Myanmar Will Be the First Smartphone Only Country

Today, Myanmar has the same mobile phone usage as North Korea, Eritrea, and Cuba – less than 10% – with only the urban elite owning smartphones, and mobile networks limited in scope and functionality. Yet technology restrictions are ending, and three mobile operators are racing to roll out services to 60 million across the country.

Ooredoo aims to have 3G coverage for 50% of the population by year’s end, with Telenor and Myanmar Post and Telecom with their own ambitious targets. By the end of 2015, most of Myanmar’s population will live within range of a 3G or better mobile network system.

The people of Myanmar will not be connecting to this network with basic or feature phones for three reasons:

1. Smartphones are cheapWhile new iPhones are still several hundred dollars, there is an explosion of cheap Android handsets available in Myanmar already. $50USD can buy a Karbonn Smart A50S, Spice Smart Flo Edge from India or one of many no-name Chinese-made phones. And that’s today.

With the $25 Firefox phone coming out soon, we’ll see even cheaper, full-featured smartphones flooding the low-end market. By the end of 2015, expect smartphone prices even in developed markets dropping to sub-$100 prices.

2. Burmese are savvy

Mobile phones are also more than just a communications device; they are an aspirational status symbol. And Myanmar is not some remote backwater. Wedged between India and Thailand, with trade and cultural links to both, Burmese are quick to pick up innovations and aspire to join the ranks of Southeast Asia’s elite countries. They are not going to be satisfied with feature phones. Only smartphones will matter.

In fact, looking around Yangon today, I haven’t seen a single feature phone. Even the bus drivers and market sellers have smartphones of some type. They may be used or cheap Chinese knock-offs, but they are not basic phones. Offical surveys say that Android smartphones are 95% of the Burmese market already.

3. Services will be smart

Talking with Ooredoo and Telenor, they are focused purely on smartphone applications for their networks, as is the nascent technology start-up sector. None are looking at feature phone applications nor are they considering SMS text messages or even USSD as their communication system.

Even the international NGOs are moving quickly to develop smartphone applications for their constituencies. And once mobile money becomes widespread, they will even move “cash” payments from physical to virtual currencies.

What does this mean for you? First, adjust your perception of what a developing country looks like. The 60 million people of Myanmar are rushing into the future, practically overnight, and they will have the same technology in their hands as you do.

Next, realize that there will be big money to be made in multiple little niches. With almost 60 million people coming online, there will be massive opportunity to satisfy consumer and business needs – both obvious ones we are familiar with in other countries, and those unique to Myanmar.

Finally, what are you waiting for? The people of Myanmar are not waiting for you.

The Status of ICT in Cambodia

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On June 26, 2014, Cambodia’s MPs approved the National Strategic Development Plan (NSDP) for 2014-2018. This ambitious document is the country’s blueprint for economic policy, and since it contains a full section dedicated to ICTs, this is a good opportunity to take stock of the current state of this increasingly strategic sector.

1. Why has Cambodia made the development of ICTs a priority?

Simply because ICTs can have a transformational impact and pave the way to Cambodia’s sustainable development. They can boost the economy both in the short and longer run. In 2009, the World Bank showed that using ICTs enable companies to increase their productivity but also that a 10 percent increase in the Internet penetration can contribute to 1.38 percent of GDP growth. On top of these economic benefits, ICTs can also improve the life of the most disadvantaged by granting them a better access to basic services.

2. How is the Cambodian ICT sector doing?

There is a paradox. Traditional information and communication services are of poor quality. Public postal services are unreliable; mass media do not reach 15 percent of the Cambodians; and only 3.96 percent have a fixed phone line. When you look closer, though, the picture is different. It turns out that Cambodia has been closing its technological gap by moving straight to mobile and Internet. In 2008, 3.8 million people had a cell phone; in 2014, there are 20.2 million SIM cards in circulation, which is a 130 percent penetration rate (regional average rate reaching 89 percent).

The Internet sector is also doing well. Six years ago, fewer than 10,000 Cambodians had a web connection, and it was extremely slow. Today 2.5 million people have Internet access at home, and an additional two million Cambodians go online daily using their smartphones.

3. How to explain this leapfrogging development?

There are two main reasons. First, the coverage is good in most regions, and this is because both the public and private players have invested in the telecom infrastructures — up to $209 million by 2015. Moreover, in the past decade, Cambodia has experienced a 7-8 percent economic growth per year. As a consequence, standards of living have risen, and the emergence of a middle class has attracted many operators. With the competition being fierce, both mobile and Internet subscription prices have been reduced.

