delegates at Dialogue meetingThe last day of the visit also marked the end of a two-day Africa-India Dialogue. On the second day of the dialogue, the delegates could listen mainly to representatives of civil society movement in India who talked in general about ICT and development, rather than telecentres per se.

P Rajendran, Chief Operating Officer of NIIT, an Indian firm offering IT education in 40 countries all over the world including Nigeria and Botswana, talked of India’s experience of using technology for creating new jobs. He also narrated the measures taken by his company to bridge the digital divide by offering effective education to children from underprivileged sections of the society. Such NIIT learning stations located in more than 10 countries have imparted computer skills to 300,000 children so far.

Addressing the gathering, the UN’s Asia and Pacific Centre for Transfer of Technology, (APCTT), Dr K R Ramanathan listed a number of initiatives undertaken by APCTT to transfer technologies to help small and medium enterprises to adopt ICT. However, he felt that developing nations have a weak IT infrastructure and lack of skills and this will come in the way of these countries exploiting the potential that ICT offers. This is a matter of serious concern. Dr. Ramanathan said his organisation would be happy to assist African nations by sharing its experiences in applying ICT for strengthening the technology transfer and innovation management.

Sajan Venniyoor, a community radio expert from India, recounted the history of community radio in India. He said though there is a potential for having 4000 community radio stations in the country, there are only 50 stations in operation. This is because, he said, the Indian government doesn’t want to encourage the community radio movement. They don’t like FM stations that ‘talk’, though they don’t mind the ones that “sing” (stations that air film songs 24X7). Costing a mere 10,000 to 12,000 US dollars, community radio is an effective medium for communication in rural areas, Mr. Venniyoor said.

Anand Kumar, Coordinator for UN Solution Exchange, who addressed the delegates, said the exchange was created with the idea of tapping tacit knowledge of practitioners in a wide range of areas like social development, poverty alleviation and water. The UN Solution Exchange moderates discussions groups in 13 broad areas and currently have 18,000 members, of which nearly 20 per cent are from India.

Akanksha Chourey (TERI) addressing the delegatesAlso spoke at the seminar are Akanksha Chaurey of The Energy Research Institute, who impressed upon the delegates about stand-alone renewable energy systems available for telecentres and Ravi Gupta,  founder editor of several ICT magazines, including ICT4D and e-Gov.

As the visit wound up, Felician Ncheye, delegate from Tanzania, on behalf of the entire delegation thanked the organisors – IL&FS and CTA – for the opportunity to visit telecentres operating in India. The visit has instilled the confidence that the telecentre is a feasible concept, Ncheye said. The lessons learned during the visit will go a long way in boosting the implementation of national ICT plans of African countries, he hoped.