I See a New Nigeria…

Doing what I know best to do...

Have you ever been in a dark room? If you have (and I suspect that you have been), then I’m very sure you will agree with me that any form of light – no matter how faint – shines through, including the little illumination from mobile phones. May I now request that you return with me to this room? Thank you. Can anyone see the light coming from my phone’s screen? I doubt it… I have only asked this to be able to explain an enduring truth: darkness is not necessarily an opportunity for the celebration of the lack of much-needed light, it is an opportunity for even the least of lights to find expression, or shine. And if the little lights can come together, they can probably produce great light – which will naturally overcome darkness. Keep this on your mind as we continue on the day’s journey… I invite you to tighten your seatbelts as I act as the pilot of this flight, “Face Lift for 2006”. Our final destination is your mind, and the mission is to stir that mind towards creative action for personal development, nation building, regional cooperation and global participation. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to “Face Lift for 2006”!

Those would be my opening words when I speak at Face Lift for 2006 being put together by the Youth Hotline Network, and with support from My Best Friend and My Father’s House. The networking event and concert holds:

At: Morims Plaza Hall, Opposite “A” Division, Akure, Nigeria
On: Friday, December 30, 2005
From: 12 noon prompt

I’ll be speaking (alongside Francis Adeshina, a young CEO and Brand Consultant) on the topic, “Where are You: Positioning You for Personal Development, Nation Building and Global Competitiveness“. As my last opportunity to raise the banner of a New Nigeria in 2005, I’ll be digging deep into the heart of the national question and the role of young people in this. Is Nigeria sick? Does my yesterday determine what my tomorrow will look like? What’s my business with Nigeria? Is it okay to compete against my classmate — or be jealous when my colleagues buy new cars? What can I do when darkness looms around? Have the leaders of the nation failed us? What about resource control? Who are the true leaders of the New Nigeria? Can you recite the second stanza of the national anthem?

Join us in Akure on the 30th, or online from the 31st of December to participate in this revolution. If you miss listening to the presentation, you can read it on this blog as soon as the physical presentation is over (but add a few minutes to that because I’ll need to locate a cybercafe that would allow me to use my laptop 😉 Where are You? Let me close with this, its from the same presentation:

You and I can make it happen. We can tell the world that the pyramids in Kano, the rubber from the East and cocoa from the South West have not disappeared forever! We can assure the world that if oil brought a boom (even though I often feel like spelling the oil boom is o-i-l-d-o-o-m), then they should hold their breath for what tourism and human capital will bring. Sooner than you think, no one will bother his or her head with another region’s resources below the soil, because there are resources above each state’s soil. You and I are Nigeria’s true resources! We are the resources that should be nurtured, managed and prepared as national treasures. That, my friend, is the true meaning of resource control. Forget the percentages, greed brought us there: the greed that makes me take resources from the Niger Delta, poison their waters, degrade their environment and bribe their elders with stained wealth… that is multinational greed! There is something called social responsibility and it’s beyond annual scholarships, its beyond nature-friendly adverts, it’s about appreciating the value of the land and not exploiting it with the support of the custodians of the people’s rights.

Merry Christmas — in arrears — and I wish you a Happy New Year — in advance.

REINVENTED: Nigerian Internet Group

Youth Restiveness: ICT to the rescue

The 2005 edition of the Nigerian Internet Convention, hosted by the Nigerian Internet Group, started when the compere, Don Pedro Agabi (ace ICT journalist and TV presenter) welcomed everyone and introduced the distinguished guests. The occupiers of the high tale included Dr. Gabriel Obi(former CPN boss), Mr. Chris Uwaje (“oracle of the industry”), Mrs. Osofisan (CPN President), Engr. Olawale Ige (former telecommunications minister), Engr. Iromantu (ex-NCC EVC), Alhaji Ladi Ogunneye (ex-NCS President), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem (NIG President), Dr. Chris Nwannena (NCS President), and Engr. Lanre Ajayi (NIG Vice President).

Engr. Olawale Ige delivered the opening remarks, in his capacity as chairman of the day. Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwen (host of the day) delivered the welcome address, hitting hard on the fact that not empowering young people would be equal to mortgaging the future — producing idle, hopeless, desperate, unemployed and devil-friendly young people. He spoke on the need to address, arrest and redress the problem of youth restiveness, through the potentials of ICTs. “What are the sources of inspiration of today’s generation?”, he asked. While expressing the apologies of the invited ministers (whose absence were quoted as related to “flight-phobia”), he challenged the distinguished speakers for the day to help give direction to today’s youth. He stated that he is “fired by a sense of urgency to address youth restiveness”. He hinted that most young criminals are products of a “misdirected expression of self preservation within a state that has failed them”, and that there is almost no motivation for graduates who keep “roaming the streets for years after graduation — unemployed due to lack of jobs, or unemployable”. He concluded by challenging stakeholders (including the Nigeria Computer Society) to ensure that their curriculum encourages the need to equip students with computers and internet access. He also called for the establishment of resource centers across higher institutions, Information Technology laboratories across secondary schools, a National Youth Attachment for Skill Acquisiton (NYASA), and a pico-credit scheme (of as little as fifty thousand naira) that can help create 200,000 jobs per quarter.

The first goodwill message was delivered by Dr. Chris Nwannena, who spoke on NCS’ approach to youth restiveness which included the empowerment of the student body, NACOSS. He praised the increasing maturity of the students at IT events, while speaking on the recognitrion of talents through the students’ software exhibition and competition. The next goodwill message came from Dr. (Mrs) Osofisan, who expressed delight at the theme for the year’s event and stated that “one day, all of us will leave the stage and it is in iur own interest to ensure that we bring those who will take over from us properly”. She stated that even though CPN can not register young people (students particularly) as professionals, the organisation is already in talks with universities in order to give students the best they can get in Information Technology. She also touched on CPN’s role as guards of the Nigerian professionals such that local content (ensuring that “local” talents are not sidelined) is assured in the industry. The President of NACOSS, Olusegun Olutayo, delivered the next goodwill message and thanked the NIG for pitching its tent with young people — and he also hinted on the twin problems of curriculum relevance and capacity building. The media (represented by the compere) attempted to announce an intervention — through a nation-wide ICT Penetration Assessment — but were cautioned by the CPN to get approval before the project’s take-off.

