The TLF opened here in Cairo today with the focus on networking, knowledge sharing and development with more than 70 telecentre practitioners from Egypt, Yemen and Sudan. Speaking at the opening session, Dr. Ekram of Ministry of ICT in Egypt reminded participants that telecentres should essentially contribute to community development. He noted that telecentres have indeed helped rural community access ICT and training opportunity in previously under served areas in Egypt. Dr. Ekram warned that unless practitioners worked together to share experiences and solved outstanding challenges, the impact of telecentres will remain limited to a few places. Other speakers were Ghada Khalifa (Microsoft), Sherif Tokali (UNDP-Egypt) and me.
The first day also featured telecentre presentations, group discussions and telecentre souk (a.k.a speedgeek). ICT for special needs was a key concern as practitioners reviewed various initiatives like Soul (Yemen), Reefnet (Syria), Gadaref (Sudan) and Al–Resala (Egypt).
Ahmed from Sudan presented an agricultural advisory service that will be delivered via mobile phone. It is an outcome of a recent partnership agreement between Sudan telecentre network and Drishtee (India). Farmers will be able to access a wide range of information including weather, crop market prices and pesticides. I also learnt about this “tableputer” in Siwa of Egypt – a mobile illiteracy computer with CD ROM integrated in a traditional feeding table.
This event has been to a large extent a demonstration of how far we have come in building the telecentre community in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. I first met with Dr. Ekram in Cairo at the telecentre stakeholders’ workshop in Dec 2006. Then, telecentre.org had just supported a MENA telecentre survey to establish who is who and issues telecentres face. While Egypt was identified as focal point for most telecentre activities in the region, there was no network to facilitate knowledge exchange. We would spend the next 12 months working with Dr. Ekram, Sherif (UNDP – Egypt), Ghada (Microsoft – Egypt) and Hoda (IT Trust Fund) and other partners to evolve a concrete plan to use Egypt as a launching pad for telecentre networking in MENA region.
Fast forward, the building blocks are in place already – a telecentre network for MENA hosted by IT Trust Fund, Egypt. In fact this TLF is organised as part of this effort. The network has a Telecentre Times –Arabic edition, mailing list and an active web community at telecentre.org community site.