The role of ICTS in sustainable development for rural communities

Wednesday, 12 November, 2008 - 10:01

The P.E.A.C.E. Foundation has partnered with Vuvuzela Communications, developers of a software solution that enables beneficiaries to interact with information communication technologies.

Addressing rural poverty and delivering quality education to rural communities is perhaps the greatest challenge currently facing South Africa. The struggle for political freedom is over, but the struggle for equitable educational and economic opportunities for all South Africans continues. Access to information is inextricably linked to the quality of education in remote communities, and, consequently, to the economic opportunities for those living in regions previously demarcated as “homelands”, where the economic and educational policies of the previous regime have had the most negative impact.

In spite of the harsh poverty experienced by people living in rural communities, there is significant currency circulating within these regions. This money comes into the regions through government grants and pensions as well as wages sent home by migrant workers from urban areas. This currency then leaves again, as rural inhabitants are forced to travel to the nearest town to buy provisions, due to limited local commercial outlets.

The challenge is to reverse the flow of money out of these regions by creating a second tier economy of self-sufficiency within rural communities. The mission is to create centres which connect people to information sources, government services and economic partners and to, thereby, foster economic self-sufficiency and promote sustainable Local Economic Development (LED) that empowers local rural communities.

The current lack of essential communication infrastructures in rural communities contradicts the policy statements made by the ANC government in 1994; that ICT must play a “crucial role” in South Africa’s development policies. This was because of the understood influence that urgently providing “universal affordable access for all” would have on education, healthcare, business information, public information and rural development (ANC 1994b: section 2.8)

In 1998, Jay Naidoo, then-Minister of Posts, Broadcasting and Telecommunications, outlined a very critical position towards the information society:

"…in the Global Information Society, there is a direct positive correlation between access to telecommunications and socioeconomic development. We realize that telecommunications is no longer the consequence of development; rather it is a necessary precondition" (Naidoo 1998, emphasis added).

Furthermore, Dr Ivy Matsepe-Casaburri, as Minister of Communication, has highlighted that,

"We must bridge the gap between urban and rural communities, between blacks and whites and the digital literacy gap...efforts to bridge the divide [are] primarily about people and not primarily technology" (Matsepe-Casaburri: 2001, emphasis added).

Despite these policy statements from government and its Cabinet members, evidence suggests that, in 2008, the ideals they represent remain far from being implemented due to hosts of socio-economic and political shortcomings (Habib and Padaychee 2001; Singh 2008; van Audenhove 2003). While, in the last ten years, the modus operandi of the global economy – the ‘network society’ – has shifted dramatically towards the use of new and converged communication systems (Castells 2000), South Africa’s rural communities are often still unable to send faxes or emails and have little or no access to the Internet and information technologies. The solution to the multi-faceted problem of rural poverty requires an integrated, holistic approach. The P.E.A.C.E. Foundation believes that this can be achieved with ICT as a core facilitating tool in the sustainable model described below.

P.E.A.C.E. Foundation

The P.E.A.C.E. Foundation was established in 1993, as an independent Trust, with Tax Benefits for donors, based at the University of Natal. Its mission presents that “development means the development of people. It is our objective to provide disadvantaged communities with the necessary tools and information to bring about their own development, and, in doing so, improve educational and economic standards in their communities.”

The acronym P.E.A.C.E. stands for Planning, Education, Agriculture, Community (co-operatives) and Environment, each word providing a key factor and channel for the integrated, holistic, sustainable process of development. In rural communities where resources are often scarce and basic living requirements are not met, it becomes imperative that people are provided with information in order to create income-generating opportunities. We have all witnessed potentially productive land lying fallow because people don’t have the relevant information, or the access to requisite training and capital, to develop the land and make it productive either in terms of food security or commercial agricultural initiatives.

P.E.A.C.E. Information Centres (PICs)- Powered by Vuvuzela

Providing this information in a manageable and sustainable manner is the challenge. The P.E.A.C.E. Foundation has for the past 15 years worked towards developing an integrated, sustainable model that will meet the needs of previously disadvantaged communities, providing them with crucial information, training programmes and access to essential services – in particular, financial management services. The focus has been on the development and support of cooperatives as an ideal vehicle for the strengthening of Local Economic Development initiatives in remote regions. Providing bulk buying and bulk distribution services as well as custom designed financial management services (controlled in a centrally managed back office system) are some of the services available at P.E.A.C.E. Information Centres.

