Bubbling up from the grassroots: telecentres in Bangladesh
September 3, 2006 § Leave a comment
Ranjpur, Bagladesh – August 26 – 30, 2006: In Bangladesh, telecentres are literally bring information to the people – by bicycle. D.net, a development research organization in Dhaka, has set up Pallitathya telecentres in four villages with the aim of offering a demand driven information service for rural people. Anyone in the village can come in and ask a question of the three infomediaries who work in the centre (two women / one man). Or, they can wait until one of the infomediaries drops by their house with her bicycle and mobile phone. In either case, the villagers get fast access to information about everything from farming to gynaecology to legal aid services. This information has already helped to save livestock, solve simple health problems and resolve conflicts in the villages being served by the centres.
Last week, D.net invited 80 people to a workshop in Ranjpur to learn about Pallitathya and other telecentre models that are emerging across Bangladesh. Most of the participants were from small rural development NGOs that had not yet integrated computers or the Internet into their work. They had a chance to learn about telecentres being set up by D.Net, Grameen Phone, Katalyst, UNESCO and Proshika. Working in small groups, they also had a chance to dream up what a ‘perfect telecentre’ would look like in the context of their work.
The main idea behind this workshop was to encourage these small NGOs to take up the telecentre concept in their own work, with D.Net offering both inspiration and a helping hand. It was a brilliant approach, really. These NGOs already have an organizational base and relationships in the villages where they work. Adding a telecentre into only requires a few extra people, some computers and a little know how (the last of which D.Net can provide through the support network it will build). The upside of this approach is not just simplicity, but also sustainability. We know that telecentres embedded in existing social development organizations have the best track record surviving and thriving. D.Net’s approach is to start with these organizations and build out the telecentre ecosystem from there.
There was also talk at the meeting of creating a Mission 2011: a broad coalition of organizations advocating for a rural knowledge revolution using Mission 2007 from India as a model. This has the potential to bring in not only some of the smaller NGOs at the Ranjpur meeting but also larger players like BRAC, Grameen and even the government. If this happened, Bangladesh could quickly find itself with a telecentre movement as rich, diverse and vibrant as it’s bigger neighbour next door.