Monday, 22 September 2008
Tuesday, 1 April 2008
‘Subsidy Voucher’ has been a unique concept they have formulated together with expert contributions of Sarvodaya (building upon the ideas of Public Interest Program Unit of the Gvt). Pilot tests were carried out in three telecentres as early as 2004. Since 2005 June, gradually it has been adapted as a national role out in 100 selected telecentres across 13 districts of the country.
Concept: subsidy vouchers are distributed among the specific target community, after systematic local promotions. Recipients are eligible to access designated services, for a fix time period. The value for the service has been reimbursed by the ICTA to the telecentre. Each telecentre is given the maximum monthly quota of 25,000Rs. (250$US) worth vouchers.
Target communities were recognized strategically so that the critical mass of telecentre users would be developed around the telecentre over the life cycle of the voucher program. Accordingly, the two specific communities were targeted; school children and unemployed youth & adults (women, farmers etc.).
By design, two voucher types, namely Specific Service Voucher (SPV) and All Purpose Voucher (APV) categorically targets these two communities. Accordingly, types of services and the amount of the hours are defined. For instance SPV enables Computer access for a lengthy period of time, where as APV provide internet, phone and photocopy services for a shorter period.
Though the pilot Voucher version was developed aiming a paper based distribution system, the implementing organizing (Prizewaterhouse Coopers Ltd) had subsequently improved the model into an electronic version. Thus telecentre operators manage the whole voucher program on an online platform, enabling efficient tracking of thousands of vouchers being distributed over 13 districts.
After 3 yrs into the operation, 80 out of 100 telecentres adapt the program earnestly. And they use full amount of monthly quota. That has provided them a steady start up income to build up their business model. Nevertheless, 20% could not utilize it to the full capacity. (Common complain was, keeping the record books of overall voucher operation).
Three telecentres located in very rural areas of Sri Lanka (Nivitigala, Udawalawa & Kosgala) were taken to a close study, in Feb 2008.
• In all three instances, Vouchers provided a unique opportunity for the very poor students to receive basic computer education.
• Three telecentres utilized vouchers as different start up models. 1). Using vouchers to target unaffordable communities to interact with on-going ICT courses, 2). Build up their overall telecentre clientele, 3). As an additional revenue to boost their on-going business operations.
• Among two vouchers, APV found to be more effective to generate a new pay-for-service clientele to the telecentres. SPV was powerful to build up the community ICT skills (but most of the students cannot afford to pay the fees to return to telecentres despite their willingness).
ICTA yet to be carried out a systematic evaluation on the program, though they recognize that the program is making a healthy progress. And they plan to expand it to all the telecentres.
Monday, 31 March 2008
What were their strategic steps?
• Institutionally, SITU has been re-organized under new program (Fusion) and given its freedom to concentrate on Social Enterprising.
• Management of SITU accepted the challenge, had re-defined their strategic mission, and set up a very systematic revenue generation plan.
• After assessing the overall operation, they have hand picked 10 telecentres (out of 34) as economically feasible ones, and initiated participatory discussions with their telecentre operators on revenue targets.
• Among diverse services they have offered, ICT Courses and IT Services had been selected as main services & products.
• Developed a detail business plan with monthly targets.
At the end, they set up an ambitious revenue target of 10.5mil Rs (10,500$US) by the end of March, 2008.
What was the progress?
After 9 months of performances (from April – Dec, 2007), SITU has reported 4.1mil Rs (4,100$US) overall revenue. That was just about 40% of their target.
Why only 40%?
Though in conventional terms this could be an acceptable progress as an entrepreneurial start up, Program Managers continues to refine their strategy and approach.
Following were the list they identified as the problem list contributed to lesser progress;
• Overall targets were not realistic (though they used their decade long telecentre experiences to set the financial targets, they did not have experience of running the program as an enterprise. Thus did not have past records to figure out their forecasts).
• Could not assess the staff capacity and operational obstacles during planning stage
* Optimal number of staff required at telecentres to carry out set targets
* Entrepreneurial skills of the staff
* Running conditions of the ICT equipment
• Capital shortages (Absence of sufficient cash flow)
* To carry out appropriate equipment replacements
* To carry out promotional campaigns
• Internal coordination problems
* The administration system was designed (over the years) for welfare delivery. Thus priorities of different departments were not aligned with the time-driven demands of business operation.
