Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?
Most disadvantaged communities and townships in South Africa are challenged with ICT illiteracy and lack meaningful ICT skills that are relevant to improve the living standards of people in the community. Although people are getting more and more exposed to IT gadgets like mobile phones, in most communities these are used merely to facilitate the dissemination of information mostly through the social media and not necessarily to enable people to acquire skills for individual as well as community development. Despite increased ICT exposure in South Africa, the ICT literacy level for township and rural communities is still very low as compared to middle class societies in urban areas (Survey of ICT and education in Africa: South Africa country report). A number of colleges and institutions provide ICT skills to townships and some even in rural areas in the country. However, most of these institutions hand down pre-designed generic courses in computer skills through a top-down transactional method where community members are not involved in deciding what programs are in line with the social challenges faced in their community. ICT is generally perceived as a career option to enable access to information technology related jobs and not a platform of engagement for community development.
Most ICT hubs in the communities offer access to internet and other services like printing, typing and scanning. Although these services are important and help bridge the communications gap, they do not provide spaces where community members are challenged to identify their social needs beyond basic ICT literacy. With the dynamic nature of ICT, there is a constant change in the relevance of hard skills and programs that are applicable now could no longer be necessary in 5 years and could be rendered obsolete. This questions the relevance of ICT programs that focus on equipping people with hard ICT skills without helping them translate the knowledge into practical useful ways that can be applied to solve their everyday challenges in the real world. Technology experts have concluded that ICT is no longer the long celebrated answer to development unless people are empowered to adopt, adapt and translate technology to suit their environment and their needs (UNESCO, 2005)
On the other hand, there are a lot of CBOs, government departments, corporates and development organizations working to on various community development initiatives in many disadvantaged township communities and rural areas. Most of these are have networks to reach out and mobilize community members on issues of development. However, they do not have the tools and resources to provide a platform where community members are empowered to design ICT based programs and incorporate these in their community development plans. Further, most development initiatives by these organizations are brought into the communities as already designed programs and community participation is done as a mere process of selling the programs to the members. Communities are therefore usually not involved in the actual process of program design and as a result most development initiatives are viewed as foreign (brought from outside the community) with no proper buy-in from the people for sustainability.
Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!
Ahmed’s idea is not just another network of ICT centers in disadvantaged communities, but rather a model of engaging disadvantaged communities to ensure that local people are able to utilize basic ICT skills to develop tailor made solutions to social challenges they face in their day to day lives. The model facilitates a multi-faceted process of community engagement, mapping and profiling to help people come together and identify the social needs of the local community and co-create ICT programs that are specifically tailored to address those needs. Ahmed’s objective is to ensure that local members in disadvantages township communities are able to understand ICT as a tool which can be used to design local solutions to their local problems and not just as a medium of information dissemination and social networking. Through his organization called Siyafunda Community Technology Centers (CTC), Ahmed has developed a network of Community Knowledge Centers (CKCs) run by selected individuals from the communities themselves which serve as contact points of the engagement process. The idea is to empower individuals from the community to be able to own and manage the centers within their communities. As a start off point, all the hubs offer generic IT hardware and software skills and courses to local community members at a low cost to boost IT literacy for the community and enhance people’s employability. Ahmed’s innovation goes beyond this to transform the centers into platforms of facilitating community forums around key events designed to understand the pressing social problems they are facing as a community. Through events like youth days, career path development days, ICT outreach and awareness programs, door to door surveys and other relevant themes, Ahmed unlocks the community’s social capital and brings people together to discuss pertinent issues, understand the key challenges they face and participate in the creation of local ICT based solutions which become the basis of each center’s programs.
For example, if the community profiling, (through various forums) reveals that there is lack of entrepreneurial skills for small business owners (like local street vendors), the particular center will design a business skills program targeting the particular skills gaps to ensure that entrepreneurs in the community are developed and empowered to run their small businesses efficiently. Some programs that have come up in other communities through this engagement model are youth employability and work place readiness skills for school leavers, effective service delivery and community engagement program for local government officers (mayors and ward counsellors), facilitation of automation of prepaid services like buying electricity using mobile phones from local community distributors (spaza shops) to minimize queues. In another community, Siyafunda is running a basic business entrepreneurship program for local vendors and spaza shop owners to ensure that they run their small businesses effectively and professionally. Siyafunda’s model allows for flexibility to ensure that each CKC has different tailor made programs for its community catering for the specific social needs of that particular community and this is what distinguishes Ahmed’s model from other centers offering access to computers. The essence of the model is to ensure that people move beyond mere ICT skilling towards empowering local people to use ICT as an enabling factor for community development.
Ahmed is working with about 80 community partners, corporates and funding organizations in 7 provinces of South Africa reaching out to townships and rural communities through 65 CKCs. Ahmed has created a franchise for Siyafunda CKCs through which he has been able to scale out the model to all 9 provinces in South Africa through a network of about 80 partners. Each CKC congregates an average of 5 community development forum meetings a month where more than 200 people are able to meet and discuss social issues that affect them.