February 2007

Targeted approach for sustainable telecentres

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The author looks forward to formulate new strategies, outlook and approach for Yam Pukri, its mink, its assets and its prospects in the current dynamic scenario of new technologies.

Burkina Faso is situated in the center of West Africa and spread over 274200 square Kms. According the UNDP, Burkina Faso ranks among the poorest nations in the world. Nearly 40% of the population lives below poverty level.In the domain of telecommu-nication, Burkina Faso made great progress especially with the arrival of the mobile telephones and the Internet since 1996.

Yam Pukri is an association which promotes new technologies, and the Internet in Burkina Faso. Created in 1998, this association rose quickly with the support of partners like Fondation du Devenir, Terre des Hommes, IICD (International Institute for communication and Development, Haye). Local information and knowledge sharing programmes (Burkina ntic.org) made it possible to sit a material and institutional basis with the organisation. Now, Yam Pukri has its computer museum, a remote training programme with African Virtual University, a Web site to upload videos on the Internet and the a private firm.

Strategy of approach

The strategy of approach can be described 'as targeted approach'  because it aims to towards the target public which is or appears most  interested by this kind of tools. The objective here is to bring the tools closer to the user and to thus reduce the costs of displacements all while making it effective. Thus centres of formations are installed in the educational circles and also in the urban environment but near of the environment where the uses of the ICTs are required.  Thus among the 5 centres of formations that Yam Pukri has, two are installed in colleges and, three in public spaces. The needs for new technologies are more felt in the capital than in the other localities because of the concentration for the activities. Connectivity is rather difficult inside the country, which creates stumbles for projects of this type. Hence, Yam Pukri undertakes such specific pilot programmes with concerted efforts.
 
Vision of new technologies

The multiplicity of the interventions, the innovations and the experiments in favour of new technologies in the countries raises challenge to Yam Pukri to put efforts in order to be more effective.  Associative work is an effective means to touch the underprivileged people who do not have means to learn or use these tools. The majority of information which interests people of the South is not available in numerical format. Information which passes in numerical format is stored in distant computers in occident and access facilitated only for the occident. A technical or malevolent problem can thus block the access to information of the countries of the South. No hardware, for example the com-puters are designed in Africa necessitating the dependence for hardware and software on the occident, from where there is a perpetual danger of change and incurrence of significant financial expenditure. 

Functions on merit and excellence 

Yam Pukri is a rare association, owing to the fact that all those who profit from its services are its members. Apart from that, there are active members who are the body of the organisers. In the beginning, the majority of the members appointed at stations of responsibility could not adhere to their commitments because of the lack of motivation or the lack of qualifications. It is thus significant that an associative structure does not give responsibilities to an interested but non qualified third person, especially being a very demanding field. Very few partners dare to invest in the ICTs and, as a result only passionate people can work effectively in an association of ICTs. In order to be more operational, committees were created, each of one occupying a specific aspect of new technologies. The present five Commissions took shape distinctly in association are: 

(i) The Commission creation and animation of local Web sites,

(ii) The data-processing Commission,

(iii) The Commission forums of exchanges of the young people by the Internet,

(iv) The Commission study and observation of the phenomenon of new technologies in Burkina Faso and in the world, and 

(v) The Commission assistance with the installation and the analysis of numerical data. 

The Commissions function either permanently, or according to the needs. Each member of association can create his Commission, to work and develop his activities.  Greatest work for the organisers on the training level is to identify the recipients of training in data processing and to propose a type of formation adapted at the school level, the needs and the professional profile of the member. 

Advantages

The advantages for this kind of the collective access to training and ICTs'  approach are multiple. The population is poor and the needs felt by the population is also different from that, which one can imagine in Occident. The majority of the population does not need to use a computer daily or to open its box of eMail. Often it is not a necessary for individuals to have a microcomputer or a personalised access Internet. It has to be realised that high cost of the equipment data processing is not with the range of the average purses. The collectivisation of the needs and the tool is thus a source of economy in increasing its effectiveness. Indeed, a firm or an association cannot survive in an environment where each person has her own access mode, which makes collectivization non-profitable. It thus allows:

  • To make the use and training cost of the hardware cheaper.  That thus further allows access to those who would never have had the means of using a computer or Internet connectivity.
  • To make available the data-processing tool in the backward places. 
  • To make viable the structures of collective accesses.

Problems involved

Several scenarios have to be considered in the collective accesses. Considering the two alternatives of mode of coordination in the activity:  private or social organisation; a private firm, would be profit motivated. The dilemma here is that it is sometimes difficult to reconcile the interest of the greatest number.

In the case of an association, co-operative or another form of regrouping, management is more delicate, considering often individually; one does not have the same motivation as that of the group. The structure will survive if it is able to be projected in the future and to make credible scenarios of self-management and self-financing. It must be able to renew the inventories of its hardware and able to offer services at prices covering the costs of operation. 

Social role vs. financial sustainability 

One often wonders if associations which propose Internet services must align their tariffs on those of private providers or offer services at social costs. This question is complex because the alignment of the costs on those of the market can often mean that the social associations are not powerful. With the competitive prices currently practised, one can wonder how the private one is left there. The research of a minimal profitability however requires that associations manage to cover their operating costs. However they will not be competitive with the market with technologies used currently.  It is thus preferable, if such a situation arises to seek other solutions by diversifying the activities of the structure.  It is indeed very difficult to compete with the sector deprived in certain fields.

Guidelines

The organisation must play foremost role in the promotion of ICTs. They must provide services that the private one cannot compensate for. The experince Yam Pukri shows that it is impossible for an organisation to be autonomous by making it a social body, and if it does not sustain it would pass in the camp of the private one. (An association can be described as autonomous if it manages to cover its operating expenses, the basic investments and the initial working capital being ensured by other organisations by a generating income).

Therefore Yam Pukri has centered its triennial programme on the questions of creation of content by associations and the teacher training of centres of formations and Internet access besides installation of a network of exchanges of information between associations. Activities such as the 'forum of exchange between the young people' with Ground of the Geneva Men made it possible for the young people of Burkina to swap with other young people of the whole world on topics such as the right of the children, the job of children etc. The programme of 'creation of local area network and exchanges of information' also made it possible to develop a local expertise as regards to ICT's.

If at the beginning of the era of the ICTs in Burkina, the mission of the telecentres was to provide accesses to the Internet for the majority, the proliferation of the private accesses need to to redraw the landscape of the centres. Telecentres were to create a social vocation. With the experinces of Yam Pukri, it was evident with the origin of the installation of such an operative paragraph, a debate has to be raised in order to establish a prospective vision as concerned to autonomy. The definition of the term of autonomy also poses a problem of funds because an autonomous organisation for Yam Pukri is that which manages to cover its operating expenses. The hedging of the total expenses will put the firm in the balance of deprived and the costs of the services will reflect the market demand. One must thus make incentives with creativity in the community telecentres so that one can fulfill their mission of social service.   

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