GOA, India, 17 September 2005
APC member Ungana-Afrika has won this year’s Dirk Award, given annually to circuit or eRiders making an extraordinary contribution. eRiders are ICT capacity-builders for development organizations, and work in a movement which spans over 20 countries.
In an announcement just made, Katrin Verclas of aspirationtech.org said the award was given to those who have "shown extraordinary contributions to the nonprofit and international NGO technology communities while paying tribute to the principles of social justice and the role technology can play in empowering other communities and individuals".
Ungana-Afrika, also an APC member, provides innovative technology support to NGOs in Southern Africa. It says it believes that information and communication technologies (ICTs) offer new opportunities for African community-based and development organizations "to do what they do better".
"With its emphasis on technology, social justice, and community empowerment, the small staff of Ungana-Afrika has taken the principles of eRiding to innovative new levels with its trainings and capacity-building workshops and innovative projects such as those focusing on community radio and free and open source software within an African context," said the announcement.
It also noted that Ungana-Afrika "works tirelessly" to assure that the eRiding model takes hold in the Southern Africa region by working with other organizations in the region on developing their own eRiding projects.
Ungana-Afrika makes its learnings and materials widely available under Creative Commons license and its staff are active community participants in the international eRider Network. The organisation is supported by the Soros Foundations Network and the Government of Finland.
Circuit rider is a term originating in the United States for any professional who travels a regular circuit of locations to provide services, and has several specific applications. It now also includes traveling technology consultants.
The term circuit rider has more recently been applied to technology assistance providers who travel to small non-profit organizations in a particular sector to troubleshoot or support particular technology needs in those organizations. A Circuit Rider is part trainer, part management consultant, part computer expert. They provide consulting and assistance with technology strategy development, make multiple visits to the organizations they serve, and provide advice and information by phone and e-mail. They can serve regional constituencies by travel from a central location.
Additionally, Circuit Riders can "cross-pollinate" the groups they service, transmitting insights, tools, and tips as they travel throughout the sector. In addition, training materials and resources can be used at multiple sites thereby spreading the development cost out across a number of organizations.
eRiding is an ICT capacity building and support model for development networks or groups of small organisations which share a sector focus, geographical scope, or managing/funding body. As a world-wide movement with growing representation of more several countries eRiders are one of the largest global resources of ICT capacity building for development
Eliasz explains, "eRiders are multi-disciplined technology consultants working on-the-ground with a number of organisations providing custom services that help these organisations effectively integrate ICTs into their strategy, and empower them to better achieve their missions. eRiding is a holistic approach to technology support which includes an in-depth understanding of the way the organisation works, how it integrates ICTs into its programs and the steps needed to use technology as a tool in its work."
He told APC in an email interview, "Circuit Riding is the term for this approach in US but outside of US the term eRiding is widely spread. On the other hand Ungana-Afrika (and many other eRiding initiatives) have adopted many of the main values from the wider global eRiding network but we are an African NGO and have needed to take an approach that suits for our own environment."
The committee of previous Dirk Award recipients and the global eRider and nonprofit technology support community congratulated Ungana-Afrika and its staff Toni Eliasz, Ryan Jacobs, Angel Kgokolo, Tshepo Thlaku, and Rudi von Staden for what it called their "visionary and exemplary work".