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Section II: Gateways

Making a streaming audio signal available on the Internet is a way of extending a radio station's reach; gateway projects do the reverse, using the radio to extend the reach of the Internet. In the same way that a single cybercafé or telecentre with a few computers can be an efficient way of increasing the number of people connected, providing access for dozens of people with only a few computers, a radio station with thousands of listeners that makes active use of the Internet can address the problem of access to the Internet's wealth of information with a tactic of digital multiplication, multiplying the impact of its Internet connection.

The chapters in this section examine a number of different models from different perspectives.

In her chapter, Community Media Centres: Creating digital opportunities for all, Stella Hughes examines the concept of community media centres (CMCs) as developed by UNESCO and looks at two examples of CMCs on the ground in Sri Lanka and Mali.

Kothmale Community Radio in Sri Lanka is probably one of the best-known projects combining radio and the Internet. In their chapter, The Kothmale Model: Using radio to make the Internet visible, Ian Pringle and MJR David look at the same CMC introduced in the previous chapter from a different perspective, examining how the radio station not only serves as a gateway but also heightens community awareness of the Internet.

Birgitte Jallov's chapter, Creating and Sustaining ICT Projects in Mozambique, looks at how ICTs can be used by media in Mozambique, a country with one of the poorest telecommunications infrastructures in the world.

The Russian Rural Information Network, by Nancy Bennett, looks at how a methodology devised by the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network to provide broadcasters with technical agricultural information was adapted in the Russian Federation.

Photo: UNESCO/A. Joncquières

Chapter 6: Community Multimedia Centres: Creating digital opportunities for all - Stella Hughes

In the era of the knowledge society and the knowledge economy, access to the infrastructure to share knowledge is paramount for social and economic development. Within the international development community, there is now strong consensus on this. It is widely agreed that information, communication and knowledge cannot remain the preserve of development experts in tackling poverty but must become the basic tools of the poor in improving their own lives. There is equally strong consensus on the dangers of the accelerating inequity of access to knowledge both within and between countries.

Strategies to increase access to knowledge for development need to integrate fully both their approach to the new knowledge resources and their approach to traditional knowledge systems. On the one hand, the introduction of new ICTs into poor or marginalised communities works best when it draws on traditional channels of communication and information, on the reservoirs of indigenous knowledge within the community and on its existing information resources. On the other hand, traditional forms of knowledge acquisition are insufficient to foster an inclusive knowledge society. People in poor and marginalised communities need access to mechanisms that provide multiple sources of rapid information and information exchange. The Internet and associated technologies are pivotal to the new means of knowledge acquisition. The question is: how should new ICTs and traditional knowledge systems be integrated at the community level in order to maximize the development potential of both?


In response to this challenge, UNESCO examined two areas in which it already had a well-established track record: long-standing involvement with grass-roots community radio; and more recent involvement with the multipurpose community telecentre. The result of bringing the two together in a novel manner is the Community Multimedia Centre (CMC). This combines community broadcasting with community telecentre facilities and offers a strategy that integrates new and traditional information and communication systems at the local level. When community radio and new ICTs are actively combined, they offer far greater possibilities for engaging a community in its own development. The possibilities generated by the combination of the two are not confined to quantity or range; the qualitative nature of these possibilities also changes. This is because of the particularly dynamic relationship between communication and information, between contact and content. The combination of a grassroots public platform with access to information highways promotes the public debate and public accountability that are essential for strengthening democracy and good governance. The combination of local radio with a community database developed by local people, building up a store of relevant data for educational, informational and developmental requirements, provides a solid knowledge base for the community and an open learning infrastructure for all its members. It also takes into account the preference of rural communities for a collective assimilation of knowledge, in contrast to the prevailing mode of individual access to Internet.

This summarizes the rationale behind the first pilot project supported by UNESCO in this field. The CMC is a recent development and the first of its kind, the Kothmale Internet Radio project in Sri Lanka, only reaches the end of its pilot project phase, with an independent, external evaluation at the time of writing (last quarter 2001). Kothmale Community Radio (KCR) was set up 20 years ago by the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation when the construction of the Kothmale dam displaced entire villages. Local radio was chosen as a strategy for helping to rebuild the social fabric for those displaced within this rural community and KCR became an important part of many people's lives. The Kothmale Internet Radio project added a community telecentre facility to the radio station. From the outset, access to Internet was considered both in terms of direct access for members of the community, through training courses or the help of facilitators, and also in terms of indirect access through “radio browsing” programmes. In this way, community radio is used as a gateway for a poor community to actively participate in the global knowledge society through “radio browsing” of websites, by encouraging the use of Internet access at the station and encouraging the use of radio as a platform for public debate.

This approach overturns many assumptions about Internet and related technologies: that they are primarily useful for professionals, business people, academics and students or that they are intrinsically part of a consumer life-style, offering new services almost exclusively in the domain of leisure, entertainment, travel and consumer spending. In Kothmale, radio browsing programmes focus on local economic activities, development and governance issues, culture and entertainment. The daily programmes respond to queries from listeners. Presenters first select relevant, reliable websites and broadcast the programme with local resource persons as studio guests (e.g. doctors for a health programme) who discuss the contents of the mostly English-language sites directly in the national languages. They also describe the websites and explain how they are browsing from one Web page to another. Thus, listeners not only get the information they requested, but they understand how it is made available on the Web. They can respond to the programme and they know that essential data will remain available in the community database if they wish to make individual use of it. With this daily radio programme, there is continuity within a common learning process encouraging greater inter-activity with and by the community.

The impact of this new way of creating shared meanings and interpretations of information for development is a key marker of the success of the project. The radio programme has triggered a greater interest among community members in receiving information related to poverty alleviation efforts, health, formal and non-formal education, livelihood skills and individual empowerment. The assumption behind this approach - that Internet can be useful for everyone - was readily taken up by listeners, most of whom had probably no idea that that there could exist a more elitist approach to new ICTs. This echoes the experience of many projects introducing new technologies to poor communities in the developing world: there are few psychological barriers to overcome among people who have had little or no access to information and communication technologies in any form - new or traditional. A CD-ROM is no more intimidating than an encyclopaedia when one has never used an encyclopaedia.

The Kothmale log book filled by each individual user of the telecentre shows a very wide range of subjects researched by a wide range of users. With an adult literacy rate of 82 percent, Kothmale offers fertile ground for this approach to new knowledge resources. Log book reports vary from one farmer researching information on organic tomato farming to another looking for new varieties of seeds, to a baker seeking new recipes, the local undertaker looking for an on-line funeral business management course, a health worker printing data on mosquito-borne diseases and young people looking for international job opportunities. The radio browsing programmes have also prompted illiterate people to go online with, for example, an elderly woman seeking the help of a facilitator to visit the site of a sacred Buddhist shrine in India. The radio browsing programmes cater in a similar way for different interest groups. A tea farmer who presents a radio browsing programme found a Tamil-language website explaining new tea drying techniques in southern India and shared this information with the local tea farmers on a browsing programme. Many farmers cultivate bamboo and new uses for bamboo were introduced to Kothmale after a programme browsed a website in the Asia region and found new crafts using bamboo.

When looking at the remarkable ease and speed with which KCR moved into this new, multimedia centre approach, certain pre-existing conditions stand out clearly as having an important impact within the project. The fact that the CMC was built into a well-established community radio station with a core professional staff and experienced grassroots volunteer staff meant many development topics were already covered regularly on air and in ways that sought systematically to convey locally-relevant information in context and with a degree of interactivity between listeners and programme makers. Local resource persons with a traditional role as “knowledge-brokers” for the local community had already been identified and mobilized to participate in community broadcasting. Well-adapted local programming by trusted and familiar broadcasters offered an excellent foundation for the introduction of new ICTs. At the same time, high literacy rates and the generalized secondary-school level of education of the younger generations in Kothmale also impacted positively on both the range and the number of people using ICTs.

Building on these favourable conditions, the project strategy of reaching out to the entire community ensured a continuum of information and communication, involving both the spoken and written word, the most educated and the least educated. The daily browsing programmes provide a crucial link between those more likely and those less likely to use ICTs individually. Even those who would never go to the telecentre themselves have a basic understanding of and share a common language to discuss ICTs, because the radio browsing programmes have made cyberspace familiar territory. The clearest illustration of this is the number of cases in which a senior family member has listened to a browsing programme, then encouraged a younger family member to go onto Internet in search of information useful for the small family business. In Kothmale, there may be a noticeable “generation gap” in terms of individual access to ICTs, but not in terms of appreciating their usefulness.