Presentations for the day started with Engr. Iromantu’s “Human Capacity Building”. He spoke about utilising ICTs in education; to help improve curriculum, animate knowledge delivery and improve learning efficiency. Dr. Gabriel Obi continued with his presentation on “Security”, before which he warned that students must note that tertiary intitutions prepare you to fish, and not catch cat fish — hinting on the need to improve one’s self. He defined security in terms of systems and noted that the new paradigm for securing systems is survivability (survivability recognition, resistance, recovery and adaptation) — which IT has borrowed from immunology and biology. Attack sophistication is on the rise because there are tools that can help even novices engage in massive attacks on systems. He ended his presentation by throwing the challenge to young people: security specialists are needed (job/career opportunities) — with specialisation including forensics, cryptography/cryptoanalysis, information security analyst, red team member, information systems’ auditor, recovery specialts, administrator and virus professional. Vintage Chris Uwaje was next, and he spoke on the need for Nigerian youths to become globally competitive. He spoke on the need for young people to chose to strategically focus — with an example of choosing an area of expertise within the IT landscape and focusing on that within 24 months. He also spoke on the need for proper mentorship, hinting that young Nigerians must learn the ropes of Information Technology from the elders. He challenged young Nigerians to take leadership in the “positive summersault” that Nigeria very much needs! He stressed on the need to follow the path described by innovation, planning, design, building and maintenance.

The second day of the NIC started with introduction of guests and speakers by Mr. Alao (NIGOL MD) who then invited the compere (Don Pedro) to take charge of activities. After reminding participants of the activities of the first day, he invited ‘Gbenga Sesan (sounds funny addressing myself that way, unh) for the first presentation. The presentation, titled, WANTED: Heroes challenged young people to take advantage of ICTs to improve the quality of their lives; and more importantly, ensure that their career path is properly planned in order to avoid becoming subjects of an uncertain system. He ended by stating that, “If heroes would only come by natural selection (birth, background, connection), then you can as well give up. Heroes are made – having compared their yesterday with the tomorrow they desire, heroes strive today even when all others are busy waiting for help. He also listed some ICT opportunities that are boundless for today’s youth: online resources (MIT OCW – http://ocw.mit.edu), research opportunities (Google IT!), communication (Skype and its VOIP relatives), mentorship (PA’s may not allow you, eMail will), networking (like minds on mailing lists and among student /youth groups), relevant information (fresh, relevant and tailored), content push (start a blog, set up a website), and career guide (relevant biographies, dedicated guides). After the presentation, the compere announced that the presentation will be available on the NIG website.

The next presentation was delivered by Olusegun Olutayo (NACOSS President), who spoke about the activities of the student association while stating that young people have a lot to offer. He hinted on the need to keep young people’s hands busy and ended with the challenge of reviewing the curriculum used in computer science education. Destiny Amana was next, and he spoke on “How to Make Money Online”. In his eye-opening presentation, he defined the internet and eBusiness, and spoke about the “Dot.com” bubble. He spoke about the need for young people to follow up on their creative ideas, and that the steep entrance curve of registration and start-up cost need not keep them from implementation. He stated that with eBusiness , size does not matter, start-up cost is minimal, location does not matter, market is open to all and in all countries, business is open and accessible 24 hours, low overheads, better customer relations, opens the market to other businesses, brings you up to speed with competitors, helps clients make more informed business decisions, and ethical cost cutting is possible. He listed a few ideas that could be followed up on in the area of eBusiness: tourism, hospitality, trade knowledge, and more. After the presentations, the President of NIG introduced the NIG board of trustees and hinted on the proceedings of the AGM and elections later in the day. He also did a great job at summarising the presentations of the morning, hinting that everyone needs a PhD to succeed — Prayers, Hardwork and Discipline! He also dropped a new word for the participants: “digizen”, as citizens of the digital society (since “citizen” comes from occupiers of cities). Mr. Chima (Linkserve founder) also added his voice to the NIG President’s by advising young people to work hard, while also stating that he will be glad to mentor young people who are interested in ICT ventures.

The NIG AGM commenced after a brief break that was mostly utilised for networking and campaigns (coming from individuals seeking elective offices within the NIG). The NIG President delivered his report, in which he highlighted the activities of the NIG for the year and spoke extensively on the need for the Nigerian Internet Registration Association (NIRA) establishment process to be sped up. He also lent his voice to the need for the establishment of student chapters of the group, and elections followed. The new President of the Nigerian Internet Group is Engr. Lanre Ajayi, CEO of PINET and former Vice President of NIG. The new Vice President is Mrs Ufoma Daro, PR Head, Linkserve. The meeting ended on a great note, and various post-meeting discussions revealed that a lot of the NIG’s attention will be focused on youth in the coming year — which is a welcome development. Who knows, the Nigerian Youth ICT4D Network (spanning all levels of education and disciplines for young Nigerians with interest in ICTs) may just be hosted by the NIG!

See you at the 3rd Nigerian Internet Convention

See you in Lagos...

The Nigerian Internet Convention’s theme for the year comes as a strong follow-up on the need for young people to remain active partners (not spectators) in the Information Society. Free copies of the book, “Global Process, Local Reality” will be given to the first 100 youth at the meeting venue! Please see the invitation, below:


Greetings. Please permit us to invite you as distinguished guests at the 3rd Nigeria Internet Convention / AGM 2005, a bi-annual event organized by the Nigeria Internet Group (NIG) billed for December 16-17, 2005 at the Golden Gate Paradise, 25B Glover Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.

