Ungana-Afrika: Doing its bit to counter Africa's 'capacity crisis'
GOA, INDIA, 29 June 2005
APC’s new member Ungana-Afrika is a non-profit organisation that provides technology support, and helps others initiate technology support programs, within the development community of Southern Africa. Their work includes incubation of ICT capacity building programs, in-house ICT programs, and individual projects.
Ungana Afrika executive director Toni Eliasz says the main priority for their group is the ‘capacity crisis’. He feels that while global discussions are "directing high-level ICT policies", the ground-level daily reality receives little attention.
Eliasz explains, "Capacity crisis is a mild expression when assessing the skills and understanding of ICTs (information and communication technologies) within civil society organisations and SMEs (small and medium enterprises). It’ll take a decade before the young, more technology literate generation will be addressing this challenge."
Issues that this group is focussed on include what can be done now so that a remote community access point is able to utilize and sustain ICTs efficiently after they have been installed? It tries to concentrate on how to ensure that low-cost technology support is available when there is not enough capacity.
Eliasz believes there no capacity to use new technologies that governments and technologies initiatives are "dumping new technologies on the ground".
Ungana Afrika also hopes to help address this problem in its own way, and to some measure, by introducing the eRiding model to Africa and "helping country partners to incubate their programs". Their approach focuses on training the trainers.
[eRiders are roving technology consultants who work on a one-to-one basis with a group of related non-governmental organizations, helping to develop and implement an ICT strategy tailored to its unique aims, needs, and context.]
Says Toni, "During the last two years we’ve been introducing the eRiding model into the wide region of Southern Africa, and we’ve realized that building the network is slow if we’re only trying to grow internally or working through established and reputable NGOs."
One way, he argues, of having a bigger impact and scaling-up the benefits of the eRiding model is to collaborate with universities and even ICT SME’s (small and medium enterprises) in the local communities. These stakeholders, feels Toni, are looking for a replicable and low
cost-high impact ICT programs and services.
"Why not introduce the eRiding model for student development programs (or programs helping young graduates to get relevant work experience through community service) or local ICT service providers?" he asks. "These stakeholders can benefit from adopting the model when
helping their own communities by building the capacity of their beneficiaries to utilize ICTs and be more efficient and relevant."
Toni’s view is that young graduates, and ICT SMEs could help take ICTs to non-profits. Says he: "The student development program that Wits University is initiating is just one of the examples where Ungana Afrika’s expertise is useful. The program has been one of the first
stakeholders we’ve shared our ideas with and now we’re taking steps forward by introducing these ideas to potential donors. First phase would be to develop a business plan which would be used for actual fund-raising."
Ungana-Afrika works out of Pretoria, which is located in the northern part of Gauteng Province. Pretoria (which underwent an approved name-change to Tshwant in May 2005) is one of South Africa’s three capital cities, serving as the executive or administrative capital —
the others being Cape Town, the legislative capital, and Bloemfontein, the judicial capital.
Said Toni Eliasz, who’s of Finnish origins: "The main reason to join APC is to collaborate with similar minded organisations who share the mission and values with us and have experience around the global."
Ungana-Afrika has been exploring "new tools and resources" to work out how wireless technologies can benefit the development community.
Its activities come in an interesting range. For instance in mid-March 2005, Ungana-Afrika hosted a free workshop to help non-profit leaders in Southern Africa build new technology capacity building programs. Delegates built homemade wireless equipment for development networks.
It quotes the group TASC from Swaziland as appreciating Ungana Afrika’s approach, saying: "You really listened to what we want, not just what you think we might need. The language was less technical and easy for us to understand. We really appreciated the training and basic computer information you provided." Another group OYV of Zambia added, "The
future looks bright with our new technology plan … our partnership must continue."
What works for them is taking ICTs to the ‘third sector’?
In reply to this question, Eliasz told APCNews: "First of all, it’s the ‘train the trainers’ approach. If we can help other organisations to set-up their ICT Capacity building and support programs — through the concept of eRiding — we can make the biggest impact. We’ve done already some stuff relate to this program area," says Eliasz.
Secondly they want to develop and publish toolkits, and processes in the public domain for eRiders and other capacity builders (even SMEs) to use freely around the world. In this case, they don’t need to focus so much on the process development and can launch themselves with higher quality.
"One example is our planned program to create a toolkit for FOSS migration planning. In this case if an NGO asks an eRider to help their organisation to decide whether or not to migrate and what would be the costs etc, the eRider could use the toolkit for the FOSS migration
project plan creation," says Eliasz.
Thirdly, he adds, eRiding is really good model for addressing the capacity crisis. Says Eliasz: "There are several new projects starting around the world and the global network is getting stronger and stronger."
Says he: "APC membership provides us lots of credibility and also a network of experienced people to communicate with (for changing ideas, getting advice and so on." Eliasz adds that he would "love to see" Ungana-Afrika working closely together with APC’s capacity building
programs "by bringing experience from our work and possibly help APC members and other stakeholders to understand the eRiding model and utilize it in their own work if applicable".
Ungana-Afrika is developing a set of toolkits and process methodologies published under public domain that can be used to replicate the most appropriate service components and models of ICT capacity building and support programs.
Contact executive director Toni Eliasz at email@example.com