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Serving Sri Lanka

This web log is a news and views blog. The primary aim is to provide an avenue for the expression and collection of ideas on sustainable, fair, and just, grassroot level development. Some of the topics that the blog will specifically address are: poverty reduction, rural development, educational issues, social empowerment, post-Tsunami relief and reconstruction, livelihood development, environmental conservation and bio-diversity. 

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Battling poverty: ICT way

Sunday Observer: 16/10/2005" by Ranga Kamaladasa

When was the last time you wished the world would someday find a solution to the ever growing problem of poverty? Though the country seems to be prospering a little from the non-war-non-peace situation, the gap between the wealthy and the poor seem to be rising everyday.

The fact is no matter how many charity foundations are built or how many political charity donations are given away every year, if the resulting factor does not add up to the poor being able to help themselves, the efforts are fruitless. But there are several organisations in Sri Lanka who are willing to develop an adequate information infrastructure such that the poor majority of the country would be able to access the resources needed to stand up on their own feet.

These organisations are trying to bridge the digital divide, the gap between those who can gain access to ICT and those who cannot.

From 6th of October representatives of these organisations got together at the Distance Learning Center Ltd for a workshop called Information Services for the Poor which was held with various other NGO representatives, government officials, ICT agencies and the other possible stakeholders. Poverty is predominant in the rural areas where 90% of the poor reside, says Dr. J. K. Lee of the Asian Development Bank Institute (ADBI), inaugurating the event. They lack vital information for survival and additional income.

Therefore it is difficult for the poor to share the benefits of the economic growth as they do not know what opportunities lie before for them.

One of the organisations, the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), in its plan to develop the information infrastructure plans to establish a network of Nanasalas throughout country ensuring ICT connectivity and access for citizens.

The Nanasalas will provide a free or cost-effective mean for the people in rural areas to access information resources, as well as function as an e-governance centers in the future in a way that will reduce the time and money spent on filling forms, going to offices that are not easily reachable by the rural areas and other citizen services.

Nanasala is not the only rural technology centers. Sarvodaya's Vishwa gnana kendraya's, telehuts, telecenters, community learning centers, ICT learning centers have also been providing services to rural areas where

I would say this is a very ambitious program. says Prof. J. K. Samaranayake, the chairman of ICTA. Not to promote ICT but to promote the use of ICT in developing the country. To give its benefits to every section of the community.

The applications of these ICT centers may vary to other sectors like public administration and transparency which will give a more sense of freedom and self-empowerment for the rural community. They will give the rural community what is now only available to the urban communities. says Prof. J. K. Samaranayake.

Implementing e-governance and government services through ICT, to re-engineer governance because we cannot continue with the existing structure of governance. Of course the issues involved are not minute. Issues of connectivity, affordability, and localization (overcoming the language barrier) have to be addressed. And as Prof. Samaranayake shows not everyone was positive about their project.

Their proposals to provide affordable information access to the poor were opposed by certain telecom providers who went to courts. Fortunately they now have clearance, but the inability to foresee such a program will also be an advantage for the telecom companies in the long run is highly unfortunate. So getting the others to realize the value of the project has also become a challenge.

The participants of the workshop held in the DLC Ltd, underwent a weeks training program on strategies for establishing community centers, building e-stores and e-government portals, and models for business plans that can be implemented in the Telecenters.

The proposals they submit are due to be funded by the ADBI and also be internationally asserted as issues that were brought up when implementing e-governance in developing countries so that they will be used in the development of ICT in other developing countries.

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