Last month I took part in an ICT rural road show organized by the Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD) at Gagarawa, Gagarawa Local Government of Jigawa State. The event took place at the Local Government Computer Training Centre, established over three years ago. As the event progressed, participants now realizing the excellent facilities at the centre began to wonder how come that over three years since it was established nobody had been given any training from the facilities at the centre? We were to learn that since the computers were deployed, no trainers had been recruited to train potential beneficiaries of the centre. The computers have merely been kept as items of decoration to be show to visiting dignitaries and journalists. I have since found out that the situation is virtually the same in all the 27 local governments of the state. It is possible in this Jigawa State might have demonstrated some form of exceptionalism, however, the same situation could be found in virtually all the states of the federation or indeed the whole of Africa, where government officials concern with projects usually ends with the award of contracts.
The story behind this is that there is increasing unmet demand for information and communication technology (ICT) skills in the country. While basic digital literary has become globally a necessity for all, there are simply few opportunities in Nigerian and Africa for people to acquire these skills. Because of the high demands for ICT skills, the few who could train others are quickly absolved into high paying jobs in the financial and ICT sectors leaving us with facilities but not trainers.
Globally the issue of responding to ICT skill shortage has been recognized and partnerships are being developed to meet specific requirements of different regions and countries. The demands for ICT skills certainly will be on the rise as world make progress toward realizing the targets set at the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS). Critical among which are connecting villages with ICTs and establish community access points, connecting universities, college, secondary schools and primary schools with ICTs and connecting public libraries, cultural centres, museums, post offices and archives with ICTs. Who would teach the people that would be connected to these nodes of the global network to use the ICTs?
Unmet skill demands are both a challenge and opportunity. It is a challenge for civil society organizations that are working to empower communities. ICT cannot only make their work more effective and impactful but would also place in the hands of the communities tools they could use to create wealth, provide jobs and improve other aspects of community lives. For example, with ICTs, communities’ access to educational opportunities are extended and magnified. Online capacity gives them access to high quality educational platforms that would otherwise not be available.
The challenges for civil society are threefold. First, they need to have, like other actors, civil society organizations have to master the use of ICTs. Second, they need to have an ICT plan. This would enable them to decide what sorts of ICTs they need, for what purposes and how to obtain them. The third is that they need to have the capacity to maintain ICT systems. This last is the most difficult since maintenance of ICT systems requires much higher level of technical competence that is not readily available. As non profits, civil society organizations cannot compete with private and public sectors in recruiting and retaining such high level of technical competence in ICTs.
It is here that the unmet ICT skills demand turns into an opportunity. Using its non-commercial platform, the Unlimited Potentials, Microsoft Corporation has thought to assist civil society organizations have access to training that can build their capacity to overcome ICT skill shortage in their effort to deploy ICTs in their engagements. Recognizing that than many NGOs could be in the woods regarding ICTs Microsoft decided that the first step of responding to this skills shortage was to understand the real pressures faced by NGOs and in which areas they feel weakest. Thus as explained by the Vice President of Unlimited Potentials, the non profit platform of Microsoft, last week in Ghana, it started with consultations with civil society in last year to look deeper into the issue. It held five round-table consultations in four countries, drawing together over 131 NGOs. It was the out of these consultations that Unlimited Potentials was able to gather information from which seeped out skill needs of the civil society organizations in Africa.
After more than year of silent work, the UP felt it was time to let the cat out and on 24th April, it organized a launching and formal presentation of the NGO Academy for ICT4D. Held at Golden Tulip Hotel Accra, Ghana, the brief ceremony brought civil society organizations, government agencies, development parts and ICT professions from both Ghana and Nigeria. From Nigeria, apart from the Microsoft team were representatives of Fantasuam Foundation, Centre for Information Technology and Development (CITAD), the Prof. Iya Abubakar Community Centre, Bauchi, SchoolNet Nigeria and Digital Peers International
The goal of the academy is to provide NGOs with training opportunities and practical resources that will increase their capacity to deliver services to their constituencies. It has three key areas, namely IT support focusing on infrastructure consulting, installation and operation, skills development in such areas as business management, entrepreneurship, community development, grassroots marketing and service delivery, and lastly E-readiness tools for use on both national and regional basis.
The academy will combine both online and face to face training methodologies. The online is to be accessed through the portal of the academy which would be launched in June this year. Structurally, the academy will be have four hubs, one located in South Africa, for the southern Africa region, one for east Africa and one each for Francophone and Anglophone West Africa. Each hub is to candidate the activities of the academy in its catchments are while assisting to deliver face to face training.
The first have to be established is the one in South Africa. Heba Ramzy, the Director for Non-Commercial Partner Development at UP said this was to allow for lesson learning before rolling out the other hubs. This did not go down well with Dr. Dorothy Gordon, the Director General of the Accra based Kofi Annan Centre for Excellence who questioned the rationale for using South Africa to mirror the rest of Africa. According to her, the peculiarities of South Africa are not replicated in the other African country and not their serve as a barometer of Africa. More than this, Gordon saw in the action the attempt to for organizations like Microsoft and other to always start from the big countries such as South and Nigeria and end up there. This last bit indicative the likely struggle that would ensue in decide which country should host the Anglophone West Africa hub of the NGO academy as the two likely candidates are Nigeria and Ghana.
What you may what ask is Microsoft’s stake in this project? There are two clear benefits to the software giant. The first is that the academy would provide an effective channel for the Microsoft to deliver on its social corporate responsibility. The second is that the work NGOs are able to use and get communities to use ICTs, the more the marker for ICT products and services will expand. That I think is would benefit the ICT companies such as Microsoft as they will sale more of their services and products.
Whatever the politics would into deciding the hubs, the fact remains that communities like Gagarawa would have an opportunity to online training resources that would be free. This would allow them to learn and opportunity the excellent facilities that have currently have but cannot use.