The Theme is “YOUTH RESTIVENESS: ICT TO THE RESCUE”. This will provide a forum for the Youth of this Country to be educated and empowered to be self-employed. It will also afford the stakeholders and the general public the opportunity to interact and discuss Information and Communications Technology. The 3rd Nigeria Internet Convention 2005 will also examine among others, Tele-education, ICT for Food Security and Poverty Alleviation, Enabling Infrastructure for e-business, e-Payment, Human Capacity Development, the cyber security of critical ICT infrastructures, Legal & Regulatory Framework etc.

The Executive Vice Chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC), Engr. Ernest Ndukwe will deliver a short address on Internet Exchange Point “A LEAPFROGGING STRATEGY TO ESTABLISH AN INTERNET EXCHANGE POINT FOR NIGERIA”, while the Director General of National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) will be delivering a short address on “THE INTERNET GOVERNANCE: AS NIGERIA SEES IT”.

Please accept our highest appreciation.


Emmanuel E. Ekuwem, PhD, MIEEE, NPOM
President, Nigeria Internet Group

Special December!

The last few years...   The next few years are calling...

I have always been a fan of December. 😉 During this month, I get to reveiew my plan for the year, improve on plans for the next year and more… but this December is special!

In 1999, when I discovered that I had a few semesters left in the university, I decided to conduct a self-audit (didn’t know about SWOT analysis then, but what I did was close to a SWOT analysis) in order to be sure of what the next few years would hold. I started drafting what became ‘Gbenga Sesan: Strategic Management Plan 2000-2005, and it has matured over the years to become a seven-stanza poem referred to as my Personal Mission Statement (of course, borrowing the phrase from none other than Steven R. Covey).

Last year, I had the cause to look at some of the things I planned to accomplish by 2005 and discovered that, somehow, I was ahead of the plan — and of course, behind in some areas too. This December (during a 3- to 5-day holiday at an undisclosed location with a few friends), I will be revisiting the full documentation of the 2000-2005 plan. I can already smile at some of the things I planned for post-2005 that are already in place. One of such was www.gbengasesan.com — I had hoped to save enough money to start the website this year.

On Sunday, February 22, 2002 (at 22:58), a gentleman by the name Tokunbo Kuti (of KekHost Inc.) wrote:

From: “Tokunboh Kuti” View Contact Details View Contact Details
To: gbengasesan@yahoo.com
CC: “Media/Sales/Technical Team”
Subject: Web Development Project
Date: Sun, 24 Feb 2002 22:58:17 -0500

Hello Gbenga,
My name is Tokunboh Kuti (Bros to you), I heard a lot about you concerning your keen interest in Internet Technologies such as Web Development, Consultation, Programming, HTML Coding, etc. Congratulations on your recent achivements.
Recently I was surfing the Internet and ran into your Website- http://nigerianwebmaster.tripod.com/default.htm, what a nice work. I also noticed that you do not have a Domain Name (web address) you can call your own; consequently, as our contribution to your development, our company has decided to purchase a Domain Name for you, how does GBENGASESAN.INFO, GBENGASESAN.NET, or GBENGASESAN.COM sound to you? Forward your choice to me as soon as possible that is if you are interested.

We will also host the site for you free of charge. We will encourage you to redesign your site to give your Visitors another look when you move to the new site. As the saying goes, new house new look.

On behalf of KEK Technology Inc. (www.siftthru.net), I say congratulations and keep up the good work.


Olatokunboh Kuti

The rest of the story is now history — being told by www.gbengasesan.com.

Beyond the website, I will also be looking at other areas that were touched by the plan — my dedication to God, my family (not my parents’) ;-), my education (what next after this MSc), career (ahem) ;-), book projects for 2006 (“Global Process, Local Reality is a fore-runner… watch out), and more… As the year comes to an end, I am beginning to put final touches to the next phase as defined by what I was tempted to call “Strategy 2015” (borrowing from the Global Knowledge Partnership this time). This also explains why I’m pouring my energy into the task of lending my energy to raising the next generation of young Nigerians who will not only join the train but will take the delivery steps further. On the 20th of December, a number of youth leaders and I would meet in Lagos to discuss what I’ve always referred to as Peer Energy (from the acronym PNRG — Personal Development, Nation Building, Regional Cooperation and Global Participation), as showcased at www.gbengasesan.com/pnrg.htm.

Enjoy the holidays, but do not be like them that live life as it comes. Remember, the whole world will step aside for a (wo)man who has an idea of where (s)he is going!

South-South ICT-Enabled Traveling Workshop, India (6)

Connecting by teleconference... and note the Indian beauty too!

The sixth day began in another city, Chennai (formerly known as Mandras), at the ISRO-MSSRF Village Resource Center (VRC) within the MSSRF Chennai office. Prof. Arunachalam welcomed participants and introduced his colleagues at the MSSRF office, and also informed delegates that video conferencing will be held with two VRCs (one of which is 60km from Chennai and 22km from Sri Lanka; and the other, 320 km from Chennai). Attempts were also made to reach another village and an expert, but the heavy rains caused system failure – even technology needs a conducive environment to be effective. After the introductions of Chennai staff, the Thankachimadam and Thiruvaiyaru VRC staff introduced themselves via the teleconference facilities. The knowledge worker from Thiruvaiyaru expressed his wish that participants would be with them physically but for the challenges (a natural disaster that led to the road to the village being severed), while hinting that a lot of interesting and historical monuments (temples, etc) dot the Thiruvaiyaru landscape.