4. To which extent have ICTs impacted the Cambodian society?

It took only a few years, but ICTs have already transformed the Cambodian society. On the economic level, they have boosted entrepreneurship: 2011 census showed that the tech industry was among the fastest growing in Cambodia. Moreover, ICTs have had a positive impact on other economic sectors, such as agriculture. In central Cambodia, for instance, Oxfam has been implementing an “e-agriculture” program. By providing rural women with a mobile phone, they have given them a tool to plan when to harvest, integrate with the national market and eventually increase their revenues.

On the social level, ICTs have proven they can be impactful as well, in particular by expanding the access to basic services. In 2014, for example, Women’s Media Center of Cambodia launched a radio show in order to promote maternal care in the countryside. To make sure they reach everyone, they decided to develop an Interactive Voice Response system. And it has worked: in only three months 4,500 people called to get information.

However, the most striking impact has been political as ICTs have helped further strengthen the Cambodian democracy. During the 2013 elections, many voters would check Facebook and YouTube to get not-censored reports. Despite some irregularities, the opposition party obtained 44 percent of the votes. Eventually, Cambodia’s Prime Minister who has been incumbent since 1985 had to agree to share some of its power.

5. Which challenges will the Cambodian ICT sector be facing in the coming years?

Among the many challenges, two stand out in the short run. First there is no consistent legal framework, which affects the industry as a whole. In September 2012, the government established the Telecom Regulator of Cambodia. However, since the Telecom Law has not been passed yet, the rules rely on a collection of somehow volatile and often flouted decrees. The second challenge lies in the current market saturation. In a country of only 15 million people, there are seven mobile companies and 24 Internet operators. Since Cambodians have no brand loyalty, experts believe the market will have to restructure soon, and this may cause some business turbulence in the coming years.

Apply Now for the Digital Youth Fellowship Programme

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The Digital Youth Fellowship Programme (DYFP) of the Digital Empowerment Foundation seeks to engage willing youths in India and South Asia, who are keen to have development and grassroots experience in working with communities in any parts in India. The fellowship period is for minimum 90 days duration, and fellows get travel, accommodation, and living expenses during their fellowship.

Over 100 selected fellows will be guided to work with communities under various Digital Empowerment Foundation programmes that have Information Communication Technology (ICT) applications, usage and utility. Fellows will be expected to engage in:

  • Community mobilization and engagement
  • Skill development & capacity building
  • Reporting and documentation
  • Information and content aggregation
  • Research inputs including data capturing and mining

Willing applicants can write to Ms. Ritu Srivastava, Programme Manager at [email protected] with a formal communication along with updated curriculum vitae. Application shall accompany with a 500 words note on why the applicant is interested in one of the various flagship programmes of Digital Empowerment Foundation as briefly outlined below:

Digital Panchayat
Under this initiative, fellows are ought to travel and work with a cluster of Panchayats at a district level. The tasks of the fellows are cut out to make elected members digitally literate and collect content of the Panchayats and put them online through dedicated Digital Panchayat website. Check out online Panchayats at http://epanchayat.in.

Wireless for Communities (W4C)
The Wireless for Communities (W4C) initiative establishes wireless based broadband internet cluster and provides connectivity in remote areas denied of connectivity and access. Using the free spectrum for wireless connectivity, W4C program has so far established 8 community networks in Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Meghalaya, Jharkhand and Uttarakhand. If you are keen to experience the W4C journey, as a Digital Wireless Fellow, you can join the program for a minimum 3 months period and explore on the ground how to connect rural and remote locations and feel empowered. More details at http://wforc.in

Chanderiyaan
The Chanderiyaan project was initiated by DEF as a part of digital cluster development flagship programme. As a fellow you can join the Digital Fellowship of the Loom programme and contribute in textile and apparel designing and making entrepreneurs out of the weavers and contribute in overall cluster development.  Check out the Chanderiyaan project at http://chanderiyaan.chanderi.org/, the Chanderiyaan e-commerce platform at http://chanderiyaan.net  and the Chanderi heritage town at http://chanderiheritage.in

Community Information Resource Centres (CIRC)
Digital Empowerment Foundation has established more than 30 CIRCs across India, which are digitally enabled and Internet connected for information services delivery and access, digital literacy, ICT Skills, citizen services and livelihood opportunities. The mission at DEF continues to establish one CIRC in each district of India. As CIRC resource persons, selected fellows are supposed to work with a particular CIRC, can join a 3-6 months stationed programme and contribute in making one person per household digitally literate and information empowered. Check out for more details at http://defindia.org.

