Networks scale sideways
December 11, 2006 § Leave a comment
Porto Novo, Benin – November 27 – December 2, 2006. We often talk about scaling up. Yet, in many cases, the thing we’re really looking for is scaling sideways: the process of good ideas and practices spreading from place to place. This is sideways scaling is exactly what we are seeing with the idea of telecentre networks in Africa.
When we did our first telecentre.org consultations in Ghana back in 2005, there was maybe one formal network on the continent. Now, there are three countries with solidly established networks (Mali, Mozamnique and Uganda) and at least seven countries with emerging networks (Burkina Faso, Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Tanzania). Collaboration and cooperation amongst telecentres in Africa is clearly an idea that has legs. But where do these legs take us?
We have started to see early signs of success with the African networks that telecentre.org has supported financially. Ugabytes has set up an online help desk service. Afrilinks is offering training. CIEUM has a tech support hotline set up. Still, progress is slow and even these organizations struggle with challenges of building a real network where all stakeholders are truly engaged in the network.
The challenges will be even greater for the emerging networks. Resources will be scarce, with telecentre.org doing what it can to avoid spreading things too thin in Africa and with few other funders interested in networks. Also, many new networks are located in small countries, or countries with a small number of telecentres. This makes it tough to get critical mass.
Of course, where there is passion (and utility), there is also great hope. Telecentre leaders attending the Benin Forum brainstormed, sketched ideas and talked well into the night thinking through ways to move their networks ahead. Unsurprisingly, one of the most common (and powerful) ideas was concrete collaboration amongst networks: established networks helping newer ones; networks fundraising together; collaborative content / enterprise / connectivity projects involving multiple networks. The concept of small network projects involving multiple funders was also floated (IICD and telecentre.org will likely do something along these lines in Burkina). Finally, the idea of telecentre.org and national governments co-funding networks came up as one possible way forward. Rwanda and South Africa are places where this might work.
There is no question: African telecentre networks face challenges ahead. But there is also a great deal of passion, ingenuity and sharing within the movement. With this, anything is possible!