best Agriculture Experts in the country. It was also an event for bridging gaps and leveling the ground.

Rural farmers had constraints accessing modern knowledge and the learned community advice to develop their agriculture practices. Navagoviya provides content, linkages and e learning connecting farmers to highest knowledge sources through Telecenters. It's a development of both ends to share knowledge to develop sustainable farming in Sri Lanka. Navagoviya makes it possible for rural farmers use e learning to develop their farming practices as the content available in Sinhala and Tamil Languages.

Designed to suit needs of Farmers, Students, Women and public officials; Navagoviya uses an online platform developed by e fusion to deliver 24 modules course in modern Agriculture. The content is also supplemented by video lectures, field trips and in-farm training, Telecenter based group discussions to adapt learning local needs, an expert panel will assist learners online, therefore go beyond internet only e learning.and most importantly, the vision of Nenasala Telecenters to be a rural knowledge development center, is now becoming true in Sri Lanka with Navagoviya - ICT 4 Modern Agriculture Project.

Niranjan Meegammana
Team Leader
Navagoviya Project
Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Colombo Sri Lanka


Slide Show of Project Activities