Digital Library Programme (DLP)
As a fellow of the DLP programme, selected fellows are invited to work with district public libraries in Kanpur Rural District (Uttar Pradesh) and Betiah in West Champaran District of Bihar. Selected fellows shall contribute in implementing and running various programme activities in the libraries with the support of ICTs.

eNGO
Fellows are invited to join the eNGO programme to empower grassroots NGOs and development agencies with ICT support. Fellows shall provide support in having NGOs their own web platforms; provide content, training and capacity building support of NGOs and their functionaries to make them ICT enabled. Details at http://pirengo.org

Vote Now for 2014 ISIF Asia Community Choice Award

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We are very pleased to announce that ISIF Asia received 93 applications for the 2014 ISIF Asia Awards. 34 applications from 12 different economies have been selected to take part in the awards process. The ISIF Asia selection committee has officially started the assessments of the applications to select 4 award winners, one for each one of the award categories to be announced during the first week of July.

Each award package comprises of 3,000 AUD cash prize plus a travel grant to attend the Internet Governance Forum in Istambul later this year, to participate in the discussions about the future of the Internet.

Community Choice Award

In addition to the 4 awards selected by the Selection Committee, the Community Choice Award is given to the application with the highest number of online votes. The online voting is open until midnight on 26 June.

Please vote for your favorite project:

  1. Login to be able to cast your vote.
  2. Review the Award Nominees and choose your favorite applicant.
  3. Click on the red square with the word “Vote” to cast your vote.
  4. Verify the information on the pop-up window to make sure the vote is valid.
  5. Another pop up window will appear indicating that your vote was successfully submitted and inviting you to promote your vote on social media. Please share widely, to increase your favorite project’s chances to win.
  6. Logout from the system so that others sharing your computer will be able to vote from another account.

Please note that Facebook likes are NOT counted as votes.

The Telecentre Movement in Bangladesh: Ups and Downs From 1987 to Present

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Telecentres are known to ICT4D professional as a popular ICT4D initiative to bridge digital divides and build an information society, one aspect of the WISIS 2003/2005 agenda. Being influenced by the WISIS Geneva and Tunisia summit, International donors prioritised telecentre projects in South Asian and African countries. As a result, the telecentre movement was at its peak during last decade in Bangladesh, however telecentres started in Bangladesh in 1987.

Because of my involvement with the telecentre movement in South Asian and African countries during that period, I am in a position to reflect their history and impact. In this post, I am describing the ups and downs of the telecentre movement in Bangladesh from my own experience.

Inception of telecentres in Bangladesh

In 1987, Dhaka Ahsania Mission (DAM) launched Gonokendra (people’s centres), which is considered as the first generation telecentre in Bangladesh. The services of Gonokendra includes facilities to read newspapers, exchange experiences, learn from success stories, get information about innovations to improve livelihoods, etc. using mainly hard copy materials as only 5% of them had computers, none of which had internet connectivity.

After several years, in 2001, organisations like Amader Gram and Relief International started their telecentre projects. With other factors, availability of GSM based internet connectivity (GPRS, EDGE), played a significant role in boosting telecentres during 2005. After 2005 several organisations including corporate organisations like Grameen Phone started telecentres for their commitments to society.

Telecentre as a movement in Bangladesh

Telecentre.org supported the inception of the telecentre movement in Bangladesh which was started with ‘Building Telecentre Family in Bangladesh: A Workshop for the Social Entrepreneurs and Practitioners’ held in Rangpur Bangladesh during August 27-29, 2006.

I am fortunate to have first-hand experience of the workshop where participating organisations in Bangladesh decided to consider telecentre as a movement to fight against poverty and carry it forward. Telecentre.org provided support to learn from the experience in India, Sri Lanka and Uganda to ensure sustainability of the movement.

Birth of Bangladesh Telecentre Network (BTN)

After much though about the modalities to make the initiative sustainable, the momentum created in Rangpur continued with the financial support of telecentre.org to develop a network organisation for telecentre activist in Bangladesh. As an ICT4D professional, I was proud to lead the development of the website, mission2011.net.bd and tools like GIS Based National Telecentre Database and Telecentre Reference Desk which was aiming to help BTN members.

