UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT is a section where we share with you inspiring stories of Telecentre.org members and partners through brief interviews. In this article, we feature Udesh Mallikarathne, who recently won the Best Telecentre Award at the Nenasala Felicitation Awards 2013 organized by the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA). The aim of the felicitation event was to give due recognition to the service rendered to the country by the Nenasala (telecentre) owners and operators through the telecentres. Udesh, Balangoda Nenasala manager, who is interviewed here by Regional Community Coordinator Seuwandi Yapa, was recognized and appreciated for the dedication and incomparable service rendered in uplifting the educational and social and economic status of the grassroots.
TCF: Udesh, congratulations to you and your Nenasala staff for winning the award for Best Nenasala at the Nenasala Felicitation Awards 2013. First, tell us briefly, when did you start your Nenasala and who helped you set it up? Where did the inspiration come from?
Udesh: Yes, before joining the Nenasala Project, I worked as a manager in a private firm in my area, Balangoda in Rathnapua district. We wanted to hire computer assistants for the firm and I interviewed many, but I understood that none were qualified enough for the job. I felt bad about this situation and it was quite disgraceful. So I decided ICT is something that I should work on.
Meantime, I got to know about the Nenasala project initiated by the ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA) and I applied as a Nenasala manger. After an interview, I was selected as a Nenasala Manager and my Nenasala, the Balangoda Nenasala, was opened on 23rd of August 2005. It was the 39th Nenasala in the country.
TCF: What progress has your Nenasala made so far? What made you win the award as the best Nenasala of the country? What kind of services do you provide to the community?
Udesh: The initial stage was a real challenge. People had no idea about ICT, what they can do with ICT. In fact, people were afraid to work with computers and new technology. I had to work hard changing their mindsets and convincing them of the advantages of ICT. So I travelled from village to village. We went to schools to conduct awareness creation workshops. We worked with the community: schools, temples, societies. I made sure we delivered the message to each and every member.
ICT Agency gave us huge support. They gave us computers, they gave us Internet connectivity. They also trained us. They organized several initiatives which enabled us to award scholarships to our Nenasala students. They have helped us in many ways so we can better serve our communities and reach the grassroots with the benefits of ICT, so we could make our people understand the real value of ICT. Step by step, we made them realize that “ICT is Nenasala” and that is how we made people come to our Nenasala.
TCF: ICTA has set up over 700 Nenasalas island-wide. What is your message to the rest of the Nenasala managers and operators out there? How did you make your Nenasala the most successful telecentre in the country?
Udesh: First of all we, need to change our typical mindsets. Innovative thinking is a must. Now our country is rapidly developing. ICT is a key ingredient for development. When Nenasala project started in 2005, our digital literacy rate was at a poor stage. After 8 years, it has now increased up to 35%. Nenasalas played a huge role in achieving this. All Nenasalas need to understand their capacities and capabilities. All Nenasalas have a duty to fulfill. We are assigned to bridge the digital divide of our country and we must deliver the benefits of ICT to every citizen of the country. We must help our community in uplifting their economies by making use of ICT. Nenasalas can do that.
I know that all the Nenasala managers and operators work hard. But the most important thing is Nenasalas need to understand their respective communities: community needs and wants may differ from one to another. Nenasalas need to understand that and we need to tailor fit our products and services according to community needs.
TCF: Your area, Balangoda, is known to be a very rural area. You mentioned about community needs and wants. In catering to your community, did you study its needs and wants? How did you customize your Nenasala services?
Udesh: Of course. Agriculture is the major occupation in my area, Balangoda. We have tea estates in this area. Also, some people do gem mining. We have government officers and few private sector employees. In our awareness creation workshops, we explained to the people how they can develop their tea estates by using technology. We have conducted many agricultural programs for the farmers and linked them to the information centres of the Agriculture Department through the Internet and by email.
We have also conducted vocational guidance workshops for job seekers and students. Through that, we have inducted professional university lecturers to hold practical activities for Nenasala students.
TCF: Tell us briefly about your accomplishments so far.
Udesh: Sure. As a Nenasala Manager, I am so happy that today my Nenasala has become the best Nenasala in the country. I have developed my Nenasala to the level of an IT academy and a communication centre that delivers efficient and effective services to each and every person in my community.
Apart from that, so far I have IT trained over 10,000 Nenasala students. I have conducted personality and leadership development training camps for my students as I felt that IT training alone is not sufficient to create community leaders. In Balangoda district, we now have over 14 Nenasalas. In 12 of these, the Nenasala managers were my former students. All of them are very talented and successful now in the Nenasala workforce. So I am so happy and proud that I have created a good Nenasala work force in my area.
TCF: What are your future plans for your Nenasala? Are there any new programs lined up for the next few years?
Udesh: Yes, we have several programs lined up for the next few years. Most important thing is we will be training job seekers for the BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) market. We are targeting 200 members to be trained in the first phase. BPO is now one of the main sources of income. A lot of opportunities have opened up in the BPO sector.
We also look forward to helping schools organize their data in a system. For that we have already developed the necessary software and have already introduced it to several schools and trained students to manage data in a correct method using computer technology. This project is still in its experimental stage. As soon as it becomes successful, we will be replicating it in the rest of the schools in my area.
TCF: We wish you all the best in your future endeavors. Thank you very much and more power to your Nenasala.
Udesh: Thank you very much to TCF as well for giving me this opportunity to share about my experience in running Balangoda Nenasala.