I arrive at Kita telecentre on a wet Tuesday morning. It located 180 km West of Bamako, Mali. The telecentre is centrally located in this rural but busty, little township boasting of a population of more than 35000. We are welcomed by Abdulaye Diallo, he is the co-owner of the telecentre. He is a highly motivated manager and knows how to do business – my first impression.
I ask him how the telecentre is used and how many people come a day. I am told that users can access computer skills training, photocopying, professional printing of any kind (with an industrial printing machine), fax and Internet (the only place with the service in entire region). I know, you might now be going like “…well, I know a telecentres that does the same.” Hold there! There is another spin to this.
The most important take away here, for me, is the record keeping and how not to do it. Abdulaye showed me a daily record of services and fees paid – he wanted to confirm, they actually make records. Great - I responded. On closer look, I thought, hmm…something is clearly missing here - who is the user, what services, how many, and where are they were coming from. The record was pretty much inclusive. For instance, there were six ladies on computer training and several users came in to photocopy documents during my stay in the telecentre. That data was not captured in any was to impact on management.
I quickly turned to Abdulaye and laboured to explain why I thought he had a problem to fix. Well, he too tried to convince me all was fine. I went graphical, – illustrated how user data can help him to understand user trends and plan better. I also showed him various ways he could painlessly capture user data and use it to establish a loyal group that is happy to support his work as well as mobilising resources from various partners.
Before too long, he stopped me midway a sentence and said. “I know what you are talking about” rubbing his hands together as if he was trying to control a new idea from blowing away. I leaned back on the photocopier to catch a breath, as he added “… you see, we are very close to the Stadium Municipal – a major regional soccer venue. For security and space reasons, there was an initiative to demolish the telecentre in 2004. We worked hard to convince the municipality that this telecentre is critical to the community and should not be demolished.” I leaned forward realising something is emerging here. He continued “…how I wish I had user data, it should have been a lot easier to make our case”
I determined, Abdulaye had understood the importance of record keeping more than I ever would. He had a real experience to contextualise the whole process. The challenge, in my view, is that most telecentre practitioners do not related record keeping to good management. But the fact is, without records, a telecentre can not make history or share its brand. It will struggle to live.
In yet another interesting true story…
I had a chat with Mohamed (Afriklinks) yesterday – kind of trying to digest the focus of eight telecentres that were launched early this month by government of Algeria which provides 100% support. This program is supported by InWent (Germany). They visited a telecentre in Djelfa, Algeria almost 300 km from the capital.
The catch for me, these telecentres provide certified training in cookery and adult literacy in addition to your usual telecentre style services. I think that is really revolutionary. This is why; if rural communities where most telecentres are located are largely illiterate and therefore unable to effectively use most services, how will a telecentre helps to address that problem and therefore drive more use? You have probably heard of telecoms and other private companies spending time and energy to grow the market…working with young people and investing in schools (tomorrow’s market). How can a telecentre grow its future market? Well, adult literacy training is one great way to do just that.
The sweet part, telecentres don’t have to learn how to deliver adult literacy training. I am certain that there are thousands of organisations – look around your country - whose job is to this (deliver adult literacy). All a telecentre would do is to make partnerships and avail its facilities or find the next tree shed to convert into a class. Then mobilise the community and publicise the program. Don’t forget to brand it so you can get all the credit.
That’s really about it. I have to go now…