Unfortunately, the member organisations were not encouraged enough to take over those tools after the network start-up funding from telectetre.org ended.

Mission 2011: Pledge to establish 40000 telecentre by 2011

Inspired by the ‘Mission 2007’ of India, BTN declared an ambitious ‘Mission 2011’ to establish 40,000 telecentres in Bangladesh by the 40th anniversary of the independence of Bangladesh adding up the commitments for new telecentres of the members. Gradually, BTN started to realise that it is impossible to reach the target. Despite of efforts to convince people BTN could not stop some of the critics. Unfortunately, like many other development projects BTN’s influence becomes weaker with the phase out of donor funds.

I had access to the complete list of telecentres in Bangladesh as the Bangladesh country manager of the Global Impact Studies. According to my analysis Mission 2011 was able to achieve less than 10% of its target, however my colleagues claim that it played an important role to include telecentre as an agenda in the Digital Bangladesh declaration of the Government of Bangladesh.

Government take over telecentres and scale them up

The Access to Information (A2I) Programme housed in the Prime Minister’s office of the Government of Bangladesh took over the idea. As a result, on November 2010, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh inaugurated one Union Information and Service Centres (UISC) in each Union Parisad (4,501 telecentres in total). However, all of them were not operational at the beginning.

Recently, Bengali newspapers published several articles criticising the quality of UISC services. During my visit to Rangpur and Barisal region in November 2013, I found that among 60 farmers I talked to, only three know about the centres and one used their services. The farmer seems not so happy, but he mentioned it is better to have something than nothing.

Sustainability of Bangladeshi Telecentre

As we know, the sustainability of telecentre is a widely debated issue. A significant number of ICT4D professional and academics claims telecentres are not sustainable. However, there is another group who claims some of the telecentres are sustainable. The case of Bangladesh is not an exception.

As the Bangladesh country manager of the Global Impact Studies, Survey my observation is, on an average only 5 people visits a telecentre each day which is not enough to earn enough revenue for sustainability. However, there may be some exceptional cases.

The Evolution of Telecentres and Libraries in Indonesia

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Telecentres, a public place to access computers and the Internet, and libraries aim to serve isolated community to facilitate better access to information and knowledge. Especially in developing countries, telecentres and libraries help in reducing digital divides.

In the development of this concept, telecentres also favour for profit entities as cybercafés, which have similar goals as telecentres. Gomez et al. (2009) includes cybercafé as a telecenter by recognizing the importance of cybercafé in providing access to ICT, although an institution or network doesn’t support it. Cybercafes are located in areas with high income and tourists, yet do offer an important source of public access to ICT.

Looking to the potential of Indonesia, it has 14,516 libraries, 400 telecenters, and 7,000 cybercafés (Gomez et al., 1999). From this statistic, it is interesting to see the potential for growing telecentres in Indonesia. Here are two case studies of the use of libraries as telecentres in Indonesia.

Online Content Library

Public libraries, as the new telecentres, provide public access to ICT in Indonesia. In West Kalimantan, the use of ICT in public libraries is driven by [email protected], an international multilateral relationship between Indonesia, Malaysia and Brunei Darussalam in Borneo, a strategic island in the middle of Southeast Asia. The countries have authorities to protect sustainable forest within Borneo.

Supported by more than 16 institutions from 2 states and 3 provinces, [email protected] has important roles to ensure accessibility of information resources about Borneo and was initially founded to use online access to provide key knowledge to citizens on Borneo.

Focusing on forest at the beginning, [email protected] nowadays expands its digital collections to other topics. The good news for local libraries is that the more digital contents, the higher demands to provide computers and Internet access for citizens. Therefore, the need of telecentre equipment in public libraries is high and seen as necessary.

For example, a public library managed by West Kalimantan Provincial Government provides 24 PCs and equips Internet access points for public who need the Internet for both accessing content and seeking books in an online catalogue managed by the library administrators.