He also described the programs the VRC is involved with, including the Microsoft Unlimited Potential, Open Knowledge activities, appropriate technology applications in agriculture, and more. He exhibited a plant that is used in jaundice conditions, chronicled as part of the traditional knowledge obtained from villagers and made public through community newspapers. From Thankachimadam, Nancy introduced the VRC staff (of which she is one), and told participants about their activities. Local knowledge is made available to the villagers along with capacity building programs, and the Microsoft Unlimited Potential program. Another VRC staff hinted that villagers’ needs are discovered during meetings, and this helps sharpen service delivery (especially training programs) of the center. The center tries to create a linkage between the fishing community and the government department by approaching the fishermen to enlighten them on available schemes. Apart from assisting the fishing community, they also address health problems (e.g. malaria) and keep a register of VRC users.

He stressed that they work with local organisations and government departments in their bid to meet village needs, such as the GPS-enabled fishing training for fishermen at the center, followed with practical demonstration on the sea for the fishermen. The center was also able to help the fishermen understand the way they can work with both GPS readings and other methods they have been used to before the training. The community newspaper is bimonthly, with static (education, fishing, health) and dynamic (seasonal) information. The participants from Uganda asked, “if the MSSRF funding is phased out, what strategies are in place to ensure sustainability of the center”? He responded that they try to generate income through different activities from the center (printing, etc) which can be used to run the center.

Participants took a break for coffee, after which Prof. Arunachalam gave a detailed description of the work that MSSRF foes with villages. He explained that the Village Resource Centre (VRC) serves as the hub that then makes information and other resources available to Village Knowledge Centers, which in turn get the utilizable information to the level of the Village Community Centers that work with the Self Help Groups, and others. He also hinted that their satellite access is made available for free, noting that their work is dedicated to the rural poor. Participants were introduced to the technical details of the satellite system that helps with data transfer. All centers are connected at a time, collecting all incoming videos using a 2 Mbps uplink capacity and 384kpbs for downlink – and the satellite in use is at an altitude of about 35,000km. The session held close to the satellite dish outside, but participants had to return to the video conference room when the rains came calling. Participants were introduced to the Multi-Commodity Exchange (MCE), which was established by government and collects daily market prices of selected goods. Data is then uploaded and made available to MSSRF at no cost (but others pay in form of subscriptions), and MSSRF then relays the information to villagers – so they can plan in advance without the fear of market price fluctuation. The MCE is similar in operation to the stock exchange, but doesn’t sell paper – it sells food items.

With the up-scaling of the exportation of farm produce, the art has become more sophisticated. For example, the farmer who is exporting flowers to Netherlands has to check the local price in the destination market, ensure that flowers are transferred under the right conditions and that goods are picked up at the right time. Consideration is also given after consideration of various target markets, considering distance, price (profit margin) and durability. Prof. Arunachalam explained that in order to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor, precise care must be taken to invest in the poor – through such activities as the MCE information that will help them take advantage of the market. He insisted that ICT in itself is a tool, which is just one of the avenues through which development can be built. Technology helps overcome deficiencies, and all development should be people-centered – which explains the concept of working with communities. MSSRF technology solutions are deliberately designed with the people as partners in order to make the technology application appropriate. “People need to come before technology, in order for us to put the cart after the horse”, asserted Prof. Arunachalam.

MSSRF intends to replicate the MCE in all the regions, if it works successfully in Pondicherry. This is in line with the Mission 2007 plan that will help give access to the 638,000 villages in India. Prof. Arunachalam also spoke about Noah Samara’s WorldSpace, which works with the three satellites which help cover the world (AfricaStrat, AsiaStrat, and AmericaStrat). India is covered by the AfricaStrat, and 5% of the transponder space of WorldSpace satellites is allocated to free work while 95% is used for commercial purposes. The WorldSpace technology is used in the Open Knowledge Network (OKN) project, which allows content (in Tamil) and metadata (in English) to be moved from India to London, and then uploaded to a satellite within the fraction of a second (using 2 Mbps speed) – and this is now made available to the WorldSpace radio. This helps OKN link communities with relevant local content. Prof. Arunachalam invited Dr. Bawani to speak about MSSRF’s intervention in Food Security.

She spoke about the Food Security research that has been done, and the 3 publications that serve as outcomes of the process. The publication reports on the state of different stats in respect of food security. She noted that food security is not only about production, but more about access to food – with purchasing power as a more important factor than production sustainability (which India has been able to adequately take care of after the Green Evolution). Another important component is food absorption (nutrition security), which is also closely linked with the others. The mapping exercise used reliable secondary-level data published by the government and other institutions to select indicators such as per capita food production, per capita consumption level, per capita income/food access, and more. Taking the indicators, states were ranked and the food security maps of rural (60% of India’s population) and urban India were created. At the village level, work has also been done to help with food access, such as Food Grain Bank mechanism which lends grains to farmers – and they pay back (with interest) when during the next harvesting season. The community also contributes to the bank, as the concept is not new to the community. Work is being done in 10 villages in Orissa and 2 in Tamil Nadu (in partnership with other NGOs), and capacity building is ensured to ascertain sustainability. Case studies on the villages are being prepared at the moment.

After her presentation, Madam Faradani was invited to speak about the Virtual Academy, especially how the fellowship program is run, explaining that fellows are flagship people who manage resource and knowledge centers as volunteers. She hinted that the National Virtual Academy has a huge network of organisations that work at the grassroots level, who nominate potential fellows. For the present session, there are 800 nominations of which only 150 people will be awarded fellowships. The fellowship particularly looks for village people, who will continue to be in the villages, and are respected in the community – having done excellent work and demonstrated leadership qualities. These guidelines are sent out to partners and its fulfilling for the foundation to know that a huge number of people and resources are available within rural communities. The fellowship program intends to cover as many states as possible, having moved from six to fifteen states within the past 2 years. Gender is also one strong consideration that the academy puts into its programs. She noted that retention is an issue with the village fellows since most people are attracted to the urban area. Much of the focus is within the 26 to 55 age range and a clause in the fellowship program says that fellows have to be available in the village for the next five years.