Such positive factors for developing a CMC did not remove the need for carefully planned outreach activities targeting all groups within the community. Those hardest to reach have been young girls. In spite of messages on the radio announcing free training for women and girls, few came from the poorest hamlets of Kothmale. Only door-to-door “canvassing” finally convinced some of the most marginalised women that the training really was meant for them. One of the lessons of the project has been that proactive gender policies have to be pursued at every level, from targeting women and girls for training opportunities to ensuring that men do not jump the queue for the computers when women are in line. Again, the combination of direct and indirect access to ICTs helps to bridge the gender gap. In Kothmale, 41 percent of telecentre users are women, but they constitute over 50 percent of “radio browsing” users who also interact with new ICTs by telephoning or sending questions to the “radio browsing” producers, then listening to, reacting to and using the information broadcast from the Internet.

Lack of Sinhalese-language materials on-line was a major obstacle, only partly overcome by local efforts to train users to create webpages. Although Web skills are so widespread that 40 percent of those making webpages in Kothmale are now peer-taught, only when there are many more “Kothmales” producing their own webpages in Sri Lanka will the lack of locally relevant information in national languages be made good. It is worth noting here that it would take just 50 CMCs in Sri Lanka to ensure that every Sri Lankan is within reach of ICTs and on the right side of the digital divide. The language barrier is less of a problem for Tamil-speakers, thanks to the relatively large number of Tamil-language websites emanating from the large Tamil population of southern India. At present, the radio browsing formula is the only means to overcome entirely the language barrier, as information on English-language websites is explained and discussed directly in Sinhalese and Tamil. One advantage for Kothmale is the existence of many regionally-based English-language sites carrying a vast range of information relevant for much of the Asian region. The number of school-students at KCR after school hours, surfing the Web in English and using English for their email exchanges, indicates that language is far less of a barrier for the younger generations.

Achieving a satisfactory supply of relevant content involves more than the vital matter of identifying and using suitable websites, locally-created or across the Internet. The Kothmale database is building up a collection of useful on-line data, including administrative forms, fact sheets and so forth. On-line governance is a promising future prospect as local and national government documents begin to go online. The CMC has great potential to evolve into a community learning centre, with a library of multimedia learning materials and access to distance education and training courses just some of the possible uses. Already, two access points at public libraries in nearby towns extend access to Internet to many more users and make the physical link to library collections. Local schoolteachers use the Internet to enrich their lessons and take their classes to visit the centre. Some unplanned outcomes of the project can have a significant impact on contents creation and local use of online resources. The combination of individual and community interaction fosters the emergence of new democratic initiatives with a focus on e-campaigning. A new, active and influential environmental NGO, Green Lanka, germinated from the Internet browsing of some young Kothmale residents who decided to “do something” with their new-found IT resources. Green Lanka must be one of only a few NGOs around the world awarding a national “green label” for exports from headquarters in a village (although demand has obliged the NGO to open an office in the capital, Colombo).

The strategy of combining direct and indirect access to new ICTs has also to be assessed in terms of scale and capacity. At present, the number of computers made available to the public through this project is minimal - about six machines in all. While the small telecentre facility and two access points in public libraries can receive up to one or two thousand visits a month, the radio browsing programmes attract many times that number of listeners every day. In this way, a minimal investment in ICT equipment can have an quasi-exponential impact within the community. In the future, some local people and, crucially, other local institutions can be expected to acquire their own equipment as usage generates revenue and purchase costs come down. As the number of users increases, it may become commercially viable for small, private Internet kiosks to set up business. There is no reason to believe that any of these developments would obviate the need for or the usefulness of the present system of mass access through radio browsing and the proactive approach to broad-based participation fostered by community telecentre outreach activities. The CMC formula not only looks set to remain relevant for the medium term, but could become a permanent feature alongside the individual user approach of wealthy consumer societies.

As a pioneering pilot project, Kothmale saw a considerable proportion of the project budget allocated to research and evaluation. From the outset, the project was supported by the national authorities and national institutions - with government ministries supplying the dedicated Internet connection, the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation responsible for the radio station and its professional staff, and Colombo University providing technical support for the computers and networks. This support was important in order to start up a completely new activity in a poor rural area where the level of awareness had not yet created a demand for ICTs. It also needed strong public support for another reason: there was a major credibility barrier to overcome. What did poor, rural people speaking Singhala and Tamil need with Internet? What could justify making ICTs a development priority when there were other, pressing needs? What motivation would people have and would they sustain their interest for any length of time? Today, that battle for credibility has been won and will not need to be fought again - in Sri Lanka, at least.

With the example of Kothmale to build on, it is likely that future CMC projects in Sri Lanka will follow a somewhat different model: establishing business plans and sustainability strategies from the outset in order to reduce the degree of dependence on public support, reducing the research component as the model becomes more established and networking with each other to pool resources, training and so on. Links with other institutions such as educational and training institutes, development networks or agricultural co-operatives could become a core component of a CMC.

It is conceivable that, as in other countries where broadcast regulations permit it, the community radio component of a CMC could eventually be started up by the community and be fully owned and operated by the community. However, the intrinsic value of building the CMC on an existing local station that is part of the national public broadcaster cannot be overlooked. In the case of Kothmale, the high standard of broadcasting at the station was without a doubt a key to the success of the radio browsing formula. Paradoxically, this model might be of particular interest in those developing countries where chronically under-funded public radios struggle to compete with flourishing new FM stations that are free from public service constraints. By forging a new public service role integrating ICTs, the local stations of national broadcasters could find a new lease of life and benefit from public revenue going into national IT plans.


While in Kothmale the CMC grew from the community radio station, in Timbuktu, Mali, it is the community telecentre that has become the basis for a CMC, with the four radio stations of the town sharing use of a new radio studio within the telecentre. The Timbuktu community telecentre, a pilot project backed by a consortium of partners (UNESCO, IDRC, ITU, SOTELMA (national telecom company), WHO and FAO), opened in April 1999 and was planned as a fairly large-scale infrastructure eventually able to offer specialized services such as telemedicine and distance learning as well as basic services to all members of the community. UNESCO added the radio equipment to the telecentre in September 2001 in order to enable the local radio stations to make full use of new ICTs and start radio browsing programmes. The local municipal station, Radio Bouctou, and the three private or associative stations, Radio Alfarouk, Radio Lafia and Radio Jamana run on minimal revenue, equipment and human resources.

Timbuktu and the surrounding area have a far smaller population than Kothmale and an adult illiteracy rate of 50 percent. Its telecentre - three times larger than Kothmale's, with 18 computers - is constantly busy. When this ICT project was proposed and even though the literacy levels, income levels and population density are far lower than in Sri Lanka, there was no credibility barrier to overcome. Timbuktu suffers from such extreme geographical isolation - with currently just one flight a week made by a 14-seater plane and river boat services taking four days from the capital Bamako - that the contact potential of ICTs was embraced with great enthusiasm from the outset. A remarkable indicator of this support and degree of faith in the benefits of these technologies was the substantial financial contribution made not only by townspeople but by the inhabitants of 43 outlying villages.

The telecentre made a series of attempts to encourage the town's radio stations to use its services. Timbuktu's four radio stations broadcast in a total of six languages to the townspeople and to villages within a 100 km radius. The first users of the community telecentre were not surprisingly the local elite - teachers, office workers, doctors, business people and so on. In order to expand access, a study was made of user needs according to social groups - women, youth, nomadic herders, traders, media etc. - and outreach activities organized. The results were not necessarily what could have been expected: some categories that might have been thought the hardest to reach became aware of the value of ICTs much sooner than, for example, the radio staff of the town.

Several illiterate and semi-literate Touareg camel herders were among the quickest to use the centre in order to open email accounts and deal directly with their tourist clients overseas. While these users now know how to navigate, open their mail box and access their mail with ease, they have to print out each message as they read with great difficulty or only with assistance. Similarly, writing a reply is a difficult task and some use the telecentre email-writing service. This does not appear to be an obstacle as the total cost is cheap and the message instantaneous. As a measure of motivation, one Touareg travels 400 km about once a month to access his email. If he cannot get a lift with a tourist convoy, this takes him up to a week by camel. This link enables him to run his small tourist guide business and launch projects in his oasis village of Arawane. Most other herders working as guides and using the centre travel in daily from camps some 10 km out of Timbuktu.

The hardest-to-reach group - young girls - still forms a minority of users. The single most successful strategy to encourage Internet access among schoolgirls was to find them email pen-friends, mostly from neighbouring countries in French-speaking West Africa. For women's outreach activities, as for those targeting other groups, existing structures were mobilized and local women's associations still provide the key link to the female population. Most women users are however still from the more privileged groups such as office workers and health workers. Illiterate adults were targeted with great success. Computer-based literacy classes are in demand and three literacy tutors run courses in the telecentre in which they take a discreet, low-profile approach, allowing their “students” to blend in with other computer-users. A self-tutoring literacy software package is currently being finalised.

