Monday, 3 December 2007

Is telecentre Break Even Point a myth..?

Well, that is a question raised by some members in the Ugabytes discussion group. There will be many more out there thinking the same.
In simple language – break even point is where the total revenue in an enterprise meets the total cost. But in application it is not that simple, especially for a socially driven, donor funded telecentre operation, who used to convince a donor to balance their short fall.
But the positive point is, that the sound champions are already there in the telecentre eco-system, who managed to define the less-defined ‘telecentre break even points’. I have met 3 convincing case studies so far;
1. Grameen CIC’s (Bangladesh); the franchise telecentres are expected to meet break even point in 12 months. The total establishment cost per telecentre is estimated to be 1000$US. Grameen offers marketable services such as Grameen Public phone connection, e-top up services (FlexiLoad) and EDGE mobile internet services (with a one year gestation period) for the telecentre operator to reach that economic goal.
2. Drishtee (India); have a systematically designed ‘Mission 6K’, that is to provide a marketable package of services to each telecentre, enabling monthly revenue of 6000Rs (Indian). Estimated break even point is 4500Rs, which is expected to reach in 6 months to 1 year period. Service package includes; mobile phone top up, insurance services, educational services, matrimonial services, online marketing of village products etc.
3. OneRoof (Mexico); franchise model offers 9 products and services to sell through telecentres to reach break even point in 6 months time (estimated). Clean water filters, Carrier counselling, solar panels etc. includes in addition to the traditional ICT based services.
These cases demonstrate the product and service models designed by telecentre network operations of scale, targeting individual telecentre sustainability. There must be other simpler versions adapted by individual operators, as the economically sound individual telecentre operations are already out there, though yet to be taken into this study.

Sunday, 2 December 2007

Empty telecentres ..! Why..?

Telecentres full of computers – but without customers ..? A common question in many parts of the world.

‘Just provision of equipment and building the skills of telecentre operators alone would not solve the problem. It may require attention into broader socio-cultural aspects beyond technology, management and entrepreneurship’. That is the finding of an action research carried out in Sri Lanka, studying Socio-anthropological and Technological reasons behind lack of community participation at telecentres.

Research was carried out by Sarvodaya, together with University of Colombo School of Computing, Centre for Women’s Research, University of Peradeniya and D.Net (of Bangladesh).

The project had set up telecentres at the heart of 2 rural villages, provided the most up to date technology packages and tested community interactions.

Socio-anthropological reasons constraining participation:

  • Religion,

  • Cast

  • Ethnicity

  • Community leadership found as more intrinsically influential in addition to the Gender, Age, Occupation & Educational status.

For instance, locations such as Buddhist temple which were recognized as a place of common interest, in a predominantly Buddhist rural community, found to act as a barrier at the participation of women. In contrast, same telecente facility has become the reason for Muslim youth to visit a Buddhist temple for the first time in their life, fostering healthy ethnic relations.

Such findings provides new insights – that the challenge of filling the rural telecentres are beyond the management and entrepreneurship.

Citizen newspapers; another social enterprise model?

Imagine a villager visiting a telecentre to feed a local news clip to an e-Newspaper that circulates to 100,000 people a day, and get a payment for the news feed..! Well I have eye witnessed that was happening in Chile. In this case it was the telecentre operator (local girl) does the newsfeed.

‘Telecentro San Rafael’, small telecentre with 4 computers, located in a mix community of 6000 people, was run by a young girl. The place is busy with local children, youth and house wives seeking internet services, printing and photocopy services, generating about 270$ a month. During the free hours, telecentre operator feeds the news, that she gathers from the local area to the popular e-newspaper of the area – ‘El a Maule’ ( ). She earns a reasonable fee for her news.

‘El a Maule’ is one of the five well known e-Newspapers in Chile, focus into local news of Maule region of Chile. As per the latest statistics of Diarios Ciudadanos (the company who manage them), more than 100,000 page viewers per day read the news generated by over 2000 Citizen news correspondents, who feed the 70% of the overall content.

Diarios Ciudadanos introduced first Citizen e-Newspaper of Latin America in 2005. By now they run 5 e-Newspapers, and 2 more are scheduled to be launched in months. They partner with local institutions such as Maule Activa – the telecentre network operator, who runs 30 telecentres in Maule region. Telecentre operators were provided training to become local correspondents. For Maule Activa it serves two purposes; (a) an opportunity for the local community to bring their local voices (news) to the national attention, (b) an additional income to the telecentre operator.

Diarios Ciudadanos maintain high standards of news excellence. They never allow news about violence, celebrity gossip, obscene photographs or offensive material. Every news feed by the citizens filters through a network of editors.

Citizen participation is given the best opportunity. As per the Diarios Ciudadanos, journalism evolves into Citizen journalism in the era of network of networks. The rural telecentres are a part of that network eco-system.