The fellows are from diverse educational backgrounds; and a sample of competencies for the 2004/5 applicants include accounts, agriculture, ICT, education, animal husbandry, child welfare, coordinating, disasters, environment, health, information & documentation, livelihood, micro finance, mobilization and water. Fellows are used as resource persons along their line of expertise, and through the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Program (MUPP), more than 3,000 villagers have been trained by trainers who were themselves trained by Microsoft employees in India who pay their own way and volunteer to teach within the train-the-trainer model. It was clarified that the fellowship is not in itself a reward for past work, but an induction into a committed relationship with development work in the village each fellow represents. Fellows are trained in numerous areas, which they find useful in relaying valuable information to their villagers – they literally become village knowledge dispensers.

The Mission 2007 project hopes to train one woman and one man to serve as knowledge workers in all the 638,000 villages, and this was acknowledged as an ambitious – but achievable – task. India has more than 600 districts, but 150 of them are considered hunger hotspots. MSSRF’s next challenge is to set up 150 knowledge centers in these areas, which were identified after Prof. MS Swaminatham visited the locations by road. The last meeting of the Mission 2007 partners had the president in attendance, and cabinet ministers. The President declared public support for the initiative, gave out fellowship certificates, and even chaired a session. The Minister in charge of Information Technology promised that his department will set up 100,000 centers, the Minister in charge of village leaders promised to ask all village leaders to provide free buildings and electricity for the knowledge centers, and the Finance Minister promised that if the Mission 2007 partners are able to establish 10,000 centers before February, the $1.5b needed for the project will be reflected in the budget to be drafted in March. After these amazing discussions, and a question on the trust that the government promises will be fulfilled, participants left for the lunch break.

After lunch, participants returned to the video conferencing session, to meet with volunteers and knowledge workers from the Thankachimadam village. Nancy (center worker) started by requesting for more information about the participants, and sought feedback on thoughts about the work being done at the village. Every second Saturday, workers from different village knowledge centers meet to discuss their success stories and challenges. She also displayed the electronic board used by fishermen as a reliable source of information for potential fishing zones. Fishermen use tools empowered by Global Positioning Systems (GPS) in order to know what regions of the sea would be best for fishing. We returned (electronically, that is) to Thiruvaiyaru, where the knowledge workers spoke a bit more about what they do. At the moment, the center is providing training on irrigation management to the local community. He spoke about their relationship with VKCs, through which they make information available to the villages – using internet technology. He also spoke about one of their trainees (through the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Program), who has since been able to gain employment. The VRC serves as an entrepreneurship development center for women and farmers.

As soon as a knowledge worker began his input, there was power failure in Chennai, so we had to call off the teleconference session and then visited the Plant Tissue Culture and Bio-prospecting Laboratory, where the senior research fellow hinted that the laboratory focuses on endangered plants which may have unknown medical properties. After a possible discovery, the successful plants are introduced into the market. Plants are cultured through plant tissue cultivation, which helps multiply one plant into up to a thousand through the tissue cultivation process. They presently work with the mangrove plant which has medicinal properties. From there, participants moved to the Lichen Prospecting Laboratory, where work is done on the ecological and economic potentials of lichens, through a process that involves obtaining large scale qualitative data, culturing under appropriate conditions and more. A valuable observation has been made but it will soon be published after the discovery is properly documented and patented – ahead of social value for users.

After this, it was time for the Plant Molecular Biology Laboratory. The laboratory manager spoke about the development of salinity tolerant crop plants through transgenic approach. Drought tolerance is also one are where work has been done, with rice plant being the beneficiary in this case. And due to high pollution of land because of oil (for example) the laboratory is doing research on how to prevent the action of heavy metals on plants. Prof. Arunachalam resumed discussions with participants, and hinted that the philosophy of the center is that science and technology must be beneficial to the people in order for it to have real meaning. Policy, research and action must reflect this philosophy – hence the synergy between laboratory work, information and communication technologies, and more; towards the eradication of poverty and development as a holistic effort, and not piecemeal. He highlighted the different groups within the MSSRF family, which include Informatics, Biotechnology, Eco-technology, Gender, Media Resource Center, Gene Bank, and Food Security.

After coffee break, Thiruvaiyaru knowledge workers resumed discussions with participants during which various questions were met with appropriate answers. Sylvie (Congo Brazzaville) wanted to know how they get information for the community newspaper, and what kind of content it was responsible for pushing into the public space. The knowledge worker replied that information is sourced from various government departments and other sources (including traditional knowledge from the OKN project) in order to make such available to the communities. Claudia (Paraguay) congratulated the knowledge workers, and stated that Latin America has a lot to learn from India on all the work that has been done at the village. The session ended with a brief overview of what the last 2 days will look like, by Prof. Arunachalam. I will be leaving in the next few hours, but hope to stay in touch with the process, and will particularly be interested in follow-up discussions that will hold on the C3 Mailing list, as set up by MSSRF.

It has been a great experience, and while I may be able to say more than 67% of Veni, Vidi, vici; I am sure that my participation will translate into action, for Nigeria, and Africa – at the very list. My first task is to weave a fine thread of continuity between this experience and the ongoing projects that I am involved with. To GKP and MSSRF, I say Nandri!

South-South ICT-Enabled Traveling Workshop, India (5)

Connecting by teleconference... and note the Indian beauty too!

The day began on a very bright note, and one would think that the participants have been together forever – as you can see them networking and exchanging materials (a good sign of the beginning of the end of the workshop). Prof. Arunachalam welcomed participants, and introduced S. Balakumar who had to come from Nagapattinam as we would not be able to visit due to inaccessibility of the village by road (owing to recent rains). Nagapattinam is a coastal district with a population of 1,487,055 and area size of 2715.83m2. The village is one of the worst hit by the December 26 2004 Tsunami tragedy. 6,065 lives were lost, 196,184 people were evacuated, 11,122 boats and vessels were damaged, and so much agricultural land was damaged. Following the damage, village knowledge centers were set up by MSSRF: the Village Resource Centre is in Nagapattinam, and three Village Knowledge Centers serve the community – Akkaraipettai’s VKC was set up in March 2005 with support from the Tata Relief Committee (an initiative of the Tata Group, which is known for corporate social responsibility in India); Prathabaramapuram’s VKC was set up in June 2005 with support from the Rotary Club of Coimbatone Metropolis; and Poomphular’s VKC is about to be set up.

