ICT in the Solomon Islands, the 10% that counts

Internet cafe @ Rennell Island, 2008

Imagine you’re in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, living in a rural village on the Solomon Islands. There is no internet access available, until the day an NGO installs and runs a V-SAT internet-cafe offering wireless connectivity. Their primary targets are the local secondary school and the hospital. A great idea but unfortunately found to be unsuccessful. After one year the NGO finds that only 10% of the rural population is actually using the service. Four years later, numbers still don’t match the expectations of NGO staff and NGO donors, resulting in a decision to close the cafe.

This is not fiction. This a true story told by Wilfred, an alumnus of the “Innovative Collaboration for Development” – Summer 2012 session and a citizen of this rural village in the Solomon Islands.

According to Wilfred, “the NGO failed to realize that the 10% of the rural population (using the service) was still a strategic component, because they were the ones managing the support activities of the value chain at the community level”.

Among the main outputs resulting from direct access to the web, Wilfred highlights these successes :

  • The number of family-based infrastructural projects increased dramatically and efficiently.
  • More students passed their final exams and gained better notes thanks to direct research on the Web.
  • Local community used internet service as an information requirement mechanism to start a micro-finance project .
  • Last but not least, the availability of the internet coincided with the post tsunami period that hit also the Solomon Islands and Wilfred’s community was “one of the worst hit”. In this context of emergency, the availability of the internet was essential for organizing rebuilding operations.

Johnson Opigo, facilitator of the  ICfD course, commented and analysed Wilfred’s story with these significant words: “It is a powerful message of the importance of information technology in community development, financial empowerment, infrastructural improvement and restoration. But most profoundly, the rural people themselves benefited tremendously while the project lasted. That is key. This story buttresses the fact that most times NGOs may need to look beyond the numbers when running laudable projects. While we may speculate that paucity of funds might have contributed to the decision to pull out, there should have been a conscious effort to nurture the numbers beyond the 10% take up by the value chain. There are support groups and activities beyond the value chain, there are externalities – these could be exploited and energized to provide the minimum basic figures required to sustain the project. Your village Wilfred, as a consequence, lost an opportunity for an early start in social media as you rightly posted. But we are happy that nevertheless you are presently in the vanguard of a social media aware society, no matter how gradual – better late than never! It can only get better!”.

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