Capacity building is critical to the sustainability of a community network for several reasons.
First, by building the technical skills of community network operators, they are better equipped to design, install and maintain the network, which can help ensure it runs smoothly and efficiently.
This can reduce downtime and improve the reliability of the network. With skills in network expansion and upgrading, they can ensure that the network can adapt to changing technologies and user requirements, thus ensuring the network’s long-term sustainability. With technical skills in network security, the networks and data of their customers can be protected from cyber threats.
Secondly, business and entrepreneurial skills will enable community network operators to manage and operate the network as a sustainable business. These include financial management, budgeting and marketing, which can generate revenue and ensure the network’s long-term viability.
Lastly, community engagement, governance and management skills ensure that the operators can better work with the community to understand their needs, help them make the most of the network, and improve their access to information and services.
Since 2020, APC and Rhizomatica, within the Local Networks (LocNet) initiative and with support from the United Kingdom government's Digital Access Programme, have supported capacity-building efforts for micro-level organisations implementing or planning to start community networks in Brazil, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa.
The Licensing and Shared Spectrum Framework for Community Networks published in May 2021 states that the Communications Authority of Kenya “intends to build partnerships with organisations” such as “education institutions, civil society agencies and community network alliances.”
The new draft Universal Service Fund (USF) Strategic Plan for 2022-2026 identifies digital skills building as one of its strategic objectives. To maximise the chances of success for community network grantees under the USF strategy, the Authority should consider supporting capacity-building programmes that focus on mentorship and training community network operators.
An example is the training and mentoring of 11 pilot community networks and the creation of a community of practice for community networks within Kenya that the TunapandaNET Community Network coordinated. This will support the building of technical and managerial capacity and skills among women and men in planning, building, operating and managing their telecommunication networks and local content according to their needs.
Effective capacity-building programmes start with conducting needs assessments to inform the curriculum design and the suitable expert trainers who also understand local contexts. For sustainability, it’s important to encourage community members to take ownership of the network and the training provided by involving them in decision making and management of the network and providing for them to develop sustainability plans.
Finally, building partnerships and collaborations with local governments, other organisations, and individuals working on similar initiatives to share best practices, resources and knowledge will help ensure the community network is sustainable in the long run.
Photo: Pamoja Net