No one knows our village -- and its needs -- as we do!

S. Balakumar also spoke about Prathabaramapuram, which is 20 km from Nagapattinam, has a population of 8,396 people, a literacy rate of 80%, and an innovative local body leader. The village has 1,554 ha of land, of which 903 is used for agriculture. Livestock population is as high as 14,000 and there are 3 schools, among other available infrastructure. The President visited the center in July, and S. Balakumar proudly discussed the experience. At the center, computer aided learning programs are made available for children while an adult literacy program with the software developed by Tata Consultancy Services is also being delivered. Prof. Arunachalam spoke more about the need to act after the Tsunami tragedy, and invited questions from participants on the S. Balakumar’s presentation. Prof. Arunachalam explained some of the challenges that villagers had after the Tsunami, such as families who found it difficult (partly for economic reasons) to support or adopt orphaned kids. He stressed the need for team efforts and a holistic approach to development. He hinted that participants will visit a Tsunami-affected village later in the day.

How about some time with the Bollywood-fit young men?

After tea break, participants were treated to an interesting presentation on Tata Consultancy Service’s Computer Based Functional Literacy (CBFL) software. The software is available in six languages and has been used to transform illiterates into functionally literate person within 40 hours. The software has been used to train 56,348 people as at June 2005, and in about 140 centers. After the Tata presentation, Rinalia (GKP Executive Director) made a brief presentation on sustainability. She spoke about financial, social, and organisational sustainability; highlighting the fact that what participants have seen demonstrated in the last few days shows social sustainability – where the community buys into the project and ensure continuity. She also invited participants to send in brief comments on the sustainability experiences of their organisations, while also inviting participants to join the GKP in order to benefit maximally from the network.

Young man, use that pen to write me a letter ;-)

After lunch, we checked out of the Pondicherry hotel (in preparation of our relocation to Mandras) and traveled for about 3 hours to visit Kovalam, a village that was affected by the tsunami, and discussed with the villagers about how the tsunami affected their lives. They noted that they are still afraid, and when there was a signal during the week about a cyclone, they taught it was the tsunami coming again. Before the tsunami, they were fishing for 30 days without stress, but can only do the same for only 10 days now; and even at that, they catch less fish and the varieties are different. According to them, “Something has happened in the sea and we are looking for alternative livelihoods”. The village head has instructed that they must now live at least 5 meters away from the sea, and even offered to support with their houses if they can stay away from the sea, but they don’t even have the extra money to e able to acquire the land. They really want to change their livelihood support from fishing but don’t know what to do, the men only know about fishing and they have now come to the center for help.

Some weks ago, no one would dare come here.. the tsunami hit here :(/></div>
<p>They believe that they’re now so poor, and cannot even have any savings. In their words, “we’ve come to the center to tell us what to do”. Prof. Arunachalam responded that the MSSRF has concluded teaching the villagers about three different technology application, including making pesticides and growing mushroom. They have also been advised to consider the option of getting further education. A knowledge worker in the village asked if participants have knowledge workers like them in their countries, and how long such workers stay on the project. Due to the lack of computers, the knowledge workers move around with a laptop, with speakers, but allow the students to come to the center when they need to practice with the computer. In the private school, the knowledge workers teach the children songs, but teach the other students about computers. They have one machine dedicated to adult literacy, suing the Tata software – and five others are dedicated to children. Another village knowledge worker also asked how workers in our different countries are empowered to identify and tackle local problems. </p>
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Claudia (Paraguay) responded by saying that due to the low level of volunteerism acceptance, villagers usually have to conduct “needs assessment” by themselves and that even as a country of mostly Catholics, people mostly volunteer by visiting and offering quick help – but not necessarily staying with the people. One of the village workers stated that when she visits the people to complete her surveys, some people do not cooperate with her; and she asked participants about their own practical steps in solving a similar problem. Participants noted different approaches they have adopted, including making the purpose of the survey clearer, ensuring feedback after survey is completed, and repeating the visits until the villagers have a change of mind. The knowledge workers have also been able to open a register for villagers to lodge their electricity complains, which they in turn get across to the electricity board while the farmers are away at their farms; thus eliminating the need to travel one mile from home, and possibly meet the electricity board already closed for the day. The register, which was passed round for participants to see, reveals that from October 6 to date, there have been fifteen entries.

Yeah, that's me with the legendary Prof. Arunachalam of the MSSRF

South-South ICT-Enabled Traveling Workshop, India (4)

Meeting with the community!

The participant from Swaziland (a country of 1 million people), who arrived yesterday, was invited to introduce himself as soon as we arrived at the Hub. He’s with the Lubombo Community Multimedia (LCM), based in one of the four regions of Swaziland and most poverty-stricken region even though it is where sugarcane (“Swaziland’s gold”) is being produced. He also hinted that there’s only one state-owned radio station, and two national newspapers which make information flow very limited. Thus, LCM’s major task is that of granting access to the community as far as information is concerned. With the multimedia center, they operate a community radio for information exchange in local language; hope to operate a community newspaper; and a community telecenters in the main town within the Lubombo region. He stated that the community has a mentality that computers are for the upper class and the LCM is working hard to take care of this paradigm – and possibly catalyze a shift. All the school teachers in the region have been trained, along with school groups, nurses and CBO/NGO workers – and there are plans to train the business community.

Meeting with the community!

