Monday, 23 July 2007

Village dilemma at Social enterprising

I have seen this problem repeating many times in many parts of the world. And I have seen it again at Gampaha, a suburban village in Sri Lanka.

Economic sustainability needs the cultivation of entrepreneurial qualities. In simple terms - greed to make profits. For a Socially Driven community leader who thrive on altruistic motives - helping poor, offering volunteer spirit - this is an utterly bitter pill to swallow.
Mr. Wijewickrama (59yrs) who is a school teacher by profession, is the most respected leader in this village of 1400 families. His leadership lead the village from very humble footing in 1973 to one of the leading Sarvodaya ( affiliated villages by 2007.
Village Information Centre (VIC) is one of the many developments that he had facilitated. Villagers contributed their own savings to build up the Community Hall, which shelters the VIC, along with a village pre-school (serving 45 children) and a small library. By variety of community based fund raising activities, they could manage to buy 4 refurbished computers to scale up the VIC. Sarvodaya (Fusion) district staff agreed to provide the technical support for training.
Now they have all the required facilities, and over 25 students are seeking computer lessons, but they dont have a qualified technical assistant to provide training. Sarvodaya is keen to provide training. Yet they have an unresolved issue.
Issue is on the pricing for services..!
Village committee mainly influenced by the Mr. Wijewickrama’s leadership, is not ready to charge a fee more than 600Rs / month, (6US$). For Fusion, this is not feasible. The minimum feasible charge according to their calculation is 1600Rs/month.
It looks like - convincing the village leadership on the break even point analysis had become the biggest challenge for Sarvodaya - Fusion staff.
He listens when the Sarvodaya district staff explain the importance of keeping a sensible price.
‘At 600Rs. we cannot pay the utility bills, cannot replace the computers when they are old, cannot afford to pay the training assistant…..!..!’
Then he repeats the same question..!
‘This is a very poor village. Even paying 600Rs is not feasible for them. Their fathers and mothers contributed to put up this building and even to buy these computers. Now…why should they pay more to learn..?’
Social enterprising is not that simple..!

1 comment:

mikeg said...


An interesting and oft repeated story...

Let me provide a few thoughts on how to respond to this dilemma.

The notion of "sustainability" is of course both a financial and a social one with financial resources substituting for social committment (or vice versa) as might be available. Of course, the best situation is one where there are both financial and social sustaining resources but that isn't always possible.

But I think we need to unpack the idea of "social sustainability"... What is usually meant here is that the Telecentre (or whatever) provides services at the local level which have great social value and thus those locally respond with volunteer and in kind support to ensure sustainability.

However, the matter of providing services and thus social benefits while usually understood only in the context of local returns while in fact the Telecentre may be providing such benefits regionally and even nationally. Thus for example, a Telecentre may be providing access to government information, the means for communication into local organizations (and officials), a basis for emergency preparedness and response, recruitment for national mobilizations of various kinds and so on and so on. As well, the centre may be providing access to private sector information (for example railway and bus schedules, transport/trucking information, local sales/exchange information and the like.

In each of these cases the Telecentre is providing a non-monetized social benefit to the local community but also is providing a benefit to someone/some organization outside of the community which, in the absence of the Telecentre they might need to find some other (and monetized) means for delivery.

That situation is acute here in Canada for example where governments have systematically cut down on the non-electronic information services and now refer those requiring such access (but without in-home Internet service) to the Telecentres. But of course, the governments aren't paying the Telecentres to provide this service even though the governments are saving the money that they would have spent on the manual/hard copy information programs.

The solution here can't be on an individual Telecentre basis. It can only come from solidarity between Telecentres through the formation of networks of Telecentres that can influence politicians and represent the Telecentres politically.


Mike Gurstein

Michael Gurstein, Ph.D.
Centre for Community Informatics Research, Training and Development
Ste. 2101-989 Nelson St.
Vancouver BC CANADA v6z 2s1
tel./fax +1-604-602-0624