Teaching old dogs new technologies is where the niche lies in Africa
It is true and probable that African organizations and groups that work together are ready and willing to explore their full potential to share knowledge, collaborate, communicate and network through the use of collaborative tools in spite of some problems that stand in their way.
Bellanet Africa, which has thus far been the centre of excellence in promoting knowledge sharing and knowledge facilitation techniques, collaboration, communication and networking, undertook a market study that underscores overwhelming need for groups that work together to change the way they operate if they are to explore their full potential.
Done under the question of whether collaborative tools can be an effective means of knowledge sharing, networking and communicating amongst groups that worked together in Africa, the market study was also part of Bellanet Africa’s concern to ascertain whether a niche existed, but at the same time answering questions of whether the use of ICT with particular emphasis on collaborative tools and emerging technologies enhanced the practice of knowledge sharing and knowledge facilitation techniques, collaboration, communication and networking.
Africa, which is unique in so many ways, has slowly progressed but with increasing uncertainty whether the continent would ever catch up with the rest of the world. Ironically, African practices, which are communal and widely known, would naturally fit in the recent social networking ICT innovations but have instead not caught up with new global trends, and annoyingly so, retarded knowledge sharing, collaboration and networking that have in recent times been considered good and viable in development processes.
Yes, Africa suffers from myriad challenges that in many cases are a detractor; illiteracy, disease, famine and wars among others; yet coupled with governments that are hard pressed to deal with the same priority areas, focusing on ICT would be a far away cry thus underpinning a barrier in ICT uptake.
Information and communication technologies also come with their own demands and costs, and more so, harnessing online communities with slow but very expensive connectivity would be more improbable than probable. However, in spite of all these challenges, interest exists.
Based on a universe of sampled organizations—The East African Sub-regional Support Initiative for Advancement of women (EASSI), Akina Mama wa Afrika, The Collecting and Exchanging of Local Agricultural Content Project (CELAC) and The Harambee Project among others, to which the market study pays credence to—the biggest challenge is how old dogs would be taught new tricks. Even in more organized settings, where ICT infrastructure exists, the zeal to change course from old practices needs to be marched in creed and credence.
Africa’s robust culture, yet rudimentary, would be the beginning of the new engagement thus justifying an inherent niche. The market study that combines years of experience and engagement with key organizations shows that groups that work together need to be ushered into new practices. The CELAC Project run and managed by Busoga Rural Open Source and Development Initiative (BROSDI) is a unique example of how collaborative tools would effectively enhance good practices. In so many ways, CELAC, a network of farmers in 16 districts in Uganda, has benefited and continues to benefit because the project keeps an open mind to technology as a vehicle. It is because of the same attitude and spirit that podcasting—under the capitalization project supported by SDC—is being piloted on them.
Besides, other organizations that informed the market study underpin the importance of a role player in offering services that would make them realize full potential. The key areas of concern are training and offering ongoing support in the use of collaborative tools i.e. blogs, wikis, podcasts etc and processes: online and face-to-face facilitation techniques and design and facilitation of collaborative events like meetings, conferences etc.
The market study also helps reach glaring but important conclusions; that there weren’t many groups in Africa that took advantage of collaborative technologies even when infrastructure existed yet collaborative tools effectively help the way groups work.
Arguably, the market study also ascertains that although some groups weren’t aware of collaborative tools, those that knew about them didn’t understand the value and the ‘value added’ in using them.
Another crucial thing considered to be a barrier to uptake yet offering an opportunity for Bellanet Africa is that many groups thought that collaborative technologies are too technical and therefore very hard to grasp. In the same vein some antagonists associated with groups bear negative influence that looks at technology and cost being proportionally linked.
That said however, Africa is a market follower rather than a trendsetter. Many groups allege that they have not seen good practices and success stories being shared to spark them into action. If the increasing demand for knowledge sharing and knowledge sharing techniques and use of ICT within public and private organizations was matched with good practices and success stories, the situation would possibly be different and therein again resides the niche for Bellanet Africa.
In Africa a niche for the use of technology to enhance the way organizations and groups engage exists. The barriers as already indicated vary but comprise the reasons why there is low uptake yet many organizations want to explore full potential but don’t know how. Since the engagement with Bellanet Network and now the Bellanet Alliance for Social Entrepreneurs (BASE) ushered in a lot of innovation, there is no doubt that Bellanet Africa can be a key player in offering a connector, facilitator and initiator’s role.