Prof. Arunachalam invited staff of the Bio-center to tell participants about the project. Prof. Rosario highlighted the pro-women, pro-nature, and pro-poor leaning of the center, which brings appropriate technology from the laboratory to the land. The mission is to evolve methodologies for operationalising sustainable development in agriculture and rural development; and focuses on ecological viability, ecological feasibility and social access. Participatory research, capacity building and grassroots’ institution building are three dimensions that help define the center’s work. The center’s process path involves mobilization, organisation, technology incubation, capacity building, system management and withdrawal (change of role). The efforts of the center are needs-based, and focus on farmers who have no land at all, and women. The center supports grassroots groups such as Self Help Groups (SHGs), federations, farmers clubs, and others, to take up development initiatives utilizing bio-technology. Initially, women groups would rather not approach banks for loans, and the same was true for banks – which was as bad as not allowing them to sit on the bank’s benches. But with the application of the center’s system management concept, things have changed – the banks and the women (through the MSSRF-assisted Self Help Groups) now have a good relationship.

Meeting with the community!

Social mobilisation also provides the base for the genuine participatory approach to development and brings all the people in their various capacities in making decisions. The emergence of SHGs has led to the evolution of alternate credit systems which derive their strength from commitment and sincerity of group members. Prof. Rosario also stated that, “the poor want to save, but need help on identifying how exactly to do so”. While access to credit is not enough to create livelihoods, experience at the center has shown that credit facilities accessed by SHGs help catalyze economic development, hence contribute to the alleviation of poverty. One of the center’s guiding principles is to introduce livelihood support for on-farm and off-farm sectors. The center also works towards ensuring a strong network between the community, banks, NGOs, government agencies, academic and research institutions, corporate sector, donor agencies, and policy makers. To date, the center has mobilised more than 400 SHGs with about 8000 individual members in Pondicherry, Chidambaram, Kannivadi and Orissa.

Meeting with the community!

Participants proceeded to the Bio-center at the MSSRF Hub, where we were introduced to the activities of the center. The center’s development supports organic production, and has an interesting history:
(a) 1991: Dialogue on “Biotechnology in Agriculture”, tagged Reaching the Unreached, and held in Chennai;
(b) 1991-3: Baseline study on the invitation of the Government of Pondicherry. 3 villages were selected, and study was supported by the Asian Development Bank;
(c) 1993-5: Testing of technologies, training of participants and staff – supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development;
(d) Pilot Bio Village demonstration project in 19 villages, and supported by the United Nations Development Program.
Prof. Rosario highlighted the enterprises facilitated by the bio-center for the SHGs (all demand-driven) such as mushroom cultivation, sericulture, fodder cultivation, milky mushroom, terracotta doll, floriculture, goat rearing, integrated dairy, backyard poultry, community aquaculture, nutritional garden, poultry farming, eco-friendly vehicle, trichogramma bio-pesticide and vermicompost. He noted that sericulture failed in Pondicherry because the market is in Bangalore, and further hinted that SHGs in the area are thus advised to stay away from this activity, noting the difficulty with transportation and other challenges responsible for its failure in the region. We visited the mushroom and pesticide sheds, and then had a meeting with the community – government-based SHGs and SHG representatives from the communities in Pondicherry.

Meeting with the community!

After the introduction of participants, the community went on to highlight the role of SHGs, stating that it has helped them with self confidence, coming out of their shells, doing what is right, coming out of poverty, working towards the betterment of society, and exploring the power of sharing. One of the community leaders mentioned that during elections, politicians visit the SHG women leaders, but they are quick to tell the politicians that voting is a personal exercise. Some of the other benefits include bank loans that are given to SHGs, rather than individuals; and shared responsibilities with their husbands (healthcare, children’s education, etc). An SHG member however hinted that some men are not supportive of SHGs because they feel that their wives will be richer and more powerful upon exposure to the SHG experience. But one of the women spoke about being able to buy her husband a vehicle for his work, and another on how she helped negotiate her husband’s loan interest from Rs 30,000 to Rs 15,000 based on the knowledge she got from the SHGs. After an extended and warm exchange of ideas between participants and the community, a government official hinted that government only works with SHG groups with members below the poverty line (BPL), and the group may have male, female or mixed members. His block as 411 SHGs and there is continued support provided for groups that prove their worthy activities after 6 month periodic intervals.

Meeting with the community!

After lunch, the team visited the Department of Veterinary and Animal Husbandry Extension of the Rajiv Gandhi College of Veterinary and Animal Sciences. We introduced ourselves to the staff of the department, and Dr. Surendra Rao told participants that the work of the department is to support farmers with the knowledge that will help them improve their yield. The college is involved with work around undergraduate studies, postgraduate studies, research and extension. He spoke about training programs that the department has held, such as women support and fodder development, and also the information kiosk for cattle health knowledge dissemination. Describing knowledge as input for the poor farmers, he stated that they are empowered to detect (in time) and control diseases, which in turn has an implication on their livelihoods. On the information kiosk, he hinted that after content development (in a format suitable for the kiosk), they make decisions on the location based on meetings with stakeholders.

Meeting with the community!

Dr. Rao described the role of the kiosk in information empowerment, stating that after the farmers have had kiosk exposure, there is awareness on the opportunity, dialogue is promoted between farmers (or with their friends and/or field officers), demand is then made and of course, delivery (of information, service, medicine, etc) follows. The farmers eventually adopt the technology, improve production and make their lives better. He spoke further on the uses of kiosks, and described popular uses and attributes such as:
– Cattle owners get whole information (local language, locality of choice, help in making app decisions);
– Knowledge dissemination by “value added waiting time”;
– Benefits landless who form the majority;
– Farmers get information even when there’s no veterinary doctor;
– User friendly;
– Farmers learn by seeing, and save money;
– Service provision for large group possible;
– Information is supplementary/complimentary to veterinary doctor’s role;
– Easy maintenance;
– Useful to school students, who have increasingly shown interest in cattle rearing.