In contrast to the successes of outreach activities for these groups, attempts to attract radio staff initially had significantly lower impact. Only two people working in radio stations came to use the centre spontaneously. The heads of the radio stations or their representatives were first given an introductory course. This was followed by a full basic computer training course given free to two staff members from each station. The telecentre then donated a computer to each station, stipulating that these should be used to train colleagues by those who had followed the basic training course. Another training session was carried out for radio staff on use of CD-ROMs and the telecentre staff then visited each station, presenting the contents of development CD-ROMs and loading contents onto the stations' computers. Almost a year after these efforts began, the computers in the radio stations were however still visibly under-used and radio staff in a noticeable minority among telecentre users. Usage of the computers in the radio stations appeared to be inhibited by problems of social relations in the workplace: those who now had computer skills were not in a hierarchical position that allowed them to take initiatives with “high-status” equipment - the computer.

Only when the telecentre got a high-speed line and was able to offer a good Internet connection did radio staff use of computers pick up. A free Internet course was given to one staff member per station (offered to those who had not benefited from previous training sessions) and free access to Internet and print-outs of information for programmes offered to all radio staff. At this stage, the first real numbers of radio staff began using the centre, opening email accounts and surfing the Web. However, the only radio programmes for which Web searches were used regularly concerned sports, music stars and horoscopes. Attempts by the telecentre managers to organize the making of development programmes in the telecentre failed. As in many other parts of the developing world, in Timbuktu development partners - NGOs and IGOs - have been in the habit of paying local radio stations to broadcast development programmes. Although the development partners may view this as general support for community media, the hard-pressed radio directors naturally enough come to view development programmes as a legitimate source of revenue and are reluctant to use their own resources to make relatively time-consuming, high-input programmes.

The radio equipment donated by UNESCO and housed in the telecentre, a Wantok FM radio station-in-a-suitcase, was intended to break this pattern and encourage greater use of Internet by radio staff for making programmes on development issues as part of their regular programming. Training was given in radio browsing techniques: pre-selection of useful websites, advanced search methods, methods of saving or “storing” selected webpages, techniques (for both presenters and resource persons) for describing or visualising Web contents and so on. The radio browsing concept was embraced with great enthusiasm by the generally young radio presenters who were eager to use the technique to cover development issues and clearly enjoyed this new dimension of radio presenting, experiencing it as enhancing their role and status as information-brokers. This high level of motivation is crucial as these presenters are paid very little or not at all. With the introduction of the suitcase radio, their use of the telecentre immediately rose.

However, none of the radio staff had sufficiently good Web browsing skills to be able to prepare browsing programmes with ease after the initial, limited number of training sessions. Under the agreement made with the radio and telecentre directors, the telecentre staff will continue Internet training and assist in radio browsing production, at least until the presenters become fully competent. The telecentre now plans to budget for digital audio editing software and a minidisk, which will further encourage radio staff to use the centre and to develop radio/telecentre co-productions. The advantages of a co-production system benefit both parties. The telecentre needs to expand its user-base in order to increase its revenue to the point of being fully sustainable and radio browsing programmes should stimulate demand. Although the radio stations, in return for free services at the centre, had begun broadcasting adverts for the telecentre and its services, it is clear that radio browsing can raise far greater awareness among many more listeners than an advert can.

One of the reasons for low levels of production of development programmes cited by the directors, along with the revenue issue, was the difficulty in getting resource persons to go to the radio stations to take part in programmes. This difficulty should greatly diminish when the resource persons are asked to go to the telecentre to make a programme, as their motivation for going there is far higher: they have email accounts, use Internet and world-processing and would generally make good use of a visit. Another benefit for the radios lies in the fact that none of the radio stations previously had a production studio and were only able to make pre-recorded programmes in the few hours per day when they were off air. They now have the option of using the equipment in the telecentre for recorded or live programmes.

The telecentre's regular users also represent a reservoir of valuable interviewees. The telecentre plans to begin producing regular “how to” programmes on ICTs with users as studio guests. The impact on target audiences of a semi-literate Touareg explaining in Tamacheq how he navigates and uses his email is likely to be far higher than if the same explanation is given by a computer engineer. A teenage girl describing in Arabic or Songhai the correspondence she exchanges with email pen friends may, like the nomad, serve as a role model for listeners in her target group.

New programmes are still in the planning stage but a number of existing programmes have been identified as lending themselves to development into browsing programmes. Radio Bouctou has a three-hour programme every evening for the villages of the region and takes calls from relatives abroad with urgent messages, relays announcements and so forth. These villages, which supported the telecentre with donations, have seen little return for their support so far. The director of Radio Bouctou believes that radio browsing for rural audiences could quickly become the first concrete benefit for villagers arising from their investment. One possibility would be to organize a shared email account for each village, enabling distant relative to send news more often and far less expensively. Browsing programmes could target fishing and farming villages with appropriate information for their economic activities and development needs. Radio Alfarouk uses very young volunteer presenters during the school holidays and these young people could quickly become the “ICT-interface” for school children and students. Not surprisingly, the telecentre has already become a centre of attraction and something of a meeting place for many young people who spend time there every day. Youth browsing programmes could direct them to the best websites for young people and show them that many of their concerns are experienced and discussed by young people all over the world.

The impact of the new telecentre-based radio studio will be monitored for both quantitative and qualitative impact. The number of browsing programmes will be monitored and compared to previous levels of development programming. The number and range of resource persons and the frequency of their participation in browsing programmes will be logged. The topics covered and websites used will be recorded and information on the best Web sources made available to all radio staff. Impact will be evaluated in terms of listener response to programmes and request for particular browsing subjects and also in terms of changes in telecentre user patterns. New users will be asked if they decided to come to the centre after following radio browsing programmes and both the number and the range of new users will be matched against radio browsing topics aired.

There are certainly many challenges ahead for the Timbuktu telecentre/radio partnership. There are fewer relevant websites emanating from and intended for developing countries in the French than in the English-speaking world. One response may be to have a focus on CD-ROM browsing as well as Internet browsing. If the telecentre builds up a good library of educational CD-ROMs, for example, this will not only enrich browsing programmes but stimulate demand for use of the computers for learning activities. Another challenge lies in the fact that radio browsing in Timbuktu will have to be done in many more languages than in Kothmale and will have to cater for a far wider range of economic, cultural and social contexts. The radio stations will not derive any direct financial benefit from radio browsing and much will depend on staff motivation. However, indirect financial benefits could include greater support by development partners in response to more effective development programming.

Above all, this is not a new project with a project co-ordinator and it depends on a new dynamic being “spontaneously” created within existing structures: the community telecentre will be seeking to stimulate use of new ICTs by radio stations struggling to compete for very limited advertising revenue. The most immediate motivation for the radio stations lies in the high potential for raising the quality of their programming and therefore getting a very positive audience response, in the availability within the telecentre of excellent equipment for programme-making and in the readiness of telecentre staff and resource persons to contribute to contents development. In the future, networking is likely to improve the situation for contents development, further easing the problem for the cash-strapped radios of time-consuming development production. Mali's Maison de la Presse in Bamako already has a daily on-line radio information service. The telecentre plans to equip each radio station with a modem and a connection to the telecentre as a next step.

The CMC formula adopted in Timbuktu is now being considered as a model in national plans for ICT access in Mali's 703 “communes” or local districts. The plan to build a national network of telecentres, ultimately in every commune, is in the final stages of preparation. An initial target will be to set up telecentres in the 50 main administrative centres of Mali. Originally, planners had decided that the best way to link ICT access with broadcasting would be to equip every radio station (of which Mali has over 100) with a computer and a link to the nearest telecentre. This is now being reconsidered in favour of creating a radio studio within each telecentre for all nearby radio stations to use. First and foremost, this should be more cost-effective in a context where funds for the ambitious national access plan are likely to be hard to come by. Crucially, it will also ensure that radio staff are brought into an ICT - rich environment in which they can benefit fully from training and specialist support. As a first step, this appears preferable to the alternative: introducing minimal ICT equipment into radio studios where there is no specialist back-up to facilitate use of the equipment and where there is no assurance that the equipment will be used adequately.

