‘Telecentres, a good way to dump your money. They are not sustainable!’
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).