The Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and Community Empowerment Centre

About the Programme: 

Khanya College is setting up a Centre for ICTs and Community Empowerment. Our understanding of ICT is that this concept encompasses both ‘traditional’ as well as new forms of information technologies. These include, among others, radio, print media, web-based and internet media, photography, and others.

The Centre encompasses three broad areas of work:

  • Provision of access to ICT resources through setting up an Internet Centre;
  • Provision of capacity building in the use of ICTs for the constituencies that the college works with and services; and
  • The development of ICT applications that are useful and relevant for the building of social movements in Southern Africa.
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Background to the Centre

The last decade and a half has seen a major revolution in technology and in the power relationships that are underpinned by modern technology. The spread of the use of computers and associated IT applications has led to the widening of the 'power-gap': the gap between those with access to power, and those without. In its turn, this power gap has reinforced an already existing gap between the rich and the poor. Both these processes – the widening wealth-gap and the widening power-gap – have proved to be mutually reinforcing.

For the majority of the world’s poor, the revolutions in technology have in many instances reinforced their lack of access to resources, and have thus been a factor contributing to the growing poverty the world over. On the other hand, however, the widening wealth- and power-gap has been met with resistance from many communities and movements from all over the world. In the course of these movements the new technologies have been used, not to dis-empower communities and movements, but as levers in the struggles for social justice. The new technologies have been useful as media of communication between communities and movements, as research tools, as tools to communicate between (collective) communities and those on power, and as tools to communicate between the movements and the public at large.

In the course of the use of these technologies for socially progressive purposes, it has become clear that a whole set of power relationships are embedded in the very nature of the technologies. In particular, it has become clear that the assumptions that lie at the base of the design of these technologies reinforce the wealth- and power-gaps. At a mundane level, the new technologies assume access to particular kinds of technical infrastructure (e.g. electricity), access to certain levels of income, and to specific discourses (computer literacy). Moreover, these assumptions and others like them are embedded in the nature of ICT applications developed by and for the rich and the powerful in society today.

Within Southern and South Africa the impact of these technologies is made worse by the legacy of apartheid. At all three levels – access to certain kinds of infrastructure, the levels of income, and the computer literacy – apartheid has produced a distribution of power that is unfavourable to the overwhelming majority of the population. As the use of the new technologies has become increasingly widespread within the emerging social movement, this legacy and its effect has become increasingly evident.

As an organisation dedicated to servicing and empowering the emerging social movements, Khanya College has seen at first hand the development of this wealth- and power-gap, not only as it has been expressed at the level of society as a whole, but also as it has been expressed in the development of the movements themselves. At a simple level, many activists whose organizations and movements have websites have not way of viewing these sites, let alone contribute to the development of these websites. This fact has led to the development of a 'technological divide' within the movements themselves. For Khanya College it has become clear that ‘digital divide’ has to be addressed both at the level of society as a whole, as well as within the movements themselves.

Why a Khanya College ICT and Community Empowerment Centre?

Khanya College has both the political and the organisational capabilities need to set and sustain an ICT and Community Empowerment Centre. These capabilities are:

  • Extensive links with, and respect among, the various social movements and civil society organisations. These links and respect have been built up over a decade and a half of education, research and publications support for the social movements and broader civil society organisations.
  • Khanya has built up links with various civil society organisations in the Southern African region, and is currently involved in a number of initiatives that include contact and collaboration with civil society organizations in the Southern Africa region.
  • Khanya has the management experience and institutional stability that will ensure that not only are the outcomes of the programme realised, but that the programme will be sustained over time.

The College is aware that there exist a number of organisations and institutions dealing with ICT issues like providing access to the Internet for progressive non-governmental organizations. What the College will bring to this area of activity is its extensive links with social movements, and the large layers of activists that currently participate in its various training programmes.

