ICT4D in Nepal
On 30 March, 2010 the workshop on ICT4D (Information and Communication Technology for Development) was organized by the collectives of researchers, ICT entrepreneurs, social activists, IT experts, healthcare champions, and government officials from Nepal and University of Agder (UiA), Norway. The objective of this workshop was to exchange our knowledge and experience from ICT4D projects and research in general, and to understand the interaction processes between ICT and Social Capital and its consequences in remote communities in particular. Therefore, the discussions in the workshop was oriented towards how the interaction between ICT and Social Capital enable (or disable) people to access resources and collaborate to achieve shared goals, for instance, accessibility to healthcare, education, market, likewise, other social, cultural, economical, and governmental services. In addition, secondary objective was to identify future possibilities of collaborative research between UiA, Norway and Nepal in ICT4D and eGovernment areas.
Workshop started with a presentation by associate professor Øystein Sæbø from University of Agder, Norway. He presented his experience in ICT4D and eGovernment projects particularly in the context of Nepal. In the presentation, he expressed that stakeholders from different sectors are positively motivated towards the deployment of ICT for socioeconomic development. He stated further that expansion of ICT services by Nepal Wireless Networking Project (NWNP) in the mountain regions is remarkable. Likewise, he indicated some challenges, such as over dependency on single actor and a lack of collective action which may leads to redundant work and fragmented ICT4D approaches. He suggested that working collectively in a mutual platform will be more efficient and effective for the success of ICT4D projects.
After the opening presentation was the key note speech by Dr. Mahabir Pun, Magsaysay award winner and the team leader of NWNP. He shared his experiences of the wireless project. His story started from the inception of wireless project idea, the use of social networking and media, and the collective action inside and outside the mountain communities. He said that the project succeeds to connect more than 70 remote villages through internet connection since then. The project started with the objective to provide better education and healthcare services to the remote communities using ICT. For this purpose, he stated, the wireless project is working together with OLE Nepal, and Kathmandu Model Hospital. He added OLE Nepal develops local contents based on the curriculum approved by the ministry of education. They are in the process of developing computer based interactive contents. Likewise, he further explained, the hospital is supporting with telemedicine services. The initiator of telemedicine project Dr. Saroj Dhital together with Dr. Pun emphasized that telemedicine is a way to empower the local people, but not to replace them. Dr. Dhital added, “In this project we educate the local health workers (particularly women) in our Kathmandu based hospital, and send them back to their villages. And, we provide them regular consultancy through video conferencing.” Dr. Pun stated that appointing medical expertise in rural areas is very difficult. Therefore, telemedicine can work as a magic stick to virtually bring that expertise in the remote places.
He said that the implementation of ICT services in Nangi village is just an example that can be replicated to other rural areas. In his presentation, he stated that most of the ICT4D projects fail because they lack understanding of local context; and, do not develop local contents. He added, lack of income generation activities, likewise, is also a main challenge in the ICT4D projects. For this purpose, Pun explained, NWNP is working with www.thamel.com and Borderlands projects to promote ecommerce and ecotourism activities.
The next presenter, Mr. Bal Krishna Joshi, executive director, thamel.com, focused his talk on the opportunities and possibilities ICT could bring to promote local culture, agro-products, and indigenous knowledge. He emphasized that ICT can be a good platform to promote local products in domestic and international markets. He further added that these kinds of income generating projects can make the ICT4D projects scalable and sustainable. He said that just complaining about government activities and hanging around the political discussions cannot be fruitful in the long run. We need to plot the future development base in the community and national levels for the betterment of the nation as well as its people.
After Mr. Joshi, the next presenter, Mr. Biplav Man Singh, highlighted on the deteriorating situation of education system and dropout rates in the schools. He argued that ICT can be a medium to make education available to everyone and everywhere. He suggested that establishing virtual universities in the country could provide opportunities to the people staying in the remote villages. Following Mr. Singh, executive director of OleNepal, Mr. Ravi Karmacharya, also emphasized that there is a need to restructure the traditional teaching method. His ideas were aligned with Mr. Singh, both agreed that use of ICT in education can make it more interactive. Children can explore more resources and they can learn by doing themselves.
Additionally, Dr. Subarna Shakya presented the facts and figures of eGovernement projects in Nepal. He said that government and other organizations are working on implementing the projects. He added that they built a huge data center in cooperation with Korean government. He said that their project on developing digital ID is running in a good shape, and there will be more activities on digitization of government services. Likewise, Dr. Anil Kumar Jha, following Dr. Shakya, told us about his telemedicine projects. He claimed that doctors in the town are ready to do volunteer job in the remote areas. And, telemedicine could provide a platform to the doctors, so that they can serve the poor communities. In the final presentation of the workshop, Mr. Jwalanta Shrestha of OTRC (Open Technologies Resource Center) focused on the technical aspects of ICT4D projects. He explained about the open software platform and its usage in the context of developing countries like Nepal. In addition, he illustrated some projects that were using energy efficient hardware devices in the remote places.
The next session of the workshop was an interactive group discussion. In which, Ms. Mona, Rural IT manager of Winrock International, said that we should not forget the energy issues while talking about ICT4D projects. It is a critical issue, especially in the context of Nepal. She suggested that there is a need to run mini and micro level hydro projects. She added, at the same time we need to think seriously about the alternative source of energy. Other participants from Madan Puraskar Pustakalaya (MPP), Nepal Library Foundation (NLF), and Kathmandu University also engaged actively in the interactive session. They informed that localization of technology with the help of UNICODE has made it possible to promote Nepali language. The localization process also facilitates to translate literatures from foreign languages to Nepali language. Participants from MPP, told us that they are working on developing software for physically challenged people such as Nepali text reader for blind people.
The workshop concluded with a motion that Nepal is going through a difficult period of political instability and socioeconomic problems. If every citizen of Nepal indulges himself/herself into discussing problems rather than finding solutions, we will never forward towards the development stage. Optimistically, the peace in the country will prevail in the future; the state of political instability and anarchy won't last long. But, the million dollar question is, do we have enough future plans to position Nepal into the global map. If we want an absolute development in our country, then we have to both think and act individually and collectively as a nation, about the current challenges and future possibilities. And, the emerging technology, to great extent, can provide a platform to foster 'collective action' and 'collective capabilities' vis-à-vis foster human and national development.