The sustainability concern reigns supreme in the telecentre domain. It has become so important that in the telecentre context, Bill Gates’ statement, ‘Content is King’ can be easily modified as ‘Sustainability is King’. If telecentres are not sustainable and are not capable of enduring themselves over a period of time, then everything right from developing local content and locally relevant services to implementing eGovernance at the grassroots level becomes redundant and they also strike a nail in the coffin of network sustainability. Thus, it requires due consideration!
With the power of the ICTs available at the telecentres, they offer unlimited opportunities to streamline local development and governance to empower the rural and remote communities in addition to providing access to ICTs and capacity building to use the ICTs. As a result, they are increasingly being seen as delivery channels of e-Governance and welfare services in several developing countries and their governments are taking a keen interest in telecentres or public access centres.
In view of these growths in the development and governance sectors, it is imperative for telecentre stakeholders, especially the policy makers engaged in implementing or having a keen interest in implementing telecentre programmes to understand the concept of sustainability in a holistic way. Therefore, the Telecentre.org Foundation in association with International Telecommunication Union and several other organizations conceived a training programme around telecentre sustainability to augment the understanding of these telecentre stakeholders on its various aspects. This training workshop aimed to meet the following objectives:
• Understand the key challenges to telecentre sustainability;
• Learn about various dimensions of telecentre sustainability;
• Learn about the role of technological convergence in telecentre sustainability;
• Equip the participants to deal with various sustainability issues.Experiential learning based case studies as the training methodology
The training workshop was spread over a period of three days. It was modeled around the concept of training through experiential learning based case studies shared by experts. Through these case studies, they highlighted the challenges and issues affecting telecentre sustainability and also shared the way forward to achieve it. The learning part of the workshop was further strengthened through conducting group exercises on the lessons learned and spontaneous quizzes to keep the trainees mentally alert. Several distinguished experts were carefully selected to speak on various sustainability pillars based on their experience in their respective fields.Day 1Formal opening and informal introductions
The first day saw a combination of formal opening by distinguished guests and informal introductions by all the participants and experts representing approximately twelve countries. Basheerhamad Shadrach, Executive Director, Telecentre.org Foundation and Ashish Narayan, Advisor, ITU briefed the participants about the background of the workshop. The issue of sustainability was raised as an important concern by all the participants during a previous workshop on telecentres conducted by ITU. Therefore, they decided to develop a training programme around sustainability to make the policy makers aware of various issues and challenges afflicting the telecentres around the world and how these are being dealt with in various developing countries.
The current workshop was the culmination of all these efforts. It was declared open by Representative from the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, Government of Thailand. He reiterated the role of telecentres in development and the concurrent need to make them sustainable. It was followed by an informal introduction round by all the participants including the experts.OPSFO mnemonic for five sustainability pillars
In Session 1, Roger Harris gave a brief introduction to the five sustainability pillars – Organizational, Policy, Social, Financial and Operational - around which the whole workshop was conceived. He also talked about the key issues that determine or influence sustainability in each pillar. He came up with a beautiful formula for the trainees to remember these pillars – O
rders or the OPSFO
mnemonic.1. Organizational sustainability
The learning started from Session 2 where Roger provided a brief introduction to the organizational sustainability pillar where the main sustainability determinants are partnerships, community ownership and networking. He raised a few questions around these, like why partnerships and what partnerships; why community ownership and how to ensure it; what networks and how to ensure network participation. The case studies that followed the briefing tried to answer some of these questions. Key to UNESCO CLCs’ organizational sustainability: ownership, participation and external support
The UNESCO case study presented by Ichiro Miyazawa tried to answer some of the questions raised around these issues in the context of the Community Learning Centres or CLCs. They are spread across more than 25 countries in the Asia Pacific region. It is a local and easily accessible place of learning that imbibes the democratic principles – “of local people, by local people and for local people.” The main purpose of setting up CLCs is to help people improve their quality of life through education and skills development.
