Stepping into a movement

May 13, 2005 § Leave a comment

Kovalam, Tamil Nadu, India

Kovalam is a small village on the coast of Tamil Nadu, India. Like most of the neighbouring villages, the people of Kovalam have spent the last five months rebuilding from the devastating Tsunami that hit in December 2004. They have repaired houses that were damaged, built boats to replace the ones that were washed away … and created a telecentre.

More precisely, the people of Kovalam have built a village knowledge centre – an evolved telecentre that is focused on local languages, empowering women and sharing information that is targeted specifically at the needs of local villagers. Like old-school telecentres, they have computers and computer training. But they also have language training, local newspapers, a chalkboard out front with village news … and a busy clientele of kids and young adults clambering to use the computers. All of this is just a few buildings up the street from the beachside boat works where they are still rebuilding the fishing skiffs that were swept away by the massive December tide.


I was taken to Kovalam by Subbiah Arunachalam from the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), the organization that pioneered the village knowledge centre model back in 1998. MSSRF helped create the Kovalam centre within a few months of the tsunami. They did this with financial backing from the Tata Relief Committee, Tata being the largest conglomerate in India.

Going to Kovalam, I was struck not just by the power of the MSSRF knowledge centre model (I’ll post tomorrow on this), but also by the speed with which this centre, and similar centres in many other seaside villages, was established. For me, this really demonstrated how far India has come with the idea of village information centres. MSSRF and similar organizations now have enough experience that they can quickly throw up a knowledge centre and make it work – not just technically, but also as a social hub and a relevant local information source.


Standing there I couldn’t help but reflect on the ambitious plans that Swaminathan and almost 100 other organizations called out last year under the banner National Alliance for Mission 2007. This coalition of NGOs, businesses and government have targeted the ambitious goal of 600,000 knowledge centres and training 1,000,000 knowledge workers by the 60th anniversary of India’s independence in August 2007. From afar, this might seem like a pipe dream. Standing in Kovalam, listening to the ocean and watching the boats get built, it seems real. It seems possible.

Of course, the numbers are not what matters. It’s the fact that many organizations in India now know how to do this stuff well, and keep learning to do it better. This experience, combined with the backing of folks like the Tata Relief Committee and the Government of India, have the potential to be a magic combination. Professor Swaminathan calls this the in every village a knowledge centre movement. It is a movement indeed.

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