The contrasting examples of Kothmale and Timbuktu show just how many factors quite extraneous to the actual technology have a determining influence on these two communities' access to new ICTs. In both cases, the goal of knowledge-sharing for development is reached through the essential channel of radio broadcasting. It can be argued that individual access to ICTs is also shared in some ways by the individual's circle of family, friends and colleagues. In fact, these two processes together - individual direct access and mass indirect access - offer the optimum formula for achieving both breadth and depth of impact of new ICTs within the community. This is not only because they combine individual empowerment and community empowerment but also because together, they involve the community as a whole in its entry into the knowledge society and knowledge economy. The continuum in the flow and exchange of information between the educated and uneducated, those with and without international languages, between the spoken word and the written word is a force for community cohesion. It also acts as a conduit for the flow and exchange between new knowledge resources and traditional knowledge systems, in which both are able to express their full potential.

Photo: Stella Hughes

Chapter 7: The Kothmale Model: Using radio to make the internet visible[53] - Ian Pringle and MJR David

Spectacular growth in information and communication technologies (ICTs), and specifically the internet, has the potential to offer a new generation of tools for rural development. The internet, with its huge quantities and variety of content, is increasingly becoming an effective delivery and exchange system for information and knowledge, continuing education and learning. However, [rural ICT] requires special efforts to create appropriate models for those who can neither afford the Internet access nor have the language capacity to understand the content.[54]

New information and communication technologies (ICTs) represent perhaps the greatest tool to date for self-education and value-addition to an individual or community's efforts for development, yet people in poor rural communities do not have the necessary awareness, skills or facilities to contribute to their development using ICTs. Most people in South Asia, especially those in rural areas, are excluded from the revolution that ICTs are ushering in.

Parallel to other increasing forms of inequity, there is a gap, widening at an exponential rate, between those with access to media and ICTs as productive tools and those without. Closing what has become known as 'the digital divide' is particularly important precisely because digital ICTs cut across and add value to all fields of development and offer opportunities to bridge the spectrum of inequities of which the 'digital divide' is only an extension or a symptom.

The communication scenario along with the political context in the island nation of Sri Lanka is very much similar to most of its South Asian neighbours. Urban centres are witnessing rapid expansions in telecom and media, while telephones, electricity and clean drinking water are still luxuries for many in the countryside.

Beyond the question of access, the lack of experience with ICTs is major barrier for their use in rural areas. One example that offers some insight and elements for a successful model is Kothmale Community Radio and Internet in central Sri Lanka.


The internet project at Kothmale was initiated in 1998 - by UNESCO in partnership with a number of Sri Lankan[55] and international agencies - to address 'the digital divide' by piloting a model for rural ICT use. The elements that make Kothmale stand out in the field of ICT projects are the 'marriage' of internet with local community radio and the innovation in raising rural community awareness of ICTs that this convergence has allowed.

Combining internet with radio and approaching radio listeners as potential internet users has significantly raised awareness of ICTs in an area that five years previously had neither a computer or a telephone. While there are still only a handful of computers and telephones, by interfacing internet through radio, both directly through the physical availability of computers at the radio station and indirectly but with more dramatic results by making web-browsing into the basis for daily radio shows, thousands of people have been exposed to the internet. A significant portion of these people have been able to use the internet themselves and some have benefited directly in terms of education, business and livelihood, entertainment and enjoyment.

The presence of computers and the internet along with the accumulation of skills, largely through peer-based training, has led to an expanded local capacity to use ICTs, one of the project's key achievements. The Kothmale model clearly demonstrates the potential development impact of access to the internet, both for the individual and the community-at-large. However the demand that has been created exceeds the availability of access points and appropriate content, two other key considerations in rural ICT application. Two and a half years into the project, the benefits appear to be concentrated in certain demographic sectors and the project has not delivered a recipe for sustainability.


In South Asia where localized media channels are rare to non-existent, Sri Lanka was the first country to introduce non-government radio and, predating that by more than a decade, the first to introduce any sort of community radio.

The Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation's (SLBC) community radio programming and local FM stations, from their origins in the Mahaweli community radio initiatives in the eighties,[56] to the Kothmale internet project in the nineties, are an unusual example of community media. SLBC's 'community radio' stations exist officially through the government broadcasting system and SLBC provides an operational infrastructure: salaried and trained staff, studio facilities and equipment. More importantly, SLBC provides permission to broadcast. While the stations are top down in terms of licensing and core operations, their day-to-day functioning and impact are clearly at the local level.

This is certainly the case at Kothmale Community Radio (KCR), located at Mawathula in the Kothmale Valley in the central hilly area of Sri Lanka, not far from the former capital, Kandy. The towns of Gampola and Nawalapitiya as well as some 50 villages and 17 schools are within the station's broadcast range, giving the station a total potential listenership of over 200 000 people. KCR has one functioning studio that feeds to a 300-watt transmitter, putting out 11.5 hours of programming a day, during a morning and an evening shift. The station has a small paid staff - some full-time, some paid on a per-programme basis - and some volunteers.

Kothmale is a local radio station. While it has received much international attention in the past few years because of the internet project, in Sri Lanka it goes largely unnoticed outside of its broadcast area. Although it is officially part of SLBC, Kothmale has a high degree of autonomy, if not editorial independence. The station raises funds through advertising, as much as 75 percent of its budget, and makes independent decisions about programming. Management and staffing are local. The station makes use of a significant number of volunteers, features an active listeners' group and has a high degree of community interaction.

There are, however, limits to this autonomy and the station's potential for growth as a rural communications vehicle, is limited by its dependency on SLBC. In effect, KCR has more capacity than authority in decision-making, and it has greater potential than impact.

A frequent scenario that flashed across our minds was rural youth with little or no ICT skills being marginalised in the job market. There are kids in village schools who do not receive their text books on time while their counterparts in urban schools are sending emails and surfing the internet for supplementary information for school projects. Inevitably, all these children will be queuing for employment in the near future and most probably the ones who lack familiarity and skills in ICTs will be sidelined

Sri Lanka has seen enough blood spilled in its fifty years of independence. There have been two violent youth insurrections in the south and a civil war continues in the north. Marginalisation from the mainstream and frustration of the vernacular-educated youth are often sited as the main reasons underlying these violent reactions. In this context the digital divide is not something academic but something real, something that provokes shocking memories and impulses for action among those who have seen the social cost incurred by unequal opportunities in Sri Lanka - MJR David in recollections about planning the Kothmale project.


When the internet project began in 1998, KCR changed location and upgraded its technology. Previously situated on an isolated hilltop, the studios and offices were moved to a more accessible location with a relay sending the signal from the new studio to the transmitter on the hilltop. The new location was also equipped with a telephone line, a 64 kbs microwave connection to the internet, a server, and three work stations with internet access - one for the station's use and two for community access.

Some key points from the operational guidelines developed at a workshop to review the Kothmale project's initial needs assessment:

- The Internet and other new communication technologies should not be presented as a technological gimmick or marvel. They should be presented as a something that is useful in day-to-day life.

- The first precondition for success is active community participation. For this, the computers and other facilities should be placed and operated in a user-friendly manner.

- Simple step-by-step instructions should be prepared on how to use the Internet and there should be someone at the radio station ... to explain the Internet and how it is used.

- As many do not have telephones the importance of postcards (for listener feedback) should be emphasized within the radio program.

- Internet content should be put across the radio programme with reference to the local context.

- Women should be encouraged to participate.

- The staff should not be over cautious about breakdowns in computers. The users should be given a free hand.

At the same time, an initial needs assessment was conducted by project and station staff, giving them first hand knowledge of how the community perceived computers and internet, what their information and communication needs were, and what was expected from the project.


The Kothmale project targeted different elements that are essential for the success of ICTs in a rural context: community awareness, capacity development, public access and locally appropriate content. Although the model represents an integrated approach of these elements, the achievements of the project are primarily in the areas of awareness and capacity development.


The design of the Kothmale project takes as a starting point that awareness of ICTs and of their potential is essential if members of a rural community are to be motivated to use ICTs. The critical lack of awareness of the uses and benefits of information and communication technologies is evident not only in rural areas, with farmers and labourers, but also with the implementers of development programmes, from NGOs to local and district governments.

Before people will use the internet, they must have some sense of what it is. Before they can use it productively, they need to have a sense of what it can do. While this is true everywhere, in rural areas of regions like South Asia basic awareness is a formidable barrier. ICT coverage in the media tends to come only once a market has been established; likewise, word of mouth functions only when there is something to talk about. In most of rural South Asia there are no computers - not in schools, offices nor homes - and there is no visible or affordable internet access. One of KCR's main objectives was to make the internet visible.


Before its inauguration at a musical event that drew thousands, the project staff had visited schools, temples and government institutions to talk about the merits of new communication technologies. They used the radio to introduce computers and the internet to listeners. As it got off the ground, the internet began to receive a lot of attention in the community.

