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iREACH: Pilot community telecentres in Cambodia

iREACH stands for Informatics for Rural Empowerment and Community Health. It is a project supported by IDRC (International Development Research Centre). IDRC has awarded a three year grant of US$1.2 million to the Ministry of Commerce (MoC), to conduct a pilot project called the Informatics for Rural Empowerment and Community Health (i-REACH) in the field of information and communications technology (ICT). The project duration is between 1st May 2006 and 30th April 2009. Three Sangkat (communes) of Kamchai Mear district of Prey Veng and another three in Damnak Chang’eur district in the municipality of Kep were selected for the pilot project. MoC has contracted the Maharishi Vedic University (MVU) and the Center for Social Development (CSD), to run the pilots in Kamchai Mear and Kep, respectively.

The general objective of the project is to build evidence and capacities to help inform Cambodia's ICT and telecommunications policies. In doing so, it will enable key ICT institutions and actors from government, NGOs, academia and private business in Cambodia to design and pilot a multi-faceted strategy that comprises different ICT technologies, need-based service development, local institution-building and community governance, with a view to formulating and recommending a universal access component for the Government of Cambodia to mainstream into national ICT policy.

Women and men in rural communities use technology to share ideas and knowledge among different sectors within the community, thereby increasing community dialogue and solidarity. They promote and use e-Government to obtain services and information. They use ICTs to learn about the world and to access information to improve both their livelihoods and the social conditions in the community. Children actively use ICTs for learning. With increased knowledge and self-confidence, community members present ideas and issues to policy-makers for their consideration. Through ICTs, community members identify opportunities to initiate businesses. iREACH staffs are skilled applied researchers who produce and articulate research findings which they publish both in local media and internationally. A sustainable community enterprise emerges to ensure continued community use of ICTs as a tool for community development, and to promote the iREACH approach across the country.

In support to the vision, the programme will assess the knowledge and communication needs of all sectors of the community for social support and livelihood purposes. The programme will provide appropriate ICT tools and expertise in content and services based on needs expressed. The programme will build research and development capacities of project implementers to deploy the project plan. It will build the capacities of farmers, fishers, women and young people, local line agencies, other organizations and authorities, students and teachers, the religious communities, and other key actors to use ICTs in problem solving.

Through demonstration projects the programme will work with local community groups, including local businesses and micro-finance institutions, and will encourage the development of ICT-enabled services anchored on communication needs in the pilots. The programme will apply participatory communication and research to engage people in collective action for their sustainable development.

Ultimately the programme will nurture the formation of local cooperative enterprises to govern the project and to generate income. The programme will also document experiences and present evidence to influence decision-making in ICT policies and programmes in rural development. The programme will identify and communicate benefits of the iREACH approach to local and central authorities, and to the international community.

iREACH intends to see community members who have formed a formal entity whose members regularly make use of ICT tools to access local language content to support their information and communication needs on day-to-day matters, such as learning about reproductive health, nutrition, family expenditure, children’s well-being and family violence. They are actively participating in project and in village/commune activities and decision-making, and articulating their realities and supporting each other. They start some ICT-based micro-enterprise/livelihood activities. They manage and air radio programs and network with other radio/ICT groups in the region, document and present their iREACH knowledge and experience to decision-makers and other groups.

The specific objectives of the project are:

In local ICT infrastructure development:

* To establish and nurture two pilot e-Communities, one in the rural locality of KrongKep Municipality and the other at Kamchay Mear.
* To pilot-test a community-driven system of blended technologies in support of services, applications and content identified by the communities as contributing to social, economic and cultural development.

In local capacity building, institutional development and community governance:

* To build the capacity of local organisations, agencies and key people to mainstream ICTs into community institution building.
* To support the evolution of a community-driven entity, to manage and ensure the provision of ICT-based services for all sectors of the community.
* To build the capacity of local organisations, agencies and key people to undertake participatory research, including participatory rural appraisal in ICT-related needs assessment, and in service delivery and enterprise development; and in monitoring the impact of technology access in communities
* To ensure the participation of women both as beneficiaries and as actors in the management of ICT-based services and to integrate gender analysis in all research aspects of the project.
* To build the capacities of Cambodian institutions to address issues in a systematic way for research publication.

In mainstreaming ICT policy:

* To build a national level multi-stakeholder constituency (including Ministries, major institutes and NGOs working in the ICT sector) favorable to the evolution of a progressive and innovative Universal Access Policy focused on all poor communities.
* To rigorously analyse and document all the processes, lessons and outcomes of the Project, and to include gender indicators for distillation into policy-making.
* To combine state-of-the-art research and experience of universal access policy as practiced internationally with local and national research.
* To influence ICT policy in Cambodia, and specifically to mainstream a multi-dimensional approach to universal access policy.

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