I was watching a video recording of PM Dahal's speech at Nepalnews.com on 7 April, 2009. He was expressing his dissonance about the role of Media in spreading negative information to people. However, my article is not about endorsing the PM's statement neither to criticize the role of media. My objective is to pull media's attraction towards the subject of rural development through the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICT). Ironically, media itself is a core component of ICT, however, little coverage can be found about the contribution of ICT in rural developments. Simple statements of political figures can be seen as a news headlines, on the contrary, it is difficult to find any column of ICT for development activities, not in a single passage. If we go through the World Development Reports and UNDP profiles, it seems millions of dollar has been already invested in the ICT for development projects. However, the actual impact on rural communities are unknown. Either there is null impact of these projects or media is not interested in disseminating the actual outcomes of these development activities.
We don't need to go further to experience the success stories of ICT implementation in rural communities. India is one of the star role model for us, where we can find plenty of examples. Illustrating one example of e-village, MS Swaminathan Foundation in Tamil Nadu has developed a novel approach known as e-village. They set-up different computer terminals in the rural areas. These computer terminals are pre-loaded with a database of useful information relating to government services, such as agricultural extension, health and the police that contain the relevant contact details for each village. They connected the ten villages together and selected a group of volunteers to run that village centre. Women have been given priorities to run that centres, and provide training courses to other women. In addition, technical support is provided by a central 'hub' situated in the nearby town Vilanur. The technical support centre is headed by some trained IT professionals. Training courses for up to 25 people can be held at the Vilanur hub and lager courses such as for making incense sticks and small scale paper production from banana leaves have been developed to facilitate livelihood diversification through small business activities. The daily information bulletins are sent by e-mail to the networked villages which receive a summary of the main news stories from the local markets each morning. With the growing usage of ICT, village people started applying this technology to new areas such as solar power and spread spectrum masts. Compared to costly telecenter models, the e-village provide more localised and low-key service at a fraction of cost. Similarly, if we look into our own local Nepal Wireless Network Projects run by Mahabir Pun. Who is doing a tremendous job by facilitating the ICT services - eHealthcare, eLearning, and eCommerce - to remote communities.
Similar ICT development projects can be implemented in other rural areas by deploying the existing frameworks with some readjustments. The role of media in this endeavour is to educate the people through telling success stories and the usage of ICT for development. Media can break the myth that IT artefacts are some kind of robotic machine that can be operated by limited expert engineers. They need to tell the people that a simple training program is enough to learn and use ICT services. For example, by learning simple email messaging they can communicate instantly and economically. They can read daily market information and news headlines in Nepali, accordingly. In my personal case, I asked my 60 years father to learn internet chatting so that we can have easy and virtually free communication at any time. This is just a simple example, however, ICT has a multiple macro level impacts as well. According to DFID sustainable livelihood guidelines ICT has a positive impacts on human capital, social capital, financial capital, natural capital and physical capital. For instance, distance education, improved communication between different communities, computerised and transparent micro-credit services, land record keeping. Likewise, improved accessibility to domestic and international markets for selling agricultural products.
Although there are many rhetoric of ICT for development, ICT itself is not a panacea. It can be an instrumental for development, if implemented in an effective way. Giving specific guidance through media channels on effective implementation of ICT artefacts, it enhances the impact level. Likewise, high level impact on human, financial, natural, physical, and social capital . And, enhances the accessibility of remote communities to global market. Consequently, reduces the digital gap between urban and remote areas vis-à-vis between developing and developed countries. As a result, most of the jobs concentrated in the urban centres can be disseminated through the use of ICT, which can reduce the migration of skilled population from remote to urban areas and improve the communal harmony. Then only we can realize the true meaning of the flat world.
This article is an attempt to appeal media fraternity, donor agencies, IT vendors, and policy makers, that we should encourage ICT development activities by all means. It is not an afford of single person or single community but we need a synergistic afford from all corners. As stated Developing countries have by-passed the industrial age and leapfrog into information age. Unless Nepal leapfrogs into the Information Age, the economic gap between Nepal and rest of the developing world would widen. And, the role of media in this transition phase is indispensable and vital.
This article has been published in the Kathmandu Post (12 May, 2009) and South Asia Media Net (14 May, 2009), Nepal.