mercredi 9 novembre 2011

Web 2.0 leaning opportunity:Day 1

On October 7th, 2011, the first day of a training in web 2.0 tools was jointly hosted by RTN, and the Rwanda Ministry of Agriculture with the support of CTA. The participants were drawn from diverse backgrounds namely government insitutions,civil society organisations and Telecentres.
In fact the training is primarily intended as a training of trainers, so the one unifying thread among the participants is that they were selected for their ability and willingness to share what they learn with others. Those in attendance had an opportunity at the beginning to share their hopes and expectations for the week. Although they work in different fields, most of their expectations revolved around learning more about social media tools and sharing their knowledge to benefit others-- whether in the public at large, in their businesses, or in the government.
The focus of the training is familiarity with Web 2.0, or interactive online technologies. As Nicholas Kimolo, one of the trainers, pointed out, Africa currently accounts for only four percent of online content, with South Africa contributing fully half of that. However, African entrepreneurs and businesspeople are taking on greater prominence. As African infrastructure increases and prices for its use become lower, they are poised, after receiving trainings such as this, to make proportionally greater contributions.
Day 1 introduced the theoretical framework of web 2.0. The focus of ICTs training is not on web technologies in and of themselves, but about the people using them. Due to the inter-connectedness of the web and the volume of copyleft, or open source technology and information, internet users can readily draw on the work of others to make their own contributions, rather than starting from scratch. Participants also were informed on the accompanying risks of such technologies, including privacy risks stemming from posting material online, as well as quality assurance-- copyleft information sources such as Wikipedia are very helpful, but since anyone can post information, it may be less reliable than other sources, and researchers need a sense of discernment to use them well.
After the introduction, subjects covered were search engines and directories, Google news alerts, and RSS feeds. The common theme was finding information online-- in the case of search engines and directories, by searching for it, and in the case of alerts and RSS feeds, by setting programs so that it is automatically received. This was the basis for future lessons, since if participants are to contribute online material, they must first have the understanding and knowledge to do so.
Midway through the day, those in attendance were given the opportunity to write comments and suggestions related to the training, and they were shared at the end of the session on democracy wall. This is to be done throughout the week, and it reflects the spirit of the training. Participants are to train others, so sharing feedback with each other is a logical beginning. Feedback was positive overall, with some desire for more concrete information being expressed. Since the training will provide increasingly technical information in the days to come, this should be satisfied.

mardi 18 octobre 2011

Changing the Rwandan market model; can it be done?

Deploying 1.000 Telecentres in a country like Rwanda, has the potential to do more than giving people access to ICT. With 1.000 Telecentres, there's one access point for every 11.000 Rwandans. Or, looking from another angle, on selling point for every 11.000 Rwandans. And that is something a lot of organizations in Rwanda - private, public and civil society - would probably be very interested in. To sell their products, deliver their services or spread their information to the people.

As a westerner, I found the added value of such a service & information delivery channel hard to understand. But what I had to realize, is that an efficient distribution channel is almost a given in the West, but not in a developing country as Rwanda. Therefore, this is one almost certain way of adding value - and sustainability - to the individual Telecentres, provided that the network can be created at high speed.

But can we take it one step further? What if we could not only create a flow from the private, public and civil organizations towards the population, but also a flow from the population to the organizations?

Great examples of this two-way distribution channel are Drishtee and E-Choupal in India. Due to inefficiencies in the transport system, India relied on several middelmen to get the products from the farmers to the producers. Farmers lost up to 30% of their income to these middlemen, were unable to respond the market price and could not improve their production, since they lacked knowledge of latest techniques or even a reliable weather forecast. Drishtee and E-choupal, two telecentre organizations, equipped thousands of villages with a computer connected to the internet and ensured the right processes and information availability. As a result, farmers get a better price, can produce better quality and the efficiency of the market has increased.

So the question are : can we step take it one step further in Rwanda? How can we provide telecentres with multiple revenue streams to enhance sustainability? What does the value chain look like in Rwanda and are there any inefficiency that can be diminished using telecentres?

The writer is Juriaan Deumer, Member of RTN advisory board

lundi 22 août 2011

Rwanda: A network of Telecentres for a new economy

Rwanda’s investment in technology is not restricted to the country’s urban areas. Rural communities benefit too through the development of a telecentre network. 

The Government of Rwanda’s document, ‘Vision 2020’, sets out plans that will transform the country’s economy from being largely dependent on agriculture to concentrating on providing knowledge and information services. The processes involved in this transformation are outlined in four national information and communication infrastructure (NICI) plans. Each plan covers a specific five-year period between 2000 and 2020, during which time the government hopes that Rwanda will have reached middle-income status. 