The morning programmes generally announce the daily exchange rates and the daily wholesale agriculture prices from the Central bank of Sri Lanka. The weather report is also read from the internet. The afternoon broadcasts will often incorporate Sri Lankan and world news from Reuters and other Web sites.[57]

To some extent, many of Kothmale's radio programmes benefit by having the resources of the Web at their disposal as a research tool. However, the project and the programmers have taken it further, introducing the concept of 'radio Web browsing', an innovative programming format that has been successful not only in addressing information needs, but also in terms of raising awareness of the internet and how it can be used in the community.

Radio Web browsing has opened a window onto the internet for the local community. After researching their topics and choosing websites to feature, Kothmale's programmers browse the internet live on the radio using a computer in the studio. The content of each programme focuses on specific information within a different topic: health, legal issues and ICTs themselves. Staff, volunteers and guests interpret, contextualise and translate web-based information and broadcast it to the station's listeners. A huge amount of information becomes accessible, firstly because it is explained in simple terms, secondly because it is contextualised to suit the local environment and thirdly and most importantly, information is presented in the local languages.[58] The programmes have significant appeal because the type of information broadcast is not available to listeners anywhere else and, especially in the early stages of the project, because of the novelty of the internet.

Radio Web Browsing

The community radio station broadcasts a daily 'Radio Browsing the Internet' programme, and in this programme, the broadcasters, supported by resource personnel, browse the Internet on-air together with their listeners and discuss and contextualise information in local language. The radio programme thus contributes to raise awareness about the Internet in a participatory manner, the listeners request the broadcasters to surf the WEB on their behalf and the programme transmits information in response to their requests. This information is explained and contextualised with the help of the studio guests, for example: a local doctor may explain data on a health website (UNESCO Project Documents).

Important features of the radio Web browsing are the format and the timing of the programmes. Significantly, the internet is not used simply as an additional tool for programme research. ICTs and the Web become the focus of the programme in terms of both content and format - the shows are essentially live web-browsing broadcasts. Nor is the programming isolated in the broadcast week. Radio browsing is a one hour daily programme block.

As with other aspects of the Kothmale project, of importance is the fact that groundwork has been laid for future growth. As Kothmale's station controller put it, “At this stage I cannot say these are superb programmes, but in the future they will be.”[59] Whatever the format, radio combined with internet offers powerful educational possibilities.


Kosala Keetharatne, an 18-year-old regular student to the centre, had never used a computer when he first came to the station one year ago. Like many of the students, he heard about the access centre from the Kothmale FM broadcasts. Now he is creating webpages, animations and computer art. As a volunteer of the station he now teaches computer programmes to other students and hosts an internet radio broadcast once per week. “It has changed my life...I have learnt a lot about computers because of this centre...Most of the people who come here don't know how to use a computer. They get their first lesson from here.”[60]

Experience in ICT applications for marginalized and rural communities has shown that the ability of local residents with no prior computer or internet experience to master basic skills and even move on to more advanced levels should not be underestimated.[61] Kothmale certainly reinforces this lesson, especially with youth.

One of the most important achievements of the Kothmale project is in the area of capacity development. Although there are several factors at play including high literacy rates and a good education system relative to other South Asian countries, the willingness to allow for learning by doing and learning from peers is significant. The project guideline that says “staff should not be over cautious about breakdowns of the computers” and insistence that “users should be given a free hand” has been followed and with considerable success.

At the outset of the project and in follow-up stages, there has been formal and informal training for staff and the volunteers who have become facilitators of greater community involvement. In particular, the project benefited from the services of an Australian volunteer who trained and supported a core group of staff and volunteers and was a consistent presence in skills development over the course of two years.

In 2000 a survey was conducted of 93 users of the community access computers located at the station. Thirty-one percent of them reported they had been trained by station staff, but 44 percent reported they had received their training informally from other users. Kothmale has demonstrated that once participants, especially youth, have basic skills to build on they teach each other and themselves.


The absence of any public access facilities for the internet in rural areas is a huge barrier and a central concern for projects like Kothmale. Rural connectivity is a complicated issue involving the inadequate and expensive telecom and electricity infrastructures, commercial reluctance to invest in rural markets, unsupportive government polices, and the lack of appropriate technical solutions. Phone lines in rural areas of South Asia are scarce and, when they exist, are often not of sufficient quality to maintain an internet connection. Internet access through commercial telecom centres and cybercafés is concentrated in urban areas. If the internet line at Kothmale is down, the nearest place to check email is in Kandy, over an hour away.

Kothmale employs a microwave leased-line for its connectivity. The 64 kbs dedicated connection has worked extremely well for the station's three computers and offers unexplored potential for remote access from other sites. However Kothmale's connectivity model is not as yet sustainable. Initial equipment and installation costs were high, but were borne by the project and its partners as a capital investment. Of greater concern are the operational costs. The internet line was down for most of 2001 because the original agreements for the project expired and no one was in a position to pay the costs or renew the agreement.

While the roughly US$300/month needed to keep the line up is not necessarily prohibitive cost, it represents a major investment for a small radio station KCR. If the station had to pay the cost, it would require shifting to a more commercial model. From the outset, access for users has been free of cost and this has unquestionably been a factor in whatever success the project has enjoyed. Although the current trend in ICT projects is towards passing on access costs to users, in the case of Kothmale, this shift would change the nature of the project.

Asking people to pay for internet use or computer lessons is very problematic. Unless you can find a way around charging for access, unless you can find a way so that the really poor kids - who ARE the majority of users, the ones who walk 7 kilometres to school rather than pay Rs 2 for the bus - are not disadvantaged by having to pay, then the project FAILS.[62]

Although the internet line was restored in November 2001 through an agreement between SLBC and UNESCO, it is unclear for how long this arrangement can be sustained. KCR must begin to look at the issue of sustainability and weigh the cost of different options, including changing the means of connectivity or generating revenue through the substantial technical capacity that it provides. KCR could for example offer dial-up accounts and email addresses to groups, businesses and individuals who can afford pay for these services and thereby continue to subsidize access by members of the community who cannot.

Between 150 and 250 people in a typical two-week period use the two computers at the radio station making the internet room a fairly busy place. The station has tried developed a supportive system and environment for users, including girls who form a minority amongst users. The greatest success in access has been with youth. Of the respondents to the user survey mentioned earlier in this chapter, 95 percent were between the ages of 10 and 25 with 60 percent between 15-20. Although the majority are still boys, gender equity in access has improved. In the first year, there were very few girls using the centre and it took a door-to-door campaign to increase the number of girls and young women participating in orientations, training and using the computers. By the time the survey was conducted, two years into the project, 41 percent of users were female.

This level of impact is extended and reinforced by the presence and popularity of the radio browsing programmes. Although access is concentrated with youth, there are wider benefits for the community-at-large through extension media like radio and newsletters and significantly, through teachers and peers in schools.

The access point at the radio station itself has worked well, but with only two computers in an accessible but not otherwise busy location, direct access to the internet is limited in the greater community to those who have the time, the funds and the freedom to travel to the radio station. In a two-week period in 2000, 56 percent of users reported travelling over one hour to use the facility. The technical model for the project envisioned two or more remote access sites using the station's server computer and leased-line as a mini-ISP. There are internet computer terminals set up in both of the towns in Kothmale's broadcast area which would considerably expand access if they were connected, however these remote access centres have never been fully operational due to logistical problems and bureaucratic barriers. As with other aspects of the project, Kothmale's technical set up has greater capacity for access and potential for revenue generation than is being used.


The project's design recognizes the need for content that is appropriate to local interest/needs and in languages they can easily use. That rural residents have a right to be digital consumers is one issue; another is that rural users of the internet should also have the right and the ability to author their own materials in their own chosen fashion. The Kothmale project has tried to address content issues in two ways: 1) through the creation of an online database and 2) by promoting local Web content production.

The project's first website, largely intended to address the first issue through the creation of an appropriate information database, has had problems with the partnerships intended to support it.[63] Maintenance of the site in Colombo disconnected the content component from other activities at the station itself. Updating information quickly became a problem. Without appropriate systems and administration, the station was unable to jointly manage the site. Although content was developed for the site, the link to local issues and needs was tenuous. Most of the site was in English and there were no mechanisms for direct feedback or input from the rural aspects of the project to the site managers in Colombo. New and useful information was posted irregularly and the site quickly became stale.

Staff at the station launched a second website.[64] While it does not have the same level of organisation or planning, it has succeeded in getting local content on the Web, addressing interests if not needs. Young people who two years ago had never used a computer are now creating webpages and using a variety of sophisticated digital production tools. Within a year, over thirty webpages had been designed at the station, including content on local history, culture and religious traditions as well as poetry and artwork.