Meeting with the community!

He also spoke about drawbacks in the use of the kiosks, such as the need for continuous power supply, the fact that the machine is not perfectly interactive (no immediate answers for non-programmed questions), need for upgrading at frequent intervals, high initial investment, and may lead to information overload when not properly monitored. After the discussion, we visited the department’s exhibition hall and museum. The museum houses memoirs of different animals – from the horse’s whole skeleton to the parts of a dog. We also visited the pathological division of the museum where rows of glass stood as witnesses to the depth of research within the department. In the exhibition hall, participants were able to see the milestones that the department has been able to achieve, available infrastructure, extension activities, research program areas, work around the scientific rearing of cattle, and awards (one of which was the World Summit eContent Awards, aka Manthan Award). We also saw a demonstration of the information kiosk for cattle farmers.

Meeting with the community!

South-South ICT-Enabled Traveling Workshop, India (3)

Claudia from Paraguay, and others...

The day began with a brief welcome by Prof. Arunachalam who hinted on what the day would look like. He then invited 3 participants who arrived later than others to introduce themselves and the project they are involved with. The first was from Kenya’s CISSO. Registered in 2001, CISSO delivers IT services, has the only computer center in the district which has provided training for about 300 ladies and 200 men people to date. These young people have formal high school education but are mostly unable to continue to college, so are empowered to get employment after the computer training. The center also helps with research and internet services. CISSO also runs a community technology center that provides social support services for the community. The center is able to enjoy the services of volunteers, who themselves have been trained at the center. Peter hinted that one of the challenges they have includes the need for space that can house the additional PCs they have.

Senfuka from the Council for Economic Empowerment for Women in Africa (Uganda) was next, and he stated that CEEWA’s mission is to empower women in the development process – through advocacy, research, training and information dissemination. CEEWA’s 4 thematic areas include Women and Agriculture; Women and Finance; Women and Economic Decision-Making; and Women and Entrepreneurship Development through ICTs. Through the Women’s Information Resource Electronic Services (WIRES), women entrepreneurs and organisations access information on markets, prices, advisory services and trade support. They also work with already established telecenters (where they exist), and focus groups where there are no telecenters, to work with women, and also have a radio program that gives information on agriculture, market services, and more. Sylvie from Congo Brazzaville works with AZUR Development, which has a training center for young men and women. They also organize workshops on ICT applications in such areas such as HIV/AIDs, development and multistakeholder engagement. The organisation also helps Congo NGOs host their website through portal, and publishes an online newsletter that features various topics that can help Congo’s NGOs work better. Very recently, they have been engaging postgraduate students around the need for research on ICTs and development. After Sylvie’s presentation, workshop participants asked specific questions about the projects and further clarification was given by each of the project presenters.

After the brief presentations, Prof. Arunachalam invited K. Murugan, a village knowledge worker from Koonichempet, which has 531 women and 619 men. An Information Needs Assessment was conducted in order to identify service offerings for the community. Their facilities have proved useful, not only to the villagers, but to neighbouring communities. Over 50 students have been trained and CDs have been given to primary school students to help enhance their studies. Thirty women participated in a recent livestock maintenance training coordinated by the center; and another training has been held on cancer, in partnership with a major medical school in India. Knowledge workers have been trained on computer hardware, screen printing, and health. He mentioned problems that the center has faced, including a thunder strike experience that affected PCs and students who visit censored sites. It is also interesting to note that the educational materials are provided in form of games, which has proved popular with young people – and some of them are addicted to the educational materials/games.

After the presentation, participants were shown round the premises of the RKC Hub. The major functions of the hub include establishing knowledge centers, identifying people’s information needs, identifying sources of information, developing information into local language format (and transferring the same to all village knowledge centers) and impact assessment. The hub is also involved with training and capacity building. In the server room, hub staff explained the practical ways in which work is carried out, and highlighted the role of the two technology platforms (spread spectrum and 2-way radio) used for communication purposes. The hub also has a rural library that is open to everyone, and a digital library where we were treated to a demonstration of information download and conversion into local language for the community’s use. Incidentally, there was a warning (36 hours in advance) of a cyclone forming in a region of the Indian East coast.

Participants proceeded to Koonichempet village, where we learnt more about the village, the knowledge centre and the role of youth in development – through the instrumentality of ICTs. On arrival, participants were decorated (with garlands) by the local community, and met with the founders of the youth association – that demanded for a knowledge center from the MSSRF – and the knowledge workers at the center, who are mostly youth. In her comments, one of the villagers (who spoke in the local language, like all others after her) noted that even though they are poor, the knowledge center has come to their aid. She asked if participants’ countries had such initiatives that help empower the poor. A farmer from the village, who expressed excitement at working with the center, said he is excited about the support they get from the center, such as scientific-based knowledge to help with their farming practices. After his comment, a woman from the village passionately spoke about how proud she is of the young people from the community, who helped bring the Knowledge Center to the village over 3 years ago. In her words (as translated), “we used to send one of two children to school, but now send both. We no longer have to send our children to rich people’s houses, but to school. Instead of exposure to early death, we now have polio vaccines. We are proud of our children!”

It was good to meet a villager from the neighbouring village who had come all the way to Koonichempet to seek knowledge after reading about the opportunity from a community newspaper. Outside the training he came for, he is also excited that the newspaper tells him how and where to pay his bills. At the end of the “roundtable”, the knowledge workers showed off their awards to participants. After the visit, we had lunch and then moved on to the computer maker’s (HCL) factory. At the factory, our hosts hinted that in spite of the advancement of technology in India, the masses are not adequately reached – hence HCL’s focus on the production of low-cost PCs. He demonstrated the 4-in-1 computer unit that utilizes Linux operating system and allows multiple activities through independent monitors, keyboards and mouse (and has the capacity of running 6 systems on one machine). We were shown round the factory premises, with detailed introduction to work at each production stage.

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