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Hello Adrian and fellow Afrik-ITers!

[note: this response was first posted (mistakenly) to Acacia-L, sorry for
any cross-posting]

Good to hear from you again. It has been too long since our last
conversation.

The issue of the 'telecentre' is an interesting one, and it seems that many
in the donor/development community agree at the moment.

I would like to pick up on two questions in your message:

1       Where do telecentres come from?
2       What is a telecentre, and what does it do?

I'm glad you asked the questions that you did. Many are investing their
time and energy into this concept as a way of bringing the benefits of
ICT-based development to communities that previously had little or no
access to the kind of technologies available at a 'telecentre.'  Yet the
concept of the 'telecentre' is still not well understood.

Where do they come from?

The countries with the most historical experience in telecentres (from what
I can tell) are Sweden, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and the UK. Please let
me know if I missed anyone. In fact Acacia is right now commissioning a
study to examine these experiences (and those of developing countries)
to find out what lessons can be learned for the development of
telecentres in Africa other developing regions of the world.

What is a telecentre, and what does it do?

There is no clear demarcation line between a 'telecentre' and other forms
of access to ICTs, nor is there a clear demarcation line between a
'telecentre' and a local community centre. For me a telecentre is when
these two concepts, access to ICTs and a local community centre, come
together.

If a businessperson opens up a store and sells time on
computers/modem/telephone/etc. is this a telecentre? I don't think so
because it may lack the clear organisational will to accomplish local
development objectives, like building community awareness, training members
of disadvantaged groups in the use of new technologies, incubating the
development of local ICTs businesses & professionals, or any other
development objective set out by the community. Don't get me wrong, this is
a very valuable addition to a local community, but it does not match the
concept of a 'telecentre' as it is being discussed in the donor/development
community. naturally, each has its own benefits and drawbacks.

If a local library only offers training and public awareness campaigns in
the use of ICTs is this a telecentre? I don't think so because it may lack
the entrepreneurial qualities that most telecentres have, and it does not
necessarily set itself up to offer connectivity to the community.

Nevertheless, both a local business and a local library _can be hosts_ to
telecentres (especially if they partner with one another to provide the
services offered by telecentres). Both of these institutions offer distinct
advantages to someone who is managing a telecentre and will provide a
unique interpretation to a telecentre.

Often when a telecentre is started, there is an 'anchor application,' in
other words a driving purpose/objective to the creation of the telecentre
other than revenue generation.  This can be anything the local community
wants it to be. Distance education/training, public health information
distribution, encouraging the development of small businesses, etc. Once
the telecentre is created, and the infrastructure has been installed, it
can be used for many other purposes/objectives. This is what some people
refer to as multi-purpose telecentres.

Example of a multi-purpose telecentre: a school wants to encourage distance
education for its students and so hosts a small telecentre in its building.
The local clinic finds out about this and asks to use the facility after
school hours to distribute health information gathered at the distant
regional health office. A local entrepreneur comes along and says, "I can
set up E-mail accounts for everyone in the community on your system" and
sells cheap access to the Internet through the system.  Etc. etc.

Afrik-ITers can check out an example of an IDRC telecentre project by going
to our database of activities at: <http://www.idrc.ca/acacia/projects.html>

A Panacea?
You are right people very often refer to 'telecentres' as a solution (I
wouldn't go so far as to say panacea though :-) to bringing the potential
of
new ICTs to disadvantaged communities. The main reason right now is that
there are few competing concepts to that of the telecentre. There aren't
many concepts which simultaneously address issues of local connectivity,
capacity building, lack of access to computing/communications technologies,
lack of general awareness of the potential for change, meeting basic
community development needs, etc. We need to keep telecentres in mind when
we look for solutions, but also keep our minds open to other possibilities.

Anyway, I look forward to visiting you soon in Dakar and seeing how Senegal
has
interpreted the concept of a telecentre!

Cheers,
-Shady

---
Shady Kanfi
Research Officer
Information & Communication Technologies
International Development Research Centre
Ottawa, Canada
(613) 236-6163 x2056
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