Local solutions to developing content and extending access to it are ongoing and innovative. In November 2001, KCR launched a small production centre in one of the nearby towns. Volunteers are being trained in the use of computers, internet, writing and layout. The project will publish a regular newsletter to further extend the reach of Kothmale's internet services with goals of greater awareness, access to web-based information in local languages and a greater capacity for the community to manage its own media.


Unfortunately, the project guideline stipulating a limited concern for breakdowns and a free hand for users, was not applied to the overall technical set-up or to the management of the project's systems and the station was never fully put in the driver's seat of the project. While the project appears to be sustainable in terms of local human resources, local staff were not able to control certain key aspects of the project, which negatively affected the ability of the project to adapt to changing local conditions.

Management and coordination between the project's key partners has been an evident factor in the limited use of potential and sustainability of the project. The partnership of government agencies in broadcasting and telecom along with Colombo University's computer department was a defining factor in the project happening at all - a remarkable achievement in a country with very tight government control of information and communications - but it has also complicated day-to-day logistics. Components such as the leased-line connection, website maintenance and technical administration were intended to be managed from Colombo and as a result of the distance and the lack of urgency - out of site, out of mind - success at the organisational level, in terms of a model for sustainability and in other areas has been limited.

The reasons behind the problems are largely organisational and of course financial. With bureaucratic central agencies like Sri Lanka Telecom and Colombo University responsible for key elements in the project design, the radio station itself is disempowered to effectively deal with technical and organisational problems when they inevitably arise.

While the station does have capacity in many areas, the project has not provided the necessary mechanisms to allow KCR to further develop its organisational capacity and apply it to the internet aspect of its operations. For example, the station did not have the passwords for the project's main website as this aspect was to be managed from Colombo. Staff were therefore unable to update information, upload individual webpages or manage the site locally. As a solution, they launched a separate website. While this improved the situation in many respects, it was a limited solution in terms of the project's greater objective to use the university's resources to develop a database of locally relevant content.

The station unfortunately had no such home-grown solutions when computers broke down in the first year or when the lease-line was cut off at the end of the project's two-year agreement with the telecom authority. Nor was Kothmale in a sufficiently independent position to seek the funds elsewhere or re-orient services in such a way as to generate funds to pay for the line. Poor rural communities, with a lack of political power and limited influence, are unable to leverage the financial support they need and are limited in their abilities to plan and implement self-reliant alternatives.

Local communities cannot initiate and fully develop the infrastructure of an ICT project without financial inputs and other support from national/international centres and yet the project cannot fully develop or sustain itself without local ownership and overall management. Just as local capacity must be developed in terms of skills and awareness of potential ICT benefits, so must organisational capacity be developed in order to make services sustainable.


The Kothmale project sought to demonstrate a model for constructive application of ICTs in a rural environment and to show that rural residents and youth can innovate and benefit from access to internet-sourced information. There is good quantitative, qualitative and anecdotal evidence to suggest that the model is effective in this respect, and the potential for this type of project has been clearly demonstrated.

Kothmale has laid the groundwork for the local community to use ICTs for a variety of purposes, including economic improvement, the development of new skills, networking and of course for entertainment and enjoyment.

Kothmale's experience also demonstrates the value of converging local media services and centres, in this case, using community radio as a model and base for rural ICT applications. This success is especially evident in terms of raising awareness, overcoming language barriers and extending the reach of the internet using radio and in particular the innovation of radio browsing.

Assessing impact is difficult. This aspect of evaluation needs far greater attention for ICT projects and experiences. Throughout the project, a number of efforts, including monitoring, focus groups and a survey, were made to study impact. These efforts make it clear that no dramatic change has taken place, but rather a slow qualitative change has begun to emerge, starting with subgroups within the larger community. The initial sign of this process was a dramatically increased awareness of the benefits of new communication technology.

The impact of initiatives like those in the Kothmale project is long term, in no small part because rural Sri Lanka is so far behind its urban counterparts. There is no question that the introduction of ICTs has an impact. In less than ten years, the internet has fundamentally changed life for those who use it and has made a unique imprint on the nature of work and society for those who are directly or indirectly part of the so-called 'information age'. Although the signs may be somewhat ambiguous in this early stage, there is no doubt that the Kothmale project is having a positive impact. Hundreds of youth have computer skills and knowledge about the internet; thousands in the community know what the internet is and what it can do. This is significant because it represents a foothold and foundation on which the Kothmale community itself can build.

The potential that the Kothmale model demonstrates however cannot be realized without addressing the limitations: The internet connection itself was down for the better part of 2001, raising the issue of sustainability. Remote access sites using the station as a server are not yet fully operational. Content development is only a mixed success. And direct access to the internet is not widespread. The greatest barrier to Kothmale making full use of the model is the lack of local control over the project elements, from the technical side of connectivity, networking and site maintenance to financial operations, wherein lies the potential for self-reliance. This is not to say that Kothmale does not need support, both financial and technical, however the station needs to be the centre of attention and squarely enabled as an organisation.

Although Kothmale remains an isolated case and the model has yet to be replicated either in Sri Lanka or other parts of South Asia, in all likelihood new initiatives inspired by Kothmale will take root in 2002 in Nepal, India and other areas of Sri Lanka. With the leased-line at Kothmale once again in operation, one can only hope that the model will be revitalized in Kothmale itself.

However alongside more projects and initiatives, certain pre-requisite efforts must be made in several key areas. Detailed evaluation and impact assessments must be carried out as part of rural ICT projects. Similarly, research is needed on many fronts, including new technical models for connectivity, systems for community management of information and creative solutions for sustainability and means of self-reliance. In all cases, there must be greater sharing of information and evaluation of successful and unsuccessful practices amongst those with a direct stake in community ICT initiatives.

Greater cooperation and more constructive engagement is required between local people and organisations and central support mechanisms and agencies that have the know-how and funds to support these type of projects. At the regional or even global level, the search for quick-fix formulas 'to bridge the digital divide' needs to be put to an end. Community ICT applications will have a higher rate of success if they are part of a cohesive strategy supported by international, regional and national policies that are genuinely interested and invested in empowering rural men and women, girls and boys to use ICTs in positive ways.


Kumuduni Aponso - Teacher

I listen to KCR regularly and when I came to know that there is an Internet facility, I thought that I should show it to my class. I brought my class to KCR and it was unbelievable to find out that the facility could be used free of charge. My class and myself became frequent visitors. I make it a point to come every Wednesday to collect information for my classes and higher studies.

I am getting ready for my Bachelors Degree in English. Earlier I had to go to the British Council but now all the information needed is available at Kothmale. Later the staff invited me to present the Internet programme 'Travelers Inn on the Horizon' and now once a week, on Wednesday, I present the program. Since presenting this programme I always carry pencil and paper because there are so many who meet me with specific requests. I make it a point to answer these requests in the program. Also there are people who leave messages for me all over the community i.e. at school, the temple and women's society etc. They first thought that I was a very knowledgeable person who is a “know-it-all” so I had to explain that I was no wizard but the Internet was an immense resource. I am astonished with the wealth of information in the Internet. On a Poya day (religious holiday) I had to talk on Buddhism and was surprised that even in Ethiopia Buddhism is practiced.

My favourite topic of the Internet programme is the use of English. I download learning games and adopt them to suit radio. The kids pick up very fast. Fortunately, most Web sites on the Internet use simple English. We are people who did not even have a typewriter to use, now we are surfing the Internet. It is a dream come alive for me. I have motivated a large number of teachers and students to use this facility. The greatest thing about this is the friendly environment and courteous staff. The doors are open and the staff is ever ready to help.

Andrew Udaya Kumara - Student

I first came here to serve tea for those who came from the University of Colombo to set up the Internet. They motivated me to surf the net and within a few weeks I mastered the Internet and now I can find whatever I want within a few minutes. Now I am very popular in school because I help my fellow students to prepare their school projects. Recently there was a special meeting convened in school to appreciate what I have done using the Internet and computers to improve our studies. I have decided to make my future with computers. It is a hard way ahead. I am the youngest of a family of ten but with these computers I have some hope.