Absence of competent teachers and adequate facilities handicap rural students in 80% of the Sri Lankas population. Now over 500 telecentres at rural outskirts provide a new window of opportunity. Shilpa Sayura enables students to interact with ICT to study 8 subjects digitally at tele centers and develop their knowledge to prepare for national examinations.
The project initiated in 2006 and pilot tested in 26 telecentres (branded as Nanasala).
Having a success story of a very compelling pilot, the project struggles at scaling up. Every telecentre operator of over 500 telecentres in Sri Lanka needs to have Shilpa Sayura installed in their telecentre. But, e-Fusion acknowledges it is not feasible at this present state.
• It needs technological improvements to ensure trouble free smooth run.
• Also needs technical capacity building at the telecentre operators to assist the users.
• Need to improve help-desk capacity to accept escalating demands
All these needs significant capital investments. They recognize it is not reasonable to tax the government to support further. Thus eyes at the CSR goodwill of the corporate partners.
In the mean time they plot the plans for an appropriate business model.
Shilpa Sayura had been the Winner of i4D award at e India 2007 and Stockholm Challange GKP Award at Gk3, Malysia, 2007.
Listen to the UNESCO interview with founder>
Friday, 28 March 2008
Easy-seva is an interesting corporate entry into Sri Lanka’s fast expanding telecentre landscape. Synergy Strategies Group (SSG), US based small company, won the bid of USAID’s Last Mile Initiative to set up EasySeva. Each EasySeva centre is owned by an entrepreneur who is part of a franchise. In return for franchise fees, the franchise provides bulk purchasing, training, technical and marketing support. The franchise also provides entrepreneurs access to micro-finance and leasing services through Sri Lankan financial institutions.
In order to offer a compelling business opportunity to entrepreneurs, SSG has partnered with a rich set of Sri Lankan companies, including Dialog Telekom, Qualcomm, National Development Bank, Lanka Orix (LOLC) and Microsoft. Together, these alliance partners have contributed funding, technology and know-how to the project. The project team has designed the 25 EasySeva centres as a test case to prove that it is possible to provide high quality ICT-enabled services to rural communities on a profitable basis. The company launched the first three centres in May 2007, and is on track to open all 25 centres. Early indications suggest that demand for EasySeva services is high.
Uniqueness in the package (franchise-in-a-box):
The EasySeva franchise-in-a-box includes a standard equipment package that each franchisee is required to acquire as part of the franchise agreement. The package consists of four reconditioned PCs with a licensed suite of MS Office, a printer-copier-fax, broadband connection, and 1-2 VoIP phones. The PCs and printers are supported by a reliable Sri Lankan vendor under a one-year service agreement. The PCs are configured with WiFi cards, thus eliminating the need for cabling. EasySeva also installs a local content package, which includes a variety of training and informational materials in Singhalese and Tamil.
The equipment and content package is supported by a micro-loan and leasing arrangement through LOLC (leasing company). Each EasySeva franchisee finances the equipment purchased through a 30 month lease with LOLC. In addition, most franchisees also take out a small working capital loan to cover start-up and initial costs. Because SSG negotiated bulk rates, franchisees are able to obtain better financing terms and credit approval much more quickly than if they had to apply for financing independently.
The business philosophy:
Though this initiative was funded by the USAID LMI (Last Mile Initiative), from the outset, SSG sought to use a radically different strategy. Rather than working as a traditional development project, the company saw the fund as an opportunity to demonstrate the efficacy of a BoP (Bottom of the pyramid) ICT business model. Accordingly, SSG proposed to use the build-out of the centres as a proof-of-concept for a ‘bankable’ business model that could be rolled out across the island. To be bankable, the project had to demonstrate a significant economic opportunity for private investors
The vision of the company is to attract private investment to finance the opening of 400-500 centres in Sri Lanka over the next 3-4 years, and an additional 1,000 centres in other markets in South Asia. In doing so, the company believes it can offer a significant ‘double-bottom line’ return on investment. On the economic side, the company’s financial models suggest that the franchise will achieve strong financial returns by offering a mixture of services: voice, internet, training, financial and health, all of which offer revenue opportunities for both the franchise and the individual entrepreneur. In turn, the centres should have substantial positive impacts in rural communities by giving BoP customers access to quality services for the very first time.