As mentioned by Ichiro, community ownership coupled with high participation and external support drive the CLCs towards sustainability. Thus, the main CLC stakeholders constitute of Learners, Teachers/ Facilitators, CLC Committee, Community, Governments, Donors and NGOs. All these stakeholders play key roles in CLC planning (Plan), Implementation (Do) and monitoring (See) and contribute towards CLC sustainability. It could be further enhanced through high participation, ownership, and effective external support, both financial and technical. Ichiro substantiated the CLC sustainability theory through examples from various countries for the benefit of the trainees.Leadership, networks and partnerships as organizational sustainability drivers: the Philippines CeC experience
Director Administration, Telecentre.org Foundation, Tess Camba’s presentation described leadership at various levels, networks and appropriate multi-sectoral partnerships as the driving factors for Philippines Community eCentres sustainability. Leadership was essential to formulate conducive policies, outline the roadmap, establish the structure, and also provide all the resources for its nation wide implementation. But changes in leadership and changes in the key priorities of the leaders sometimes hampers the development of the CeC programme. Another sustainability enabler in the CeC case was the creation of a national CeC network under the nomenclature – PhilCeCNet. Initially it was challenging to bring together all the organizations under one network, defining its charter and demonstrating its relevance to the members.Community ownership, involvement & acceptance for long term sustainability: the Intel experience with Akshaya Centres
One of the finest presentations of the day, the Intel perspective on organizational sustainability started off with sharing a few ‘human stories’. Ashutosh Chadha, Director, Corporate Affairs, South Asia, Intel Corporation, narrated how the power of technology coupled with 21st century education and creative thinking can address social issues at the grassroots level and bring about empowerment and social change too. The Intel programmes aim at not just imparting training on how to use the technology, but also the purposes for which technology can be used by the learners of all ages. Therefore, in a way, sustainability is embedded in their programmes itself.Intel’s Greek temple structure of Akshaya centres sustainability
Elucidating the sustainability formula for the Akshaya centres based on their long term association with them, Ashutosh explained its multi-dimensional nature. eCentres’ sustainability emerges out of interplay of certain enablers like technology infrastructure and usage, relevant programmes and community involvement. These form the foundation of Intel’s Greek temple structure of sustainability. Further, the structure is supported through three sustenance pillars – social, economic and entrepreneurial. Institutional arrangements or partnerships form the roof of this structure and support requirements in the areas of infrastructure, capacity building, content and services and enterprise assistance. For partnership sustainability too, it is essential to show strong What's In It For Me or WIFM for the partners. If they don't find any mutual benefit, there are chances of their drifting away from the partnership. In the end, long term sustainability results from local applications as well as local ownership, involvement, and acceptance.2. Policy-related Sustainability
The next learning session focused on policy related sustainability, which included sustainability indicators like policies around ICT integration in poverty reduction and rural development programmes, ICTs, telecommunications and Internet. The questions largely centered on how the policies are formulated and implemented; why they require ICT integration and how do they support telecentre diffusion. The case studies answered these questions with examples and strengthened the trainees’ learning on policy related aspects of telecentre sustainability.Policy-related sustainability: The Indian experience with Common Services Centres
At the outset, former Senior Director, DIT, Government of India, Ashis Sanyal’ presentation reiterated that telecentres cannot become financially and functionally sustainable by being mere access points. They can be sustainable only by addressing the livelihood needs of the target community. Moreover, multi-sectoral collaborations are extremely essential to translate a national telecentre programme into reality. The Indian government’s telecentre programme, the Common Services Centres (CSCs), is exemplary in terms of its scope and scale and presents a role model from policy and implementation point of view for other governments seeking to implement such a programme.
According to him, at the rural development and poverty reduction policy levels, the CSCs act as a single window delivery and information channel for various welfare schemes. At the same time, they empower the rural people with more choices to improve their lifestyle. With the ICTs available at the CSCs, they can help in streamlining local development and governance in the near future. In the same way, the growth of the telecommunication and Internet policies have facilitated CSC diffusion all over the country, though a lot is still desired in terms of broadband spread and coverage. Currently, the mobile platform too offers innumerable options for information and service delivery.Networks, partnerships and new approaches and activities for sustainability: the UMIC experience
Margarida Ribeiro from Knowledge Society Agency (UMIC), Ministry of Science, Technology and Higher Education, Portugal, presented a case study on networks, partnerships and new approaches and activities for sustainability of the telecentre programme in Portugal. The Portuguese telecentre network emerged out of the need for establishing a national collaborative framework for Internet spaces. As a national network, it is fostering the exchange of best practices and disseminating new initiatives among the shared access spaces as well as taking the benefits of appropriate partnerships to all its constituents. It uses a combination of approaches and activities, such as social inclusion, empowerment, providing eGovernance services, computer literacy and talent development among the disadvantaged, and so on, to make the telecentre programme sustainable and retain user interest.Strengthening the learning: Group Exercise
The first day of the workshop ended with the following group exercise given by Roger Harris to all the trainees, who were already divided into different groups:
“You are the Minister of Information in the Kingdom of Cambodia. You have been put in charge of a national telecentre programme that was recently announced by the Government. Your task is to devise and implement a plan that will set up 200 sustainable telecentres throughout the Nation.
You are required to devise a plan for establishing each of the telecentre sustainability pillars, stating:
a. The responsible institution(s) for implementing it.
b. The activities to be undertaken.
c. The time scale for implementation.
The groups were asked to work on it and present the same on the last day of the workshop.
All the presentations are available at: http://academy.itu.int/moodle/course/view.php?id=303