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Telecentre, a global community of ICT hub


02 July 2012

Miguel Raimilla

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Telecentres have evolved into a global community of ICT hubs, with a strong social mission and motivation to continuously search for innovation and opportunities. And, despite latest technologies and penetration of cell phones, it continues to play an important role in transformation of the society.

The beginning of telecentres can be traced to the mid-1980s, when individuals, and a handful of non-profit organisations, established telecentres in several countries in Europe and the Americas. Since then, many ICT practitioners have preached their extinction, pointing to the proliferation of more affordable and accessible personal computers and, more recently, to the explosive growth of smartphones around the globe as evidence of the closing gap between those with access to ICT and those without.

Telecentre, a global community of ICT hub
Image Credit: ICT Update/Telecentre,a global community of ICT hub

But, almost three decades later, telecentres are still here, present in almost every country on Earth, providing critical services to more than 1.5 billion people every day, and it is estimated that by the end of this decade, they could reach over 2 billion people.
 
Initially, telecentres came about as a way to bridge the digital divide and provide access to information and technology to those who could not afford it or were geographically disconnected from accessing technological tools. Today, however, the role of telecentres has grown beyond that. They now provide a variety of services to an even greater and diverse clientele.
 
Many governments invested heavily in telecentres during the 1990s and early 2000s. Similarly, multilateral and international aid organisations decided to support the expansion and deployment of computers to rural areas. Most of these initiatives, however, lacked proper long-term sustainability plans or proper guidelines for service development.
 
As a result, many of these first projects were cancelled and the technological infrastructure was often lost. Still, many of these models evolved. In some cases, the local organisations in charge of these centres developed alliances with non-profits, academia and other specialised organisations, which led to the emergence of a new model: Telecentre 2.0.

Diversity
There are many examples of telecentres becoming hubs for community development and empowerment centres where the community, as a whole, finds and learns new skills, and where the private sector has an opportunity to participate in the future delivery of products and services to a very diverse population.
 
Telecentres today tend to be highly specialised, and yet continue to provide basic ICT literacy training. Even though people have increasingly sophisticated and advanced needs and interests regarding ICT, there is always a need for basic training among sectors of the population.
 
We now see a wide range of telecentres: from very humble training centres in rural India, to state-of-the-art innovation centres in urban Barcelona; telecentres that support farmers in rural Africa and Asia to telecentres specialising in women’s issues and children’s education; telecentres that have embraced the opportunities of entrepreneurialism in Brazil, to telecentres that provide a chance for retirees to enter the digital age in Europe. Telecentres have evolved into a global community of ICT hubs, with a strong social mission and strong motivation to continuously search for innovation and new opportunities.
 
My own organisation, telecentre.org, started in November 2005 and until 2009, provided grants, technical assistance to organisations hosting telecentre projects, and facilitated the creation of telecentre networks in over 40 countries. In March 2010, the telecentre.org programme became a formal and independent foundation, Telecentre.org Foundation (TCF), establishing its first office in Manila, Philippines.
 
Long-term sustainability remains a challenge for many networks around the globe, and one of TCF’s main priorities is to transform telecentre networks into channels for the distribution of products and services. This allows the Foundation to engage in much broader alliances with the private sector and donors, developing stable business models for telecentres.
 
As a result, more telecentres are developing new expertise, becoming critical providers for a variety of communication and educational services, such as job placement, e-government services, agriculture and health-related training and services, the facilitation of access to new sources of funding and social investment.

Another fundamental factor in the resilience of telecentres is the human factor. Telecentre operators have become community leaders and facilitators in many different areas of development and community growth. The telecentre operator is often a trusted figure that facilitates access to information and opportunities that transform communities, one person at a time.
 
Despite all the latest technologies and the undeniable massive penetration of cell phones, there always seems to be a need for a ‘big screen’ and a familiar face that helps us navigate, learn and embrace the new in this digital age. For this reason, telecentres will continue to play a critical role in the transformation of our society.

Miguel Raimilla is executive director of Telecentre.org

 
Source : ICT Update

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