|Chapter 7: Using Networks to Strengthen Telecenters
An even more important outcome of these peer learning workshops was building bridges among different kinds of telecenter managers across the country. With a long history of NGO-run telecenters, Sri Lanka is now rolling out a government program that will create 1,000 new centers on the entrepreneur model and the temple model. When they arrived at the first workshop, the NGO people thought they were different from the entrepreneurs and the priests from the government centers and so on. However, with only a half-day of interactive visioning and knowledge sharing under their belts, all of the workshop participants began to see that they had common challenges and, in turn, that there was great potential to develop common solutions through the network.
Of course, these community processes are not only useful for knowledge sharing. In the Sri Lankan case, it is clear that they can also help build solid foundations for a formal network. The first two large workshops in the country gathered telecenter managers from the Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) of Sri Lanka’s nenasala program, Sarvodaya telecenters and village information centers, UNESCO community multimedia centers, and other local telecenter programs from across Sri Lanka. The organizations behind these centers quickly realized the benefits of being involved in the network and agreed to do so formally. The workshops also gave organizers a chance to identify—and test—strong grassroots leaders from the group. In turn, these people have become regional coordinators for the Sri Lanka Telecenter Family.With support from telecentre.org, the Sri Lanka Telecenter Family network has established itself formally and is expanding to offer training, content, marketing support, and other services to 300 (and growing) member telecenters. Ultimately, these concrete services will benefit rural Sri Lanka by helping the centers to become more responsive and ensuring that they have useful services and content to offer locally. Of course, the network won’t just offer services; it will continue to serve as a participatory learning environment, offering workshops such as the one described here twice a year. Many telecenter networks around the world are starting to adopt similar approaches to peer learning.
7.12. Take-AwaysOne of the most significant changes in the telecenter movement during the past few years has been the emergence of national-level telecenter networks.