The primary aims of the Centre for ICTs and Community Empowerment Centre are:

  • To facilitate access to the Internet and information technologies in general by activists and social movements from poor and marginalized communities in Southern Africa.
  • To train activists in the use of the Internet and ICTs in general as organizing and mobilizing tools.
  • To facilitate the use of ICTs for mobilization, including campaigns, organization building, networking and solidarity among the various social movements in Southern Africa.
  • To building the ICT infrastructure of Khanya College, social movements and other non-profit organisations in Southern Africa.
  • To develop ICT applications that will be of use to the social movements in their struggle for social change.
  • To promote the use of Open Source Software among non-profit organizations in Southern Africa.
  • To participate in advocacy initiatives concerning broader access to ICTs by poor and marginalised sectors of society in Southern Africa.
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On-line network of progressive resource centres in Southern Africa

Khanya College has engaged a number of social movements and not-for profit organisations in building a resources centre and library. An important element of the work of the ICT centre will be to ensure that these resource can be accessed on-line, and it will also create an on-line network among different resources centres.

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The ICT & CEC will create a common web-based database of resources and books held by a number of resources centres and libraries in the region. This will make such resources accessible to organisations and individuals involved in development work in the region. This project will involve negotiations with various progressive organisations in the region about the project, the creation of a common technology platform to allow their various resources centre databases to interface with a common web-based on-line resources centre, training persons based in the various organisations in the use of this interactive database, and the development of a protocol for sharing the resources.

As part of this programme, the college will also develop:

  • a collection of educational and research resources focusing on media in general and ICT’s in particular; 
  • an interactive, web-based database for Informal sector and farmworkers organisations in Southern Africa; and
  • a database of certain legislations (labour laws) for different countries in the region. 

These and other resources will be available as a web-based interactive database for servicing informal sector organisations, farmworker organisations, and other organisations of vulnerable workers. The portal will allow these organisations to share and exchanges information on legal developments in the different countries, developments in organising informal and farm sector workers, contacts and profiles of organisations organising in the sector, reports of activities and conferences and so on.

The database will contain contact details of all labour and general advice centres in the region. The portal will also be used to facilitate the production of a regional newsletter for the organisations and their constituencies. The inter-active database will allow the user to update and amend existing records using icons, allow for fairly easy user configurable reports. The application will be developed in such a way that different countries within the region could use it.

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E-rider services

The College will provide a number of E-rider services to the social movements and other non-profit organisations. These will include:

  • Developing databases;
  • Developing effective websites and other uses of the internet;
  • Developing communications strategies
  • Developing customised software applications for use by various organisations and movements
  • Assisting with the creation organisational technology infrastructures and standards
  • Training in the use of ICT’s for community empowerment
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The delivery of these services will be specific to the needs of social movements non-profit organisations. The ICT staff will act as consultants to help these organisations achieve their ICT needs at low cost.

A major aspect of e-rider services will be training in the use of ICT’s. This training will take place at the Khanya College’s Internet Centre as well as in other centres in Southern Africa.

In order to strengthen the College’s provision of e-rider services the Centre will undertake on-going research on the ICT needs of social movements and other non-profit organisations.

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Building community media organisations and advocacy project

The work of this project entails facilitating the formation of media collectives within various social movements and community based organisations in the region. This will involve hosting discussions, seminars and workshops on how to build a broad based media activist culture in the region. Among other aspects, this work will involve providing support for strengthening organisations like Indymedia in the region. As part of this work the college will facilitate the setting up of all-purpose media centres in the various communities.

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Within the ambit of this project the centre will raise public awareness about the role of ICT’s and the broader media in the world today. In particular, the centre will host workshops, seminars and conferences on globalisation and ICT’s where a number of key themes will be taken up. For example, the issue of ICT’s in the context of the neo-liberal trade regime (the issue of ICT patents) will be taken up.

The third aspect of this project work will be to engage the state and the corporate sector around issues relating to broader access to ICT’s by the poor and marginalised communities. This aspect of the work will include participation in, as well as the initiation of, campaigns around these issues.

 

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