The first NICI strategy from 2001–2005 set out to create conditions within the country that would favour a technology-based economy. The second plan enabled the development of the necessary infrastructure. This plan, NICI II, concluded at the end of 2010, and the country is currently in the process of implementing NICI III. This will shift the focus to the provision of technology-related service industries. A central goal for the 2011–2015 plan is to engage Rwanda’s population in the process, prepare them for the shift in the economic environment, and involve them in the creation of new jobs and businesses. 

A significant component of the national strategy is its focus on developing skills and building opportunities in rural areas through the establishment of local ICT centres, also known as telecentres. Here, people can use computers, access the internet and other digital technologies to gather information, create, learn, and communicate. So far, twelve centres and two mobile ICT buses are in operation and another eighteen centres will soon be open. But because the goal is to have a telecentre in every Rwandan village, the current speed of deployment is too slow. 

In an effort to increase the rate of telecentre development, the Rwandan Telecentre Network (RTN) is supporting government efforts and has set out to create a countrywide network of 1000 ICT centres by the end of 2015. The project also includes training local staff to work in the centres. These trained personnel will help their communities develop digital content such as websites and blogs as a means of sharing information and experiences with others throughout the country. RTNs work is in line with the requirements of the national ICT plan in that it promotes the innovative use of technology for development, and generates employment opportunities in rural areas. Both of these aspects tie in with the aims of the overall NICI strategy, which is to raise awareness of the benefits of a technology-based economy and to reduce the number of people migrating from rural to urban areas.
Encouraging discussion
One of the consequences of the new strategy is that agricultural production could diminish as more emphasis is placed on the technology sector. Rwanda could then run the risk of causing food supply shortages in the future, or of becoming reliant on importing basic provisions. To prevent such problems, the government has introduced a number of projects that will use ICTs to support farmers. Farmers will be able to use an e-market service, E-Soko, on their cell phones and on the web to access up-to-date market data, while most the information activities will be coordinated by a central agricultural information centre.

The new telecentres will play an essential part in developing rural communications systems too and provision of key services to rural citizens. Their job will be to ensure that farmers get the information they need to maintain sufficiently high levels of production. Staff at the centres will train farmers to use the technology to share advice and ideas with other farmers throughout the telecentre network. Mobile ICT centres will the service areas where there are no telecentres.

So far, the Rwandan Telecentre Network coordinates 150 telecentres in the country, 90% of which are located in semi-urban and rural areas. Local entrepreneurs operate the centres, which have between five and twenty computers and other equipment such as scanners, printers, televisions, CD ROMs and video players.
There is, however, a lack of relevant content that would be interesting to people living in rural communities. Most of the current users, therefore, are students researching academic topics and business people seeking to establish contact with other companies or promoting their products and services.
In the meantime, RTN makes its own contribution to the production of local content by publishing articles on ICT for development issues and providing information on the web in English and the local language, Kinyarwanda. The organisation also stimulates debate by organising radio programmes and discussions, and plays a critical role in the national team working on the implementation of NICI III.
Rwandans are already used to using traditional media, such as newspapers and radio to debate national issues. And, as the network of telecentres expands and people develop their skills using the new technology, rural communities will have a greater opportunity to communicate their concerns and help to shape future government policy.

The writer is Paul BARERA

See my Video

samedi 4 juin 2011

RWANDA :Un réseau de Télécentres pour une nouvelle économie

Par Paul Barera

L’investissement technologique du Rwanda ne se limite pas aux zones urbaines. Les communautés rurales vont aussi en profiter, grâce au déploiement d’un réseau de télécentres. 

Le document « Vision 2020 » du gouvernement rwandais définit un canevas pour faire évoluer le pays d’une économie largement dépendante de l’agriculture vers la fourniture de services d’information et de savoirs. Les évolutions induites par cette transformation sont esquissées dans quatre plans quinquennaux d’infrastructure nationale de l’information et de la communication (NICI) couvrant la période 2000 à 2020, à l’issue de laquelle le Rwanda devrait acquérir le statut de pays à revenu intermédiaire.

Le premier plan quinquennal NICI 2001-2005 s’est employé à créer, au sein du pays, les conditions propices à une économie basée sur la technologie. Le deuxième plan a permis de développer les infrastructures nécessaires. Ce plan NICI II s’est achevé fin 2010, et le pays s’est engagé dans la mise en œuvre de NICI III, qui met l’accent sur la création d’industries de services liés à la technologie. Le principal objectif de NICI  III est d’impliquer la population Rwandaise dans ce processus, de la préparer à un nouvel environnement économique et de l’associer à la création de nouveaux emplois et de nouvelles entreprises.

