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Home / Stories from the field

A Letter From Rudi Von Staden, Representing Ungana-Afrika

2003-09-07 17:37:02

I've read with interest some of the articles on what's going down in other parts of the world, and thought it was about time that we entered the fray!

Ungana-Afrika was conceptualised towards the end of 2002, and developed from a technology-focused internship project that placed skilled volunteer graduates in several non-profits scattered throughout Southern Africa. Sara Kyofuna was a product of that project, and many of you have already met her personally.

It was decided that the internship concept was useful but was lacking in several important aspects, notably the lack of knowledge-retention and limited scope. AIESEC South Africa and OSISA (Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa) modified the structure into something more directed towards consultancy, and that's where we came into the story!

There are seven eRiders in Ungana-Afrika (which is Swahili for Connecting Africa), and we are currently providing technology consultancy for non-profit organisations in Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Lesotho and Swaziland. We hope to extend that list in the not-too-distant future. At the moment we only have funding for most of us from February to August this year, and are working to extend that up to the end of 2003 and into the future.

We are all young graduates from around the globe, with various levels of work experience and generally limited background in non-profits and the enthusiasm to overcome the obstacles that we are faced with! Ungana-Afrika is unique in combining young international volunteers with technology consultancy work. We are still waiting for the results to be felt, but we are confident of our impact in the short space of time that we have been active.

The project is based in South Africa, with one full time team member based in Johannesburg. The rest of us have split into pairs, with two countries allocated to each pair. I am working with Verónica Peña, and we are responsible for satisfying the technology needs of Zambia and Botswana. The greatest needs that we have perceived are in training and technology planning, which is where we are concentrating our efforts. I facilitate the technology planning while Verónica provides training in parallel. We are faced with a wide spectrum of technology acceptance that I’m sure all of you have seen in your own work!

We have really benefited from the support of the international eRider community, especially Teresa Crawford, who volunteered her time to come to South Africa and give us some training at the critical time before we first headed out to do the real eRiding. The online resources available have drastically simplified our work, and the various email lists are speaking our language! Because we are keeping to a six-month pilot phase of eRiding, we have to compress our own learning curves and the support that we receive is greatly appreciated!

* Major challenges in Africa, with some possible solutions:

While most of the online resources can be used ‘as is’, we have noticed a number of critical differences from our African context.

The financial resources available to most of the non-profits we serve are far lower than the average western non-profit. This forces us to be innovative in our recommendations, with many of the commercial options being out of the question.

Open Source software definitely has a role to play in addressing this issue, but there is greater sentimental resistance to that than to regular technology. We need to look at getting an International DiscounTech up and running. Many of our clients need to buy new software based on our recommendations. It would be a great benefit for them if we could organise cheaper software deals for them. Refurbished computers seem to be at least a partial solution to the computer needs in Southern Africa. Procurement and distribution still needs to be streamlined though.

Another unfortunate reality is the prevalence of state-owned or protected telecommunications monopolies. This is slowly changing, but still shackles any progressive technology efforts. Policy is the major stumbling block in this area, and we will need to add our voices to the multitude already advocating for change in this area.
Wireless networks may hold the key to providing connectivity to our NGOs, but again we are facing regulatory and implementation hurdles.

There is definitely the scope for eRiding in Africa, and we feel that we are on the right track!

Kind Regards,

Rudi von Staden, representing Ungana-Afrika


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