Because of the ICs, the library now has increased visitors. Over 340 visitors come to the library every day, including holidays, 7 days a week, and 47,860 visitors came in the last year. Nining, a computer administrator of the library says,

“There is significant increase since the library provide Internet access and open every day, Monday – Saturday from 08.00am to 10.00pm and Sunday from 08.30am to 05.00pm. In addition, 200GB bandwidth quota allocated for this month already run out a week before the end of the month”

Modern Library Concept

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Jakarta’s @america, is an interesting example of how the concepts of telecentres and libraries have evolved to the present day. Unlike telecentre that focuses on providing access to computers, the US Embassy’s funded @america offers its visitors access to resources, learning space, as well as educational advice and guidance. @america interactively engages audience with varied and edgy content-rich activities such as discussions, web chats, competitions, cultural performances and exhibitions.

Moreover, @america equips audiences with the latest mobile devices and Internet connection – all free of charge. @america takes benefits from its location in a popular upmarket shopping mall with its large crowds of regular shoppers. Accordingly, @america is open for public 10am to 9pm daily. To further its impact, @america builds partnership with non-profit organizations, educational institutions and private companies to expand its message.

The idea of @america as a contemporary technology-rich library has superseded the one of a telecentre. As various studies have proven, a telecentre, with its simplistic approach, is unable to either promote social inclusion effectively or bridge the digital divide in underserved communities. With its strong online and offline presence, @america has emerged as an attractive public access venue for multi-facet communication, interaction and learning. People are hungry for knowledge and opportunities; @america delivers exactly that.


Contributors

Eko Prasetyo leads the implementation of Jhpieho’s mHealth initiative in Indonesia. He graduated from MSc. Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) programme at The University of Manchester.

Sofiarti Dyah Anggunia works as Database Analyst at West Kalimantan Provincial Government, Indonesia. She holds an M.Sc in Information and Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D) from The University of Manchester.

Larastri Kumaralalita is currently member of e-government laboratory in University of Indonesia. She gained MSc. of Management and Information Systems at Institute for Development Policy and Management (IDPM), University of Manchester, and Bachelor in Computer Science, majoring in Information Systems, at Computer Science Faculty, University of Indonesia.

Apply Now: ISIF Asia Awards

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The ISIF Asia Awards seek to acknowledge the important contributions ICT innovators have made with creative solutions to the social and economic development of the Asia Pacific region. The ISIF Asia Awards are granted to initiatives on the last stages of implementation or that have finalized activities already that are aligned with the funding categories and eligibility criteria.

Financial support for up to AUD 3,000 is allocated via a competitive process, plus a travel grant to attend the awards ceremony at a regional or global event chosen by the ISIF Asia secretariat. Innovation and a development focus should be an integral part of all award nominations.

Nominations for the 2014 ISIF Asia awards close 26 May 2014
Nominate your project now!
The funding categories are:

  • Innovation on access provision: Access to Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs) is a prevalent issue in the Asia Pacific region, especially for services that require broadband connectivity. Innovative solutions offering low cost deployment, low power consumption and low maintenance that expanded fixed and mobile access to the internet through new forms of technical and organizational arrangements as well as improved the quality of access based on issues of accessibility, disability and linguistic diversity.
  • Innovation on learning and localization: Capacity building and localization efforts have been key to develop the skills needed to design, maintain, and manage ICT infrastructure and services in local languages, supporting local talent and creating job opportunities in rural or urban marginalized areas. Innovative, open, inclusive and sustainable approaches to learning and localization are key elements to guarantee the quality of access to knowledge needed to offer reliable services and applications.
  • Code for the common good: High mobile penetration in the AP region has been a catalyst in the development of mobile-based services, applications and software solutions. These solutions have been used to support timely and relevant information dissemination on a large scale using a range of network infrastructures through a variety of devices, even where literacy rates are lower. Mobile technologies have enabled communities to increase participation in political processes, coordinate efforts during emergency situations, receive extreme weather alerts, communicate with remote health services, and receive specialized patient referrals, among many other applications.
  • Rights: Strategic use of Internet tools and services to promote freedom of expression, freedom of association, privacy, security, consumers’ rights, gender equality, new forms of intellectual property in the digital environment, and a wider range of issues related to the Internet and human rights.

In addition to selecting a winner per category, a Community Choice Award will be granted to the best social media campaign (the project with the highest number of votes from the community).

What are you waiting for? Apply today!

Is TV White Space the Ideal Wireless Data Delivery Medium for the Philippines?

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You know all those fuzzy TV channels that don’t seem to be used? Well, in between each channel is even more unused space. Called “TV white space” or TVWS, this unused radio frequency between broadcast TV channels in the very high frequency (VHF) and ultra high frequency (UHF) range between 54 MHz and 806 MHz represents an amazing untapped wireless spectrum resource for developing countries.