D W Abeykoon & Martin Thelkarage - Lawyers

As a tool of technology, the Internet is very easy to use. The challenging part of it is how to select relevant information and use it appropriately. That's what we have been trying to here with the Internet. We present a programme once week because we think that we have to be of some service to the community. Only when information is interpreted within the social context does it become useful. Let us give you an example. We down loaded information on mosquitoes and generated a discussion that went well beyond the information that was on the Internet. In addition to the information on the internet we discussed several traditional ways to get rid of mosquitoes i.e. growing flower plants, burning leaves etc. that mosquitoes are allergic to. A week later, a villager met me and said “I listened to your programme and I have been thinking of making a mosquito coil using these locally available materials”. He came up with a paste and rubbed it on a thin bamboo stripe like a jockstick. The fume was much better than the mosquito coils available in the market. It could have been an ideal product for the local market but unfortunately the villager did not have enough capital to invest.

If you want to present Internet based information through radio, first you must be able to digest the information. For instance we presented a programme on tomatoes the guest in the studio was a farmer from the area. We used the downloaded information to tease the farmer in the studio. We said, this is how the Internet based information tells us to grow tomatoes and the farmer responded saying, no it would not work that way. This dialogue may have helped the listener to arrive at a realistic conclusion. We had a programme on Bamboo. There were several requests for further information because there are many in this area that are engaged in the craft. One of them, an art teacher, was so much encouraged by our programme that he held an exhibition at the Town Hall. Some of the exhibits were adaptations of Chinese and Japanese products which he had seen on the Internet at Kothmale. The teacher surfed the net to find out how bamboo could be treated and made more flexible. The information we presented on marketing white pepper and tea also motivated young people to explore foreign markets.

Jeyaraj Pavithran - Tea plantation owner

I own a small tea plantation and as that brings me some income, I can devote some time for KCR as a Tamil presenter. First of all, I learned a lot about tea plantation in other countries from the Internet. An Indian website visited advised that tealeaf should not be crushed because it degrades the quality of the final product. I checked it with the experts and they confirmed it. I was able to share this information with my listeners. I also worked with Tanya, Kothmale's volunteer, on a story for our website on kitul juggery. I did this because I see an export potential for kitul juggery and honey for our community.

Photo: Alfonso Gumucio

Chapter 8: Creating & Sustaining ICT Projects in Mozambique - Birgitte Jallov


We are standing on the threshold of the knowledge society, in which access to and command of knowledge and knowledge-systems are decisive factors for cultural, political and economic development. As a result, educated and affluent populations all over the world, including in Mozambique, find themselves increasingly part of a knowledge-based and ICT-driven economy.

But what does this mean to the majority of people living in Mozambique - who are neither educated nor affluent and who live in one of the poorest countries in the world at the very early stages of democratization. What promise does the knowledge economy hold out for a country in which even mid-level education is the privilege of a small urban elite and where thirty years of war have resulted in a basic mistrust within communities that has all but destroyed the social norms necessary for the holding and passing on of traditional knowledge? What role will ICTs have in a country with a virtually non-existent telecommunications infrastructure and in which bad infrastructure and unfavourable weather conditions make crossing the country by road impossible for most of the year, while crossing by air costs some four month's salary of a well-paid civil servant? What will be the role of the media in a place where as recently as three years ago most senior journalists outside of the capital had never seen or touched a computer, many had never watched TV, and where the media are still largely concentrated in the capital, some 2000 kilometres south of the northern border with Tanzania?

This reality places most Mozambicans so far away from the digital divide that one might ask whether modern information and knowledge systems are even relevant to the majority of the country's population - a provocative question that can be addressed by highlighting a few important points.

First, the right to development is shared by all people. If relevant information is not accessible, it is impossible for individuals and communities to become aware of important aspects of their situation, analyse it, and take action to improve it. Denying access to information and knowledge systems to certain parts of population also denies them the right to (participate in) their own development.

Second, even a remote community in Mozambique is interconnected with the outside world through family, political, administrative, economic, cultural and environmental ties. In order to influence their own development, rather than being the object of external decisions and developments, communities and individuals need access to information and knowledge, and they need the means to make their voices heard.

A more interesting - and difficult - question is how to provide access, and thus empowerment, to much larger parts of the Mozambican society than is currently the case. The next section of this chapter looks at a number of opportunities and obstacles to ensuring access to both infrastructure and relevant content. Following that we will look at UNESCO's approach to creating relevant and sustainable media for the Mozambican context with community radio. Finally, the last section deals with the question of how these (and other) approaches can further develop in order to reach a growing segment of the population.


Mozambique enjoys a relatively free press. Public media are in a gradual process of decentralisation and independent media are becoming increasingly familiar on the media landscape, though still with limited impact. The community radio movement is in early stages, but could develop into a powerful force. At the same time, the slow but constant introduction of computers and Internet connections is opening up new possibilities.

The cultural richness and complex geography of the country present a series of important challenges for the media. Mozambique has no fewer than thirty national languages that can be grouped into fourteen different language groups. There is a corresponding number of distinct local cultures, with eighty percent of the population living in rural areas. National solutions to Mozambique's information and communication problems must take these factors into account, and must be directed at the needs of the whole country, not only educated Portuguese-speakers in urban centres.

Media also face challenges of sustainability. Of the seven community radio stations in Mozambique in 1999 and 2000, five were off the air for technical, financial or organisational reasons for periods ranging from a low of five months up to the entire two years. Other media projects have proven equally difficult to sustain. For example, half of donor-supported independent print media outside the capital stopped publishing as soon as the donor funds ran out, while the other half struggled on with varying degrees of irregularity.

There are many new media initiatives in Mozambique. Their success will require appropriate solutions and structures that can capitalize on the existing political, legal and technical openings. The development of these solutions can only happen through strategies based on an in-depth knowledge of the local situation. This will be decisive for the successful and democratic development of independent, pluralist media projects - especially community radio and ICTs projects in Mozambique.


Maria Limamo stopped in the middle of the road, looking at the beautiful building prepared for the radio station. The team from South Africa had just arrived with the materials for the tower and antenna. They were working right outside the building now. For two years they had prepared the community for arrival of the equipment for the station. After this period of mobilization and intensive training, they were ready. The editorial policies and all the internal regulations were ready. The membership cards had been prepared and distributed to the more than 200 community members of the radio association. Audience research had been carried out and the responses analysed and a community programming grid prepared. Forty trained volunteers had signed contracts with the management committee of the radio and were eagerly waiting to go on air - so now was the time!

Maria Limamo is one of the community members initially elected to the community radio installation committee by her community, one of eight in which UNESCO supported community radio stations between 1999 and 2001. UNESCO is one of several development partners working to support the establishment of community radio in Mozambique. UNESCO's radio efforts initially grew out of a major media development project: “Strengthening Democracy and Governance through Development of the Media in Mozambique”. The project seeks to establish the basis for generating and disseminating local knowledge and community radio was selected because it is a very appropriate response to development issues in a country like Mozambique, with low literacy rates, multiple languages and cultures, rural population, and large land mass.

In preparation for setting up the stations, UNESCO carried out a number of studies to assess sustainability potential and obstacles. One of the important factors confirmed by the studies was that rural areas lacked experience in setting up and managing any type of organisational structures, let alone the specific types of experience that would facilitate the establishment and operation of a radio station. To succeed the project would have to develop local capacity in many areas. Four factors were identified as essential to minimize vulnerability and thus to ensure the sustainable functioning of the stations:

1. a strong sense of community ownership;
2. an effective training programme;
3. technically sustainable systems; and
4. long-term financial viability.

1. Community ownership

In many parts of the world, community radio stations grow out of civic movements that set up radio stations to voice their concerns and pursue their objectives. Few such movements exist in Mozambique and UNESCO's first challenge was to design a social mobilization process in each of the eight targeted communities, identifying the key actors, organizations and sub-communities, and then ensuring dialogue with and mobilization of all of these. This stage culminated in a large public meeting at which all were invited to participate in the election of a representative and credible installation committee.

The first challenge for the installation committee was to form a legally-recognized association that could be granted a license and a frequency. This required the committee to achieve a certain level of consensus on the objectives and modalities of the association, and thus of the radio station. Later, once the provincial governor confirmed the association's legal status, the general assembly elected various bodies, including the president of the association, the management committee, and the supervisory inspection committee. With each step of the process, community members gained more experience working together, but they also discussed the radio station itself, gradually identifying a common vision of what it would be and do.

In addition to skills development, the training programme, which will be discussed in more detail in the next section, also had an important objective of mobilizing community participation and ownership of the radio station. Of particular importance was the “Process Coach Scheme” in which community programmers were recruited and trained by a locally employed community animator. This scheme proved to be extremely effective, creating a basic nucleus of between 20 and 70 knowledgeable, trained, committed and highly motivated community members around the station. It also ensured that other community members were informed about the processes and plans, thus ensuring their “ownership” of the process.