Thursday, 24 January 2008
Following are the answers from multiple panellists during GK3 – Sustainability First panel. (See un-synthesised report)
Ugabytes - Uganda: Ugabytes has a regional network, going down to the national and the individual telecentre levels. These layers contribute to the sustainability of each other at the individual telecentre level. This is achieved by packaging services at all levels (Sulah Ndaula – Executive Director, Ugabytes).
Grameen – Bangladesh: In the Bangladesh model, the scale up is very ambitious, but we are very optimistic about the model. It is not donor funded and there is a lot of stress on individual entrepreneurship. Telecentres are considered self supportive enterprises with the owner investing some capital to start it (A.M.M. Yahya, Director, Grameenphone CIC)
ICTA – Sri Lanka: In Sri Lanka, the concept of entrepreneurship has moved from the individual to the community, a community based organization (CBO) being taken as the entrepreneur. Another factor is that the telecentre initiative is not an isolated one. It is linked to various ongoing ICT4D activities,(i.e. e-SriLanka), which is about building the IT capacity and infrastructure. At the same time, developing innovative technologies for rural areas. Rural BPO (Business Process Outsourcing) projects, the e- governance initiative, subsidy voucher scheme etc.. (Reshan Devapura, COO, ICTA)
OneRoof – Maxico & India: The OneRoof initiative has discovered that optimism about sustainability varies from country to country and the same is true about the challenges encountered. OneRoof model worked very efficiently in India, but it was not so much successful in Mexico (Miguel Raimilla, Director, OneRoof).
Wednesday, 23 January 2008
Why does the eco-system matter? This had been a question raised during Sustainability First panel discussion during GK3. Following are the answers (synthesized) from panellists;
1. Individual telecentre is an isolated entity, and perhaps the manager is overburdened by operational demands. Network can provide assistance, fill the gaps (such as content generation) and address the challenges, to make them function better.
2. Networks can document best practices in telecentre sustainability and disseminate the same to the telecentre managers to learn from each other.
3. Connectivity cost is a deciding factor of telecentre revenue and sustainability. And it needs negotiations with the corporate partners (telecom operators) and government policy makers. Networks have the better mandate, power and capacity to negotiate / influence them.
4. It is important to build correct partnerships with diverse individuals and institutions to find opportunities and expand operational space. The network can help in partnership building.
5. The networks can build the capacity and motivate the telecentre operators.
6. The networks can also help in setting up monitoring and evaluation systems at the micro and macro levels.
Monday, 21 January 2008
ICT is not a basic human need like food, water or shelter. For the people struggling to survive through acute poverty, ICT is not a solution. Bottom of the Pyramid (BoP) is infested with myriad of poverty issues. How can one expect to generate money from BoP?
Most of the telecentres are, by design located in such poverty ridden rural outskirts. Where people struggle to survive, no basic infrastructure facilities, people are not educated, leave alone skills even basic literacy rates are at rock-bottom. This leads to the question, how feasible to dream telecentre sustainability, if they are not in a marketable environment.
Computer training, getting Photo Copy, developing a CV, or to taking a phone call, all such common services offered at a telecentre have a price tag. Can the community around the telecentres pay this price? Would the people be ready to pay? Can their already debt-burdened pockets afford to pay these additional prices? While these questions raised by many telecentre activists in developing countries, there are few who found answers too.
According to a research carried out by Microsoft UP, in 2004 – 2006 in 7 states in India, covering 300 telecentres (belong to n-Logue and Drishtee) 70 – 88 % telecentres reported profits. Over 10% of the users of n-Logue and Drishtee kiosks come from poor families earning less than 2000Rs (Ind). They recorded about 2000Rs/ month profit. Most of the revenue generated from Computer education services, while digital photography, photocopy services, email and games also added some income.
Another research indicates how rural village communities had mobilized village community savings to buy computers to install at their Village Information Centres (VIC) in Sri Lanka. The VICs are simple village information libraries, without computers. Inspired by the telecentres in the townships, villagers had taken the extra initiative to add computers to their VICs upgrading them to telecentres. Sarvodaya-Fusion reports about 34 such village initiatives out of 172 VICs established over years. (They saved money from the community savings programs, utilized micro-finance models).
