Greetings Afrik-IT folk,
I would like to solicit feedback from list members on the topic of
Helpdesks. I am employed by the IDRC to improve access to information and
communication technologies for IDRC researchers. In looking at ways to
provide that support, I was impressed by Afrilink's Helpdesk model where
support for researchers was provided locally or at least regionally in
Africa. I contacted Jeff Cochrane to discuss possibilities for jointly
funding Helpdesks in order to increase their effectiveness. While we both
agreed that the more donors we could involve the better, we also agreed
that the Helpdesk role shouldn't be dictated by donors. Thus, I would like
to invite feedback from list members as to how a relationship between
donors and organisations taking on a Helpdesk role might most usefully be
I would also particularly like to invite other donors interested in
participating in Helpdesk support to contact me ([log in to unmask]).
Here follows an outline of what we have discussed so far:
The IDRC Unganisha project (http://www.idrc.ca/unganisha) and
USAID/AfricaLink (http://www.info.usaid.gov/regions/afr/alnk) have the
mandate to support information management through Internetworking
for their various funded research and other networks. Unganisha
provides general support to IDRC partners worldwide. AfricaLink
focuses on USAID partners in agriculture, the environment, and
natural resource management in Africa.
In most cases, it is not enough simply to facilitate access to the
Internet. Ongoing technical support and training are required.
Both AfricaLink and Unganisha encourage their partners to rely as
much as possible on local Internet service providers in each country
as their primary source for these support and training services.
The level and quality of support services varies widely by country.
To supplement what is available locally, and to encourage growth in
the customer support departments of local Internet service
providers, regional Help Desks were instituted by AfricaLink in late
1996. AfricaLink currently supports Help Desks in Uganda, Senegal,
Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa.
The Unganisha project fully supports the concept of Help Desks and
is looking for a useful way to feed into the process in order to
increase the economies of scale of the Help Desk support function.
This document is an attempt to outline a potential structure for a
multi-donor client Help Desk operation.
The need for technical support and training related to Information and
Communication Technologies (ICT) in Africa has been clearly
identified. It is a premise of this document that Help Desks are
fully capable of becoming self-sustaining commercial enterprises
providing a much valued resource. The role of organizations like the
IDRC and USAID would be to act as an initial guaranteed client base
to the Help Desk centres. In addition, it is possible that beyond
being a client of the Help Desks, the donors may provide some small
initial grants for infrastructure and/or business planning
This document is not an attempt to closely 'define' the Help Desk
role. Help Desks should be free to evolve into whatever kind of
organisation best suits their environment. That could range from
Internet Service Provider to Telecentre to Training Company or
something new entirely. Help Desks could be hosted in existing
companies/organizations or could be formed based on a proposal from
The following are a 'first pass' look at the kinds of services that
donors might typically require of a Help Desk.
-- Needs Analysis --
The Help Desk would evaluate on a regular (yearly?) basis the
support and training requirements of the client researchers.
-- Direct technical support to identified client researchers -- This
kind of support would range from telephone and email support to
on-site visits. The frequency of on-site visits to be determined by
the needs analysis.
-- Training courses --
Delivery of Internet and related training courses in key areas
identified via the needs analysis.
-- Information Dissemination --
The Help Desk would take responsibility for publicizing widely the
availability for training courses to indentified researchers.
Training courses should by no means be limited to Unganisha or
AfricaLink researchers but should be open to all non-profit or
-- Information Gathering --
Each Help Desk would be responsible for gathering information on ICT
support activities within their region. This information would be
made available regionally via web site, mailing lists and perhaps
print media. The information hosted by the various Help Desks could
be brought together into a meta-site hosting information on training
resources, activities in Africa.
-- Mentoring --
Each Help Desk would have a responsibility to train more trainers
and technical support people in the region. This could be subsidized
/ assisted through donor programs.
-- Other Services --
The Help Desks would naturally have the opportunity to provide other
services to their client base such as website hosting, on-line
research facilities, etc.
Steve Song <[log in to unmask]>
Unganisha (Connectivity) Project
International Development Research Centre
P.O. Box 8500, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, K1G 3H9
Tel. +1 613 236 6163 x2268 Fax +1 613 567 7748