The Telecentre Times
is a newspaper that reports on the people, ideas, and activities that fuel the global telecentre movement. Published regularly in English, French, and Arabic, it is a tangible way to share knowledge, especially important for telecentre operators with limited connectivity.
“The focus is on the practical, on day-to-day issues,” said Christine Prefontaine
, telecentre.org's Senior Communications Advisor. “Telecentre operators can read the Times and get concrete ideas and information. Content they can use.”
Practitioners and activists from around the world contribute to the various editions — offering solutions to common technical problems, reporting on new technology (or clever ways to use “old” technology), summarizing e-mail discussions, and describing projects and initiatives. “You can learn about how a new business model is being applied in India and Mexico. Or how a network in Uganda has partnered with a local business school to tackle sustainability challenges. Or how people like you are connecting and helping each other,” said Christine. "And each edition of the Times
is produced by members of the telecentre community. They are in control. telecentre.org's role is to catalyze their energy and commitment."
The idea to create the Times
was the result of convening activists for the first Telecentre Leaders Forum, held in November 2005 as part of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in Tunis.
Sulah Ndaula, from UgaBYTES in Uganda, wanted to find a way to document and spread “all of the good knowledge that goes uncaptured, and hence unshared.” But, he recalled, “thinking of a global publication was scary because I thought it would require a lot of resources, as well as linking easy-to-lose telecentre people across the world.” Luckily he was not alone. Harsha Liyanage, from Sardovaya in Sri Lanka, had been thinking along the same lines and was also trying to develop a solution, as was Ananya Raihan, from D.Net in Bangladesh.
The idea slowly took shape over coffee between sessions in the lobby of Tunis’s Al-Hana hotel. A small group — from D.Net, Sarvodaya, and UgaBYTES — then had the opportunity to develop it further as they traveled together in Sri Lanka on a post-WSIS study tour. “It all started at Tunis. But in was during a bus trip in Sri Lanka that things became clear,” remembered Harsha.
Traveling through the hilly country outside of Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, can be physically challenging. It is hot. The roads are bumpy and twist and turn. Tour participants suffered travel sickness. “The trip was tough,” said Harsha, “passing through winding narrow roads. This prompted regular stops at restaurants along the way. So in every restaurant we held another mobile workshop.” The idea of a global publication about the telecentre movement matured with each stop. “We figured out how to build our partnership around telecentre.org. We got Uganda, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka sitting together with a common urge to build a partnership and seeing much potential within each other to share,” Liyanage said. By the end of the tour, the partners promised to make the newspaper a reality.
Despite everyone’s good intentions much more effort was required before the first issue reached its audience. Ananya noted that they faced many obstacles while producing the first issue. “The level of commitment was not the same across all of the participating organizations. Some of the stories we were counting on never came. But we managed to get other contributors. Also the quality of the stories was very uneven and some needed a lot of editing, which slowed down the whole process.”
The English edition of the Times
was finally launched at the Global Knowledge Partnership’s annual gathering in Sri Lanka in May 2006. The Arabic and French editions were launched at GK3, the Third Global Knowledge Conference in Kuala Lumpur, in December 2007. The newspaper has also been produced in Bangla and a Spanish edition is in the works.
The publishers recognize that they need to keep improving. They struggle with print run shortages and distribution challenges, as well as with getting content. It's challenging to get already-overwhelmed telecentre operators and activists to stop working and instead write about their work. Likewise, the partners who nurtured the Times
into being have ideas about the future. “The Telecentre Times
needs to be regionalized,” said Harsha, “with syndicated core content and standardized space for local and regional news.” Raihan foresees the publication moving slowly toward electronic distribution, "where everyone can download any language version they want to read.” Sulah is concerned with sustainability. In May 2008, he asked his team at UgaBYTES to evaluate the English edition, with an eye toward improving content and production as they shift toward a commercial model. “UgaBYTES has decided to take a step ahead and commercialize the Telecentre Times
,” said Sulah, “space for advertising is being created and price tags are being drawn for different space dimensions.”
We can be certain about one thing: Like telecentres themselves, the Times
will continue to evolve to meet the needs of the community.