According to Lirneasia research, 41% of the BoP in Sri Lanka, owns their own phones and 21% of them are mobile phones. Another 31% is planning to buy a phone. But 28% is not planning to buy, mostly because they cannot afford to buy. This can be a primary market for telecentres in Sri Lanka, according to Prof Rohan Samarajiva of Lireneasia.
All these cases provide evidence that the Bottom of Pyramid still have a potential. And that is yet to be tapped!
That was a very confident statement of a member from donor community, that I heard during WSIS, Tunis, in 2005.
When we begun the sustainability research in mid 2006, whenever the word telecentre comes to the discussion, the synonym associated was ‘No’ they are not sustainable. Pandits were busy illustrating pictures from South Africa depicting the story of ailing telecentres without donor funds to sustain (if not failing). In UK, I have witnessed development institutions like ActionAid curtail their project funding in India, Uganda and Burundi. It looked like for the community of ICT4D, the telecentres are Not Sustainable at all. And it sounded as if – sustainability is Impossible!
Thus I started plotting my research path with ‘No’ Paradigm. This is a map depicting the constraining reasons of Telecentre sustainability, constituted by Social Reasons, Economic Reasons, Institutional Reasons and Policy Reasons.
With ‘No’ Paradigm map in hand, I started my research journeys to the multiple parts of the world; Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Benin (West Africa), Chile and interacted with multiple telecentre representatives of telecentre networks, state agencies, corporate sector institutions, civil society movements etc. The more I travel and interact with diverse partners the more I started recognizing the hitherto untold stories of Sustainability Success! Thus emerged the ‘Yes’ Paradigm.
‘Yes’ Paradigm maps the exact counter engagements, that the sustainability champions had employed to build their success stories, countering ‘No’ Paradigm.
When I first exposed the ‘Yes’ paradigm to the telecentre audience of South Asian sub continent (mostly Indian), at eIndia Conference, Delhi, in August 2007, I expected the audience to react against 'Yes'. (Audience was majority telecenter activists and few donor representatives). But the response was quite different. Audience started picking the ‘Yes’ elements. The over obsession of ‘No’ – sustainability started to shatter. That was a beginning of a new journey from pessimism to optimism.
The ‘GK3’ with over 1500 ICT4D community representing all parts of the world, had been a broader platform. The well attended ‘Sustainability Panel discussion’ had provided an endorsement of the ‘Yes’ paradigm as telecentre champions from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Global, representing Government (ICTA of Sri Lanka), Corporate Sector (Grameenphone CIC of Bangladesh, One Roof of Maxico), Civil Society (Ugabytes of Uganda), and Donor community (IDRC, Canada and Microsoft UP, USA) projected the scenarios of success stories and associated challenges. (read the report.)
From WSIS Tunis, 2005 to GK3 - 2007, two years had done something dramatic to the telecentre eco-system (if not ICT4D community). ‘Telecentre sustainability? Yes…may be it is possible! But how..?’ Tone has significantly changed. And it is positive!
(But certainly a long way to go).
Friday, 18 January 2008
A.M.M. Yahya, Grameenphone CIC, Bangladesh
Reshan Dewapura, ICTA, Sri Lanka
Sulah Ndaula, UgaBYTES, Uganda,
Karishma Kiri, Microsoft Corp., Global
Miguel Raimilla, OneRoof, Maxico & India
Mark Surman, telecentre.org
Harsha Liyanage, Sarvodaya-Fusion & telecentre.org
Telecentre sustainability has been a burning issue for over a decade. Recently, a new number franchise networks and others have emerged with new models that promise more sustainable solutions to Shared Access facilities. What is it about these models that is different from past telecentres? Are these new approaches really a long term solution? Will they create a vibrant information ecosystems and market at the base of the pyramid? Or just prop up already struggling centres for a few more years. This panel dug into the 'sustainability question' through a combination of research and case studies from the field.
Why have telecentres struggled with sustainability in the past? (the 'no' paradigm)
What makes franchise networks and other new models different? (the 'yes' paradigm')
Are these new models (or any models) creating a resilient and sustainable market ecosystem?