Marco Zennaro and Ermanno Pietrosemoli of the Abdus Salaam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) have put together a great collection of essays on TV White Spaces with an emphasis on their application in emerging markets. “TV White Spaces — A Pragmatic Approach“, covers both technical and policy issues as well as providing information on real world pilots.

In the Philippines, the Department of Science and Technology-Information and Communications Technology Office (DOST-ICTO) estimates that there are about 24-31 channels (46 percent white space) available in rural areas. The national capital region and Cebu has 24 unused channels (63 percent) and the Mindanao area (Davao) has about 18 (62-80 percent).

In fact, Louis Casambre, Executive Director of DOST-ICTO says that:

“TVWS is an ideal wireless data delivery medium for the Philippines, with its long distance propagation characteristics and the ability of its signals to travel over water and through thick foliage, we are hopeful that this will be the technology to bring connectivity to rural areas and bridge the digital divide”

Philippines leading Asia in TVWS experimentation

Undersecretary Casambre is putting his agency at the forefront of TVWS experimentation. DOST-ICTO and the private company Nityo Infotech are currently testing the technology in the largest pilot deployment in Asia.

100 sites in the province of Bohol will use TVWS technology as a public service to connect people and organizations to education, eHealth, and eGovernment services, and provide the backbone for environmental sensor networks and for Internet access in public places. The $5 million technology investment will deliver up to 6 mbps of data throughput at a maximum range of 10 km.

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TVWS for Health

One of TVWS projects that will be connected is the deployment of RxBox units. RxBox is a DOST-developed telehealth device that enable remote consultations between patients, community health workers, and experts in urban areas.

The device can take a patient’s electrocardiogram or ECG, heart rate, blood, pulse rate and blood oxygenation and supports “teleconsultation” between patients and remote clinical experts. While the RxBox usually works just over SMS in remote areas, in the TVWS pilot, it will be connected via broadband Internet for true real-time telemedicine activities. That’s a broadband innovation we can all be proud of.

How to Ensure Long-Term Sustainability for a Chuuk Computer Lab

Thanks to funding from the Internet Society Community Grant Program as well as from the Information Society Innovation Fund (isif.asia) a computer learning lab has been established at the Chuuk Women’s Council!

Our goal in establishing a computer lab in the Chuuk Women’s Council (CWC) is with the aim of empowering and connecting, with ICT, the women of Chuuk State, in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM).

The Chuuk Women’s Council is an established umbrella organization for the different women’s organizations across Chuuk State, which promotes women’s leadership, education on health and gender issues, environmental conservation, practical skills-building for employment opportunities, and the preservation of traditional and cultural crafts.

Given the existing strengths of the center and the breadth of the programs already on offer, we believe that the technology of this computer lab will serve to complement and enable this organization that is already extremely successful in its non-technical endeavors.

In planning the computer lab, we looked at five key ways to assure long-term sustainability:

  1. Computer Hardware (Rugged, Portable, Low Energy Usage, Good Performance & a Webcam)
  2. Software (Office Software, Typing Aid, Basic ICT Skill Modules, & Virus Protection)
  3. Internet Access (WiFi, Bandwidth)
  4. Training (Basic ICT, Email, Web Searching, Office Software)
  5. Support and Maintenance (Shares, Onsite, Software/Hardware Repair & Remote Troubleshooting)

With our solution requirements and guidelines, a plan was developed and agreed upon with project partners. The support for this computer lab was linked to the PISCES project that during 2012 deployed solar powered wireless connectivity to Chuuk. Building on the connectivity and the capacity built during the PISCES project, the ISIF Asia program has supported 2 consecutive grants to iSolutions to connect schools and improve the solar powered infrastructure available.

It is our hope and intent that this computer lab at the Council’s facility, accompanied by trainings in how to make use of the technology and the Internet, will greatly enhance the existing CWC offerings and will empower Chuuk’s women to use ICT’s communications and information capabilities to enhance their own quality of life and improve their own communities.

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The CWC has an existing room within their facilities designated to serve as the computer lab: where the sewing classes currently take place!

Thanks to the mobility of the laptops comprising the lab, they will be able to utilize the room as a sewing room in the mornings, and as a computer lab in the afternoons, with the added bonus that the sewing machine bases can very conveniently serve as “desks” for the laptops.

Alternatively, the laptops can easily be brought to any room within the CWC to be used for training, education, or any ICT skill based needs that will help the staff accomplish their tasks.

