There are over 600 Telecenters setup in Sri Lanka. In the world although no exact data available, at least 35000 Telecenters are expected to operate. The telecentre.org has over 1000 members world wide. International funding agencies like IDRC, World Bank , UNDP etc. and local NGOs, Government Agencies and private sector have been involved in setting up Telecentre infrastructure. We also see large number of e society projects done targeting telecenter based communities.
I see this whole thing as a development platform. A new methodology to change the world. If we look back last 5 years, we can see that a network of people , processes and infrastructure have been put together to develop Telecenter foundation which aims to change the world, specially the rural societies addressing their day to day issues with ICT. As Richard Heeks suggest, we have been using ICT as a tool for change, now our challenge is use ICT as a platform for development.
This creates a clear question of what is development as development seems to interpreted differently by different societies and people. I think development as concept of "Positive Change"
If we take a rural village as an example. Who and what sets their development vision? Do they decide it or someone external decide it? I think both angles are inevitable. The community has to decide on their needs, what if they lack information or have no idea of positive changes that can improve their lives? This is where external entities and experiences are useful to them. We have seen many NGOs operating in rural societies have not actually emerged from grass roots, most of them are external people who have more knowledge, resources, experiences and a concern. Sometimes we see this two groups work well as well as instances of conflicts.
Telecenters started as ideas of an external entity in most rural villages.The post offices, Libraries are similar. Through a long term value creation they have become day to day life resource for village people. What is the position of Telecenters in this regard ? Will Telecenters become a life resource for rural people or will it continue to be an external entity within village. This is the challenge we have now?
I see Telecentre networks as infrastructure, human and institutions hence If we think Telecenters as a platform for development
1. How such a platform can become a driver for positive change?
2. What changes we will want to make happen?
3. What will be the approaches making a change happen ?
4. How do we use Telecenters/networks to make the positive change happen?
5. What fundamental changes we need to enable 1-5.
These questions are not new, also there can be more questions added based on local, regional, national and global needs. How ever I think it's a good time to research what changes are needed in people, processes and infrastructure to use telecenters and their networks as a "development platform for positive change". As a start-up idea I like to suggest "more openness" at every level of development for increasing participation opportunities by wider social groups and entities. As this opening up definitely challenge already established structures and processes, there is an need of an open dialog on future development of Telecenters so that we are able to mitigate any risks and downsides of change.
What changes can we suggest at local, regional, national and global level ?
My next blog will follow on this topic..
Shilpa Sayura Foundation