The whole session was conducted in a talk show manner to find out ways to make the telecentres sustainable and scalable. The focus was on three main questions:
The rest of the questions were directed towards the panelists.
How are franchise networks and other models different in addressing these issues?
Are they the means to create a sustainable market ecosystem in which the telecentres can survive?
Main sustainability challenges & the strategies to deal with them.
Emphasis on capacity building to address the challenge of lack of human resource to manage the telecentre managers (Karishma).
Increased focus on financial sustainability (Reshan, Yahya). Wrong focus often leads to failure. At the same time, it is important to achieve balance between financial and social sustainability (Karishma, Yahya, Reshan).
Challenges are very common in any enterprise. In the business context, the main motivation is to make money. The telecentre enterprise varies slightly, since they also seek to make a difference in the community. The telecentre business model has a dual purpose (Karishma).
Engaging government support (Yahya).
Lack of discipline in the networks. The initial enthusiasm towards business tools diminishes overtime. Such mindset leads to unsustainable telecentre networks. Thus the emphasis should be on incorporating the business concept in telecentre management. The presence of a progress tracking system is inevitable for financial sustainability (Miguel).
In a donor supported model, the question of sustainability appears generally after the disappearance of the donors (Sulah).
Sustainability indicators used by researcher/s (Harsha) to map cases across countries
Social reasons: Leadership issues, Ethos, No economic motivation. For eg Leadership issues includs leadership related challenges. The contradiction lies between volunteerism vs. money making or business aspirations.
Economic reasons: No market at the BoP, No sound economic research data, Lack of marketable services and products, No seed capital.
Institutional reasons: No clear vision, Admin and Management deficiencies, Lack of entrepreneurial capacity, Institutional bureaucracy and politics.
Policy reasons: Non conducive policy environment, Legal systems not supportive.
They have analyzed the question of sustainability against the Yes paradigm and the No paradigm.
The Yes paradigm refers to the positive or the optimistic approach to telecentre sustainability. The networks subscribing to this paradigm agree that there are challenges, but these can be managed. There are some best examples in this case, like tapping the untapped markets. For example, the Drishtee foundation has developed a package of 30 products to sell through the telecentres. They have adopted the social enterprise model that includes both financial sustainability and social development.
Best practices in sustainability across the world:
There are several such examples across the world.
The ugabyte model: they have a regional network, going down to the national and the individual telecentre levels. These layers contribute to the sustainability of each other going down to the individual telecentre level. This is achieved by packaging services at all levels (Sulah).
In the Bangladesh model, the scale up is very ambitious, but they are very optimistic about the model. It is not donor funded and there is a lot of stress on individual entrepreneurship. Telecentres are considered self supportive enterprises with the owner investing some capital to start it (Yahya)
In Sri Lanka also, they prefer the entrepreneurial model, but the concept of entrepreneurship has moved from the individual to the community, a community based organization being the entrepreneur. Another factor is that the telecentre initiative is not an isolated one. It is linked to various ongoing ICT4D activities, such as, e-SriLanka, which is about building the IT capacity to create the human resources for managing the telecentres. At the same time, they are also developing innovative technologies for rural areas. Other projects that can contribute to telecentre sustainability are the Rural BPO projects, the e- governance initiative, etc. They have also come up with an innovative, voucher scheme. This also provides income to the telecentre mangers (Reshan)
The OneRoof initiative has discovered that optimism about sustainability varies from country to country and the same is true about the challenges encountered. Their model worked very efficiently in India, but it was not so much successful in Mexico (Miguel).
For telecentre success, it is important to package services that the community can use and build trust in the community. And at the same time, the network should strive to bring in services from the private sector, the government, and other institutions, organizations, agencies that provide services to fill in the gap in backend services.
This was found to be true during the Sustainability research as well. There are a lot of success stories from Latin America as well, but such stories are very few in Africa. The telecentre movement is still taking roots in African countries.
The variation in the momentum for telecentre sustainability varies from region to region due to variations in the political structure, policy environment, the policy advocacy approach & culture. (Harsha).
In the Mission 2007 model, which is a collective approach to tackle the challenges of telecentre sustainability, regional variations and variations across the states are visible (Karishma)
The role of telecentre networks in addressing sustainability challenges;
Since the individual telecentres are generally isolated, it is important to network them. The networks can play an important role in addressing the gaps and the challenges.