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We started on-the-ground in Chuuk by preparing the laptops at iSolutions, a small company co-founded and directed by project partner TR Mori, pioneering community Internet access through the only cyber-café and computer repair center in Chuuk.

Many of the iSolutions staff helped out with standardizing the programs (listed below) loaded on the laptops, password-protecting them, and installing Reboot Restore RX on each of them for virus protection/removal upon reboot.

We selected Intel Classmate Laptops for the lab, because they are quite energy efficient (important on any small island!), have a speedy processor and long battery life, and are wrapped in a ruggedized and durable housing—not an insignificant point, given that they will be moved each day to create the computer lab/return to a sewing room.

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The programs/features installed included:

  • Windows 7 OS
  • Web Browsers (Chrome and Internet Explorer)
  • Office Suite Software (Open Office)
  • Communications Software (Skype)
  • Rapid Typing
  • Multi Media (webcam software and a multimedia video player)
  • PDF viewer
  • GCF Learn Free
  • MicSem Videos

Once the laptops were ready, we headed over to the CWC for a meeting with the staff, to talk with them and inquire what they had in mind for the computer lab. They were all quite interested in the technology, and were eager to improve their own computer skills.

We asked them what they hoped to be able to do with the computers, as well as spoke about the possibilities for the women who live in more remote locations to be able to use the technology. They expressed that because of the strong person-to-person networks they already have in place, any local chapter of the CWC, from one of the Lagoon Islands for example, could request a training session to take place. They believed this would prove very popular.

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In the meantime, we got started on helping them develop their own computer skills that afternoon. They eagerly jumped in, using the Rapid Typing program, listening to music, using the video camera, and trying out Open Office.

We returned the next day, set up the lab, connected the laptops to the Internet, and held our first training session in the brand new CWC computer lab. Since our “students” had already used the laptops the day before, they were not timid to try anything.

Since we had Internet connectivity today, we surfed to the web, and the two women who didn’t yet have email addresses were already attempting to use Facebook (where they soon discovered they’d need to obtain email addresses in short order)! We tried out the Rapid Typing program again, and then it was time for some multi-media: We watched some videos from MicSem and GCF Free Learn—which proved to be very popular and entertaining.

When I said goodbye to them, they all called out goodbye back, but they hardly even looked up as our team left, they were so engrossed in using the laptops, and certainly not ready to stop after a few hours! That was fantastic.

We are working on editing a video that we made about this experience, so watch for the video to be posted. We also anticipate a return visit in November of this year and to reporting back on how and for what the learning lab is being used.

In the meantime, we also looking forward to hearing more about developments at the CWC’s computer lab in real time; how the staff are using the laptops/lab, when the training sessions for community members will start, and even more exciting developments I couldn’t possibly predict!

Written by Dr. Laura Hosman, assistant professor at Illinois Institute of Technology. Read her blog here.

Libraries are powering economic development in the Philippines

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The energy was palpable as 10 women crowded around the five computers recently installed in the Baguio Reading Center outside of Davao City, Philippines. For most of these women, it was their first time to use a computer. Librarians from the Davao City Library gathered around the computers with the women and taught them the basics.

These women were at the library to attend a workshop on entrepreneurship ran by the City Social Services and Development Office (CSSDO) in Davao. The Development Office helps to extend social services to people living in the Barangay villages surrounding Davao City, including livelihood and entrepreneurship training for women to help them create supplemental incomes.

But the Development Office lacks community spaces within the Barangays and struggles to find convenient locations for their workshops. The Davao City Library has begun partnering with the Development Office by providing space for these trainings and providing continued access to community space and ICTs for members of the community.

Davao City covers an area approximately twice the size of New York City, so trips to the city center to access economic opportunities and related services can be time and cost prohibitive, meaning that communities on the outskirts of the city have limited access to services offered at the city center.

The Davao City Library, a network of 9 libraries and 12 reading centers, is partnering with Beyond Access to extend information access and services to communities that can’t reach the city center. The city government is already renovating a pilot group of three libraries and one reading center to accommodate the new computers and other technology Beyond Access will provide.

Beyond Access is also working with the Molave Development Foundation (ISIF Asia award winner 2012) to train librarians on how to teach basic ICT skills and how to manage ICT resources within their libraries. As you can see, the librarians are already designing services for people in their communities to provide them with greater access to economic opportunities.