Looking through the framework: Orissa telecenters

Although the growth in the telecenter ‘numbers’ came as bits and pieces from different projects, the evolution of their ‘role’ was organic in nature. It grew out of the needs of the communities and eventually leveled the differences in their origin.

By mid 2003, there were 73 telecenters in 12 districts of Orissa covering an area of about 44,716 square kilometers which contains large rural population. These telecenters are located in some of the perennially disaster affected/prone and poorest districts of Orissa. These are the areas that have traditionally lacked access to adequate information and lagged behind in terms of development.

Analyzing the telecenters in Orissa through the framework, it is apparent that the telecenters have evolved with respect to  Information and Services portfolio, Organizational Setup and Information Infrastructure systematically and survived the change in focus. Also, on the sustainability front, telecenters with regular access and usage have shown to be stronger on the revenue earnings enabling them to run day-to-day operations based on user charges.

Following are the highlights under specific parameters of the framework :

Information and Services portfolio:

In spite of original focus on specific areas, telecenters were quick to learn and therefore survived the transition with added information and services deliveries.  Partnerships with service providers played an important role in consolidating the portfolio.

Mainly offline content in local language in form of CDs (called knowledge hub) with scanned information from various government departments and other agencies helped establish telecenters as a reliable information source in the communities.

Subsequently, partnership with the Indira Gandhi National Open University enabled telecenters to administer certified computer literacy classes, similarly with Orissa Primary Education Programme Authority the telecenters offered IT aided education (using animated multimedia CDs done by Azim Premji Foundation) to the students of designated primary schools in nearby areas and with ‘Mission Shakti’, Department of Women and Child Development, Government of Orissa, it ran a programme to educate women members of Self Help Groups on basic computing on a payment basis.

All these have added to the relevancy factor and as a result, on the sustainability side of the telecenters.

Organizational Setup:

At the lowest level, each telecenter is managed (day-to-day functions) by a community IT volunteer – paid through the user charges – collected and managed by a management committee, constituted by a host organization in consultation with local government authorities and IT facilitator.

The community IT volunteer who is in charge of day-to-day activities in the telecenter is selected by the management committee and is preferably a basic IT educated unemployed youth of the same village.
 
Each IT facilitator is in charge of a number of telecenters. IT facilitator is also the member of the District IT Society and acts as a bridge between the District Collector (head of district level administration) and the rural community.

The District IT Society is an umbrella organization setup through this programme in programme districts, which tries to integrate all the IT related activities of the district including telecenters.

Role of UNDP-Orissa Hub in brokering the partnerships with various service providers is also a highlight. The Standard Operation Procedures (SOP) prepared by UNDP-Orissa Hub provided the guidance for day-to-day functioning of the telecenters. Its facilitation helped streamline the record keeping and reporting of the telecenters.

Information Infrastructure:

The selection of location for these setups was driven by the objectives of the original projects, and it did have an effect on the overall effectiveness of the telecenters. In few cases the locations were changed later to tap onto the available infrastructure of new location in order to enhance the deliverables of the telecenters.

Availability of telephone connection, internet access and power supply did have an effect on many services in the telecenters, specially the one which tried to lodge complaint to the district collectors through a website www.aamagaon.com. But more than anything else, it was not a hit because of lack of automation at government’s end, because once the complaints reached the collectors office, it is subjected to the same old route of the paper documents (in form of printouts) and delays.

The premises for the telecenters were provided by the host organizations and this has contributed in strong ownership by the communities.

In summary, as pioneering effort in setting and running of telecenters in Orissa, the initiative has extended the benefits of ICTs to the poorest of the poor and gained a lot in terms of learning. Analyzing the project from the perspective of the framework of Information and Services portfolio, Organizational Setup and Information Infrastructure, it offers guidance to the new initiatives planned on top of this.

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