The networks are mainly driven by the need to fill the gap that the individual telecentres cannot do on their own (Sulah).
Networks can also document best practices in telecentre sustainability and disseminate the same to the telecentre managers to learn from such initiatives.
The networks can also help in identifying the missing skills, and impart the same to the managers.
Community involvement is not all that difficult, but they require a level playing field. Low or negligible utilization of telecentre services is mainly due to the lack of infrastructure. Connectivity hinders the utilization of telecentre services (Yahya)
The telecentres can profit only after meeting all the operational costs. Therefore, variations in the cost of connectivity across the nations affect the sustainability of the telecentres. The telecentre networks can negotiate with the government and the service providers to bring it down. It also depends on how many companies or service providers are in the competition. For example, the telecommunication is controlled by only one company in Mexico, so the rates are not competitive (Yahya, Reshan, Miguel).
To some extent sustainability also depends on the innovativeness of the telecentre operators. S/he has to be connected to the right persons/ partners to find the opportunities to make the telecentres more sustainable. The network can help in identifying such partners and connecting them (Yahya)
The networks can also facilitate sharing and learning between the telecentre operators. The human spirit to share has always been there. For the networks, the main jobs can be capacity building and driving the motivation of the telecentre workers (Karishma).
The networks can also help in setting up monitoring and evaluation systems at the micro and macro levels. They can help in setting up telecentres, building partnerships for them, they can advise, guide, and motivate the telecentre managers. They can help in creating support systems for the telecentre managers.
Inputs from open floor discussions:
In several countries, the telecentres are not limited to the rural areas. They are also serving the marginalized communities in the urban areas. In Turkey, the telecentres are not in rural areas, but they are in cites. It is equally important to bridge the divide in the urban areas as well.
As far as the services are concerned, majority of them should be related to health, legal services, telemedicine.
Telecentre sustainability has to be seen also from the value proposition angle. If it provides value for the franchisee and for the whole chain involved in service delivery.
The government can function both as service providers and clients.
(report made with courtesy of Shipra Sharma, India).
Tuesday 11 December
14:00 to 15:30
EM3: Emerging Markets Workshop / Parallel Workshop 2
Room: FR406-407, Level 4
Telecentre sustainability has been a burning issue for over a decade. Recently, a number of franchise networks and others have emerged with new models that promise more sustainable solutions to public access to computers. What is it about these models that is different from past telecentres? Are these new approaches really a long term solution? Will they create a vibrant information ecosystems and market at the base of the pyramid? Or just prop up already struggling centres for a few more years. This panel will dig into the 'sustainability question' through a combination of research and case studies from the field.
- Why have telecentres struggled with sustainability in the past? (the 'no' paradigm)
- What makes franchise networks and other new models different? (the 'yes' paradigm')
- Are these new models (or any models) creating a resilient and sustainable market ecosystem?
Moderator & Panelists
Moderator: Mark Surman – telecentre.org
Panelist: A.M.M. Yahya, Director, Grameen Phone, Bangladesh (franchise)
Panelist: Harsha Liyanage, Director, Fusion, Sarvodaya (research)
Panelist: Karishma Kiri, Director, Unlimited Potential Group, Microsoft (corporate)
Panelist: Reshan Dewapura, COO, ICT Agency of Sri Lanka (government)
Panelist: Sulah Nduala, Executive Director, Ugabytes (NESST process)
Panelist: Miguel Raimilla, Director, OneRoof, Mexico & India
Session will use a lively 'talk show format'. The moderator will interview the seven panelists based on the three questions above. This will be interspersed with extensive audience interaction.
Opening and introductions (moderator)
Discussion: why have telecentres struggled with sustainability? (audience)
Response: the struggle with sustainability / the 'no' paradigm. (panelists)
What's changing? A quick look at the research. (Harsha)
Emerging new models / the 'yes' paradigm. (panelists)
Discussion: questions about the 'yes' paradigm? (audience)
Beyond models: creating a resilient ecosystem. (panelists)
Closing summary (moderator)
We have seen significant innovation in telecentre business models in the past five years: new services; franchise networks; entreprenuer-led centres. This panel both explores these innovations and asks if these new approaches are enough. It also looks to the future to see what new trends are on the horizon.