The P.E.A.C.E. Foundation has partnered with Vuvuzela Communications which has developed a software solution that enables beneficiaries to interact with information technologies in an extremely effective and user-friendly way. The Vuvuzela Franchise model empowers potential franchisees with their own business and simultaneously provides valuable ICT services to the wider community. The purchase and use of V-Time (Vuvuzela Time) are very similar to the way pre-paid cellular airtime works: the purchase and activation of a code, which is provided on the V-Time voucher, allows access to all the tools, ICT services and Vuvuzela software in the kiosk.

ICT services include Internet access, email, faxing, scanning, virtual applications, advertising banners, surveys, accounting management systems and other services.

Vuvuzela™ software is Icon driven for ease of use, and locks down the computer operating System (OS) so that the user has access to the comprehensive Vuvuzela suite only. The software content can be distributed and managed from remote locations, as well as offer Real-time reporting on kiosk usage with Full Audit Training.

P.E.A.C.E. Information Centres (PICs) partner local communities with government, local Traditional Leaders, as well as the private sector (providing branding opportunities in emerging markets). In the belief that ‘knowledge is power”, these centres provide “one-stop” access points to information for local schools, community members, local businesses and cooperatives. The PICs provide access to information that is tailor-made to suit local conditions. Ideally placed in schools, PICs are run and managed as social enterprises and serve the school as well as the neighbouring communities with essential services. Equipped with the entire school curriculum, provided free by Mindset, learners and teachers are able to access the best curriculum support that would be available, anywhere in the country, providing the opportunity to upgrade rural standards of education. With cooperation from all government departments, information would be provided on housing programmes, grant and license applications and the complete spectrum of government services that are available – bringing the government to the people in the most practical and sustainable manner.

Conclusion

In deploying PICs, rural communities are provided with access to Information Technology, empowering them through information that is provided, in tandem with the Integrated Development Plans (IDPs) of Local Municipalities, as well as educational information that is designed to support the curriculum. There is no doubt that lack of information is perhaps one of the most crucial barriers to development, as expressed earlier. The advent of new technology and the process of providing knowledge management systems, electronic training programmes, financial management systems and access to global information through IT, will empower rural communities to make informed choices and decisions regarding their socio-economic development. Armed with this information and essential technical support, the expectation is that they will make vast inroads into winning the war against rural poverty as it exists today.

References

ANC., 1994b. The Reconstruction and Development Programme, Johannesburg: African National Congress.

Castells, M., 2000. The Rise of the Network Society (2nd Ed), The Information Age: Economy, Society and Culture, Vol.1, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers

Habib, A. and Padayachee, V., 2000. ‘Economic Policy and Power Relations in South Africa’s Transition to Democracy’, World Development, Vol. 28, No. 2, pp245-263

Matsepe-Casaburri, I. F., 2001. ‘Speech by the Minister of Communication Dr IF Matsepe Casaburri, at the Opening of the 2nd National Telecommunications Colloquium’, Midrand, 2 February, available at http://www.info.gov.za/speeches/2001/010309945a1001.htm (accessed 14 February 2008)

Naidoo, J., 1998. ‘Summary of an Address to the SABC Group Executive’, Minister of Posts, Broadcasting and Telecommunications, SABC News Staff, Johannesburg, 2 December. Department of Communication, available at http://www.doc.gov.za/docs/sp/1998/sp1202r.html (accessed on 2 March 2003)

Singh, S., 2008. ‘The Political Economy of Africa’s Cyberspace: Understanding How South Africa’s Macro Development Policies on Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) Are Appropriated, and Influence ‘Development’, at Grassroots Level in Maputaland, KwaZulu-Natal’, Masters Thesis, University of KwaZulu-Natal

Van Audenhove, L., 2003. ‘Towards an Integrated Information Society Policy in South Africa: An Overview of Political Rhetoric and Policy Initiatives 1994 – 2000’, Surveys, Analyses, Modelling and Mapping Research Programme, Occasional Paper 1, HRSC, pp1-34

Nora Tager – Director P.E.A.C.E. Foundation
Sachil Singh – Master's Student – University of  Kwazulu-Natal
Adam Fraser - Vuvuzela

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