Un des volets de cette stratégie nationale concerne le développement des talents et l’ouverture de nouveaux horizons dans les zones rurales par la mise en place de centres TIC locaux, les « télécentres », où l’on pourra se servir d’ordinateurs, avoir accès à Internet et à d’autres technologies numériques pour trouver des informations, créer, apprendre et communiquer. À ce jour, 12 centres TIC et 2 bus itinérants sont opérationnels ; 18 autres centres devraient prochainement ouvrir leurs portes. Le but étant d’avoir un télécentre dans chaque village rwandais, le rythme de déploiement actuel s’avère néanmoins trop lent.

Pour y remédier, Rwandan Telecentre Network (RTN) s’est rallié aux efforts du gouvernement et s’est engagé à créer un réseau national de 1 000 centres TIC d’ici la fin de 2015 et à former du personnel local. Celui-ci aidera la communauté à développer du contenu numérique (sites web et blogues, par exemple) pour mutualiser les informations et les expériences avec le reste du pays. Cette initiative de RTN répond aux exigences du plan TIC national en promouvant un usage innovant de la technologie au service du développement et en créant de l’emploi dans les zones rurales. Ces deux aspects coïncident avec l’objectif général de la stratégie NICI, qui est de faire connaître les avantages d’une économie basée sur la technologie et de freiner l’exode rural.

Favoriser la discussion S’il ne mettait pas autant l’accent sur la production agricole, le Rwanda risquerait de connaître bientôt une pénurie alimentaire ou de devoir importer des denrées de base. Pour éviter cela, le gouvernement a initié divers projets qui s’appuient sur les TIC pour soutenir la paysannerie. La plupart de ces activités seront coordonnées par un grand centre d’information agricole et les paysans pourront utiliser un service commercial électronique, E-Soko, sur leur portable et sur la toile pour obtenir des informations commerciales actualisées.
Les nouveaux télécentres joueront aussi un rôle essentiel dans le développement des systèmes ruraux de communications et distribution se services au monde rural. Ils devront apporter aux paysans les informations nécessaires pour maintenir des niveaux de production suffisamment élevés. Le personnel des centres formera les paysans à l’emploi des technologies pour partager des conseils et des idées avec leurs congénères via le réseau. Les centres TIC itinérants desserviront les zones dépourvues de télécentres.

Pour l’instant, Rwandan Telecentre Network coordonne 150 télécentres dans le pays, dont 90 % dans des zones rurales ou semi-urbaines. Ces centres sont gérés par des entrepreneurs locaux ; ils disposent de 5 à 20 ordinateurs, ainsi que de scanners, d’imprimantes, de télévisions et de lecteurs vidéo et cédérom.
Il y a néanmoins un manque de contenus susceptibles d’intéresser les populations rurales. La plupart des usagers sont donc des étudiants qui font des recherches universitaires et des hommes ou des femmes d’affaires qui cherchent à nouer des contacts avec d’autres entreprises ou à promouvoir leurs produits et leurs services.

Pour sa part, RTN contribue à la production de contenu local en mettant sur la toile des articles sur les TIC au service du développement, en anglais et en kinyarwanda. RTN stimule aussi les débats en organisant des programmes radio et des discussions et est une cheville ouvrière de l’équipe nationale chargée de la mise en œuvre du NICI III.
Les Rwandais se servent déjà des médias traditionnels – journaux et radio – pour débattre de problèmes nationaux. Avec l’extension du réseau de télécentres et l’apprentissage de cette nouvelle technologie, les communautés rurales seront plus à même de faire connaître leurs préoccupations et d’infléchir les futures politiques gouvernementales


lundi 9 mai 2011


Here  is where my ambition started

Paul Graduation in 2004
In 2004, Paul BARERA a 26 years graduates in Management from Kigali Institute of Science, Technology and Management (KIST) decided to establish a telecentre in Nyamata. Paul’s ambitions were quite different from other graduates in terms of employment in Rwanda. While the majority of fresh graduates choose to search for jobs in the government or private sector, Paul decided to set up a telecentre in Nyamata, a small village located at 30 km from Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda.

As a young and fresh graduate, Paul lacked the required capital to start his project, but he received support from the Academy for Educational Development (AED) through competitive process. The support comprised of 6 computers, 6 chairs, 6 desks, VSAT and a backup power system. The power back up system was very important at that time, because there was shortage of electricity in many parts of Rwanda. AED and Paul entered into a one year contract for managing the new social enterprise. One of the major elements of the agreement was that the equipments would be transferred to Paul after a one year evaluation to assess his success, sustainability of the new telecentre and its impact at community level.

As Nyamata telecentre was the only centre providing ICT training services in the whole district, Paul was able to raise enough revenues from ICT training in the first year to meet all contractual obligations, hence received the equipment from AED. The official transfer was done towards the end of 2005. Together with other two entrepreneurs from other parts of the country who were supported under the AED initiative, Paul received one week of training provided by USAID aimed at managing a telecentre.

Mobile training in Ruhuha Village
In the beginning Paul faced some critical challenges, such as unreliability and high cost of internet. The internet quality was not good and Paul had to pay 400 USD per month to Artel(Internet service provider) for the connection. Since there was no other option for internet connectivity in Nyamata at the time, there was not any other option to the challenges.

During the second year, Paul faced challenges of competitors in ICT training. This was the biggest challenge, since ICT training was the major source of income for Paul. He started mobile computer training; the process involved moving from village to village with computers and generators and train those who could not manage to come to the Nyamate Telecentre because of the distance. A total of 500 villagers were trained through mobile classes and were happy to see such modern service coming to their villages.


Sustainability became an issue… What next…

In 2006, Paul started other services such as representing various companies in Nyamata. Companies represented included business communication solutions (BCS), Lotto Rwanda, courier companies and many more.
Nyamata Telecentre is housed in the new building
In addition to business representation, Paul concluded a contract with the National Electricity Company of Rwanda (ELECTROGAZ) to start selling electricity in Nyamata using mobile phone, because no such services existed before. These new services increased revenue and allowed Paul to extent the telecentre by building a new Telecentre premises. In addition to existing and basic ICT services, Paul introduced non-ICT services such as small business support services, cafetaria, meeting rooms, a big garden for social events, etc.

Major challenges
As mentioned before, competition was one of the challenges at the beginning of operations, but later those who had set up similar centers closed down because of insufficient market viability. Lack of ICT awareness within the community and lack of local content were other barriers that limited many people to use telecentre services; the knowledge of how a telecentre or ICT could help was limited within local communities and the language was also a problem. The telecentre operated without any government support, although it was high needed, especially in subsidizing internet connection or facilitating community trainings.

 What I have learned…
  •   Success comes from determination:  failure is part of the entrepreneurs’ daily life, regardless of the type and the geographic location of the project. When an entrepreneur has a strong vision of where he or she wants to be, in principal a small failure should not prevent him or her to move forward. Sometimes failure is part of motivational factors 
  • ICT entrepreneurs are found in almost all villages in Rwanda. There are a number of similar entrepreneurs who are currently running their cybercafé or ICT related business, but it is unfortunate that nobody cares about them. If these young talents are assisted, government efforts can be leveraged in bridging the digital divide. 
  • Rural entrepreneurs can reach out to villagers who are otherwise inaccessible.They can  address critical development challenges which cannot be addressed by the government or large organisations
  • ICT should be viewed as tool and not an end in rural development
  • Demand driven Services are the key to sustainability of Telecentres
  • Natural rural entrepreneurs have huge psychological barriers (lower self -esteem, fear of failure, depression etc…)
  • Networking is critical in the success of any business. Giving a chance to entrepreneurs to meet each other and share experiences not only allows them to know that they are other doing similar activities, but also gives them time to share challenges they are facing and find solutions in their own terms.

My personal Profile

Paul BARERA is the founder and Executive Director of Rwanda Telecentre Network (RTN). Paul is also the Chairman of Knowledge Network for African Community Telecentres (KNACT), an initiative led by United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Recently, he was also designated as the first chair for NetAfrica initiative. Paul worked for the Rwanda government as Deputy Mayor dealing with socio-economic issues in local administration in 1998.These duties gave him a passion for rural development.

He started his career in Information and Communication Technologies for Development (ICT4D) in 2004, when he founded the Nyamata Telecentre (Rwanda) in partnership with the Academy for Educational Development (AED). Since then, he is an active advocate of ICT4D in Africa, especially with regard to providing access to ICTs for rural and disadvantaged communities. Since 2005, Paul has been travelling in many African, Asian and European countries to meet telecentre practitioners and experts in the area of ICT4D. This international exposure has allowed him to assess various telecentre models in search for a suitable model for Rwanda. Paul is the co-author of the “handbook for 1,000 telecentres in Rwanda” which is to be launched soon.

Paul received numerous recognitions and awards from the government of Rwanda, including the prestigious “Intego award of excellence in bridging the digital divide”.