In addition to these two parallel processes - creation of the association and the process coach scheme - a number of other, very different measures were undertaken in order to facilitate community ownership of and participation in the project. These include recruitment, registration and documentation of members and public involvement in the identification of a strategic location for the future station.

2. Creating adequate training solutions

Communities in Mozambique have virtually no experience in many of the key areas that are crucial to running an effective community radio station. This includes radio station management, organisational development, staff and volunteer relations, administration and financial management (including donor relations and fundraising), programme design, production, audience research, technical operation and maintenance. Based on a needs assessment, a five-point training strategy including the following components was designed:

2.a Intensive Community Radio Training Courses

UNESCO ran a series of intensive eight to ten day training courses in starting and managing a community radio station, community radio programming, audience research, and preventative maintenance. Up to four representatives from each community participated in each course. On their return, participants organized seminars for local community volunteers, thus sharing the skills they had acquired. In addition, tailor-made training materials in Portuguese were developed for the five course areas. Participants were able to take these back home and use them as a basis for further community training.

The strength of these courses is the special, intensive training and capacity-building dynamic of bringing people together for an extended period - day and night - to learn, discuss and live with new concepts, insights and skills. The effect of this type of training covers all three of the well-known KAP set of factors, providing Knowledge, working on the participants' Attitudes, and imparting new skills through Practice. All of these factors are crucial to obtain a broad-based insight into the many factors that bring life to the community's radio dreams.

The downside of these courses is their high cost (travel, board, high level trainers, course and material development and printing), the need for a full-time person in charge of their organisation, and the fact that the courses can only provide training for two to four representatives from each community. The “Process Coach Scheme” was designed as a complement to minimize these negative aspects.

2.b Process Coach Scheme

Process coaches are individuals who work part time in the community as facilitators, animators and trainers. The challenge for the coach is to empower people who have very little experience in seeing themselves as dynamic forces in their community's democratic development. The coaches were recruited locally, mostly from the national public radio network. Some were local school teachers or community organizers.

After receiving training, each coach worked approximately thirty hours per month in his/her community. Once the stations are up and running, the functions of the process coach, including community mobilization, management and training of the volunteers, is taken over by an animator, filling one of the four paid posts in the station. Together with the coordinator, the animator is responsible for organizing and managing the volunteer programmers, general support for the station and training.

With this scheme in place, the crucial question was how to turn the themes that had been discussed in the training into radio programmes of interest to the community. Most participants had never seen a radio studio, and had only a vague idea of what it might look like. It was therefore important to couple the formal courses and the work of the coaches, with some exposure to radio station realities - as diverse and different as possible.

2.c Exposure to Related Realities, including Study Trips

As an important part of our training strategy we encouraged - and often actively planned and organized - visits to as many other related realities as possible. This was so the project volunteers and 'owners' could pick and choose the elements most suitable to their context from various real-life models. Study visits were made to provincial facilities of the public broadcaster, Radio Mozambique, and to other community-oriented radio stations.[65]

2.d Management Seminars and Workshops

On the basis of continuous needs assessment, a number of tailor-made management seminars and workshops were developed. Examples include revamping and strengthening financial systems, and devising effective and efficient organisation structures and workplans. They are implemented between three and five times per year for the management committees and staff of the radio stations.

2.e Establishment of a Training Station

At the time of writing, in early 2002, three of our eight partner stations are on air, with the remaining five to start later in the year. One of the stations will be designated to function as a training station. Teams from new stations will come and “shadow” existing staff members. The visiting team will stay for two to three weeks, and ensure time for analytical assessments of what they are seeing, what they want to copy, and what not. It is expected that these internships will provide training that is more detailed and targeted than is possible in traditional courses.

3. Technically sound and sustainable responses

While relevant and effective community content is key to community radio, nothing will get on air if the technical side does not work. In a country like Mozambique, the importance of this cannot be exaggerated. UNESCO's initial studies had examined at similar stations in Mozambique and neighbouring countries and found that many were off the air because of a combination of factors related to insufficient technical planning. In an attempt to learn from these sad and painful experiences, UNESCO encouraged the stations to adopt a series of technical policies and placed importance on technical training.

3.a Technical policies and configurations

For the Mozambican situation the best technical configuration will emphasize sturdiness, standard brands with spare-parts easily accessible, ease of maintenance and compatability with other brands and simplicity of use. Whenever possible, a station should have two studios, ensuring redundancy of facilities in the event of breakdown and to reduce intensive use of facilities, which translates into better maintenance and longer equipment life. As Mozambique also lacks qualified repair technicians, it was necessary to look for suppliers (usually from neighbouring countries) that were more than sales-people. They also had to provide adequate after sale service and the necessary initial training of the staff and station members in maintenance and repair.

Finally, none of the above will have the needed impact unless the station adopts precise technical policies and regulations governing such things as: who has access to what equipment; who is responsible for the scheduled maintenance routines; and when breakdowns occur, who carries out which diagnostic routines, and with which sequence of reactions?

3.b Training for technical sustainability

To prepare the community programmers and technicians we devised a four part sequence for technical training. First, a formal training course was organized in Preventive Maintenance. This course focuses on the prevention of problems, front-line maintenance, and basic diagnostic routines. Both the core technician and the co-ordinator of the station were requested to be amongst the three to five people from each station participating in the course.

The second part of the technical training involved sending the main technician from each station to Cape Town, South Africa. There they participated in a ten day intensive process of learning-by-doing, during which they assembled their own future studios. After the South Africa training, the technicians and the volunteers foreseen to be active within the technical area installed the studio onsite with support from the South African installation technicians. During this practical installation-cum-training process, the local group of technicians works with a technical manual, which the supplier has developed specifically for each individual studio.

The final part of the technical package within the first phase of the UNESCO Media Development Project, will be a more in-depth Preventive Maintenance training course. This will take place once all the stations have been operational for a few months and will specifically address the real-life problems encountered.

With these measures, it is expected and hoped that the stations will be able to avoid many of the initial technical problems identified in the initial studies of the community radio environment in the country. For the more complex technical problems that will unavoidably arise in the future, UNESCO is planning to establish a national pool of technicians.

4. Sustainability: Looking to the future in anxious expectation

UNESCO in Mozambique has aimed to ensure that the community itself forms part of the active creators, promoters and beneficiaries of an appropriate knowledge-based local development. We believe that the training activities described above form one part of the response to the complex and persistent challenges at hand. Once on air, each station will have four paid staff members: the co-ordinator, the administrator, the animator and the technician. In addition, the volunteers will be organized in editorial groups, preparing adequate community programmes in their area of specialisation (health, education, culture, agriculture, environment, youth, women, etc.).

Mozambique needs functioning, community-based and community-controlled media for long-term social, economic, cultural and political development. The preceding sections of this chapter have presented a number of the crucial sustainability factors that were identified and for which the project attempted to define a series of adequate, working responses. We will need to continue to closely monitor the development, and to find adequate and creative responses to emerging needs by developing a range of diverse models and experiences that work.

One potential development involves the transformation of the radio stations into community centres, providing not only production of radio programmes and increased community empowerment and capacity, but also becoming centres for a variety of other community activities. This is already developing in the first three of the eight radio stations to go on the air. The stations become centres, where community members can make photocopies, use a computer, and have texts printed out. Once the Internet connections are in place, it is expected that the radios will also come to function as national message centres, an extremely important function since the national mail service is non functional.


As noted at the beginning of this chapter, Mozambique is on the extreme end of the digital divide and needs to actively address this challenge, with radio being an area where this is actually happening in partnership with UNESCO. This chapter has highlighted the process followed, the challenges encountered and a number of the concepts and strategies designed and implemented in response to these. While we know we have come a long way in our attempt to create a set of adequate responses to the challenges, we also know that we will need to continue on this path for a long time to come.

Moving towards the end of the chapter, it is appropriate to discuss emerging possibilities for combining radio with new ICTs, and what impact that may have on development.


Community radio provides communities with a medium for local debate, sharing of information, and giving voice to formerly voiceless members of the community. It is also conceivable that community radio stations with Internet access will develop into a system of informal message centres, covering not only the 40-70 kilometre radius of their 250 watt transmitters, but in principle the whole, vast country. With a view to develop appropriate responses to the lack of a functional basic mail system,[66] it is appropriate to consider whether the rural community radio stations should include a public access telecentre component. Conversely, communication centres could include a small radio component, becoming multi-purpose communication points, or Community Multimedia Centres (CMC), as described by Stella Hughes elsewhere in this book.

UNESCO's media project in Mozambique is currently considering such developments, keeping sustainability perspectives clearly in mind. So far we have been taking small steps - and we will continue to do so. One of the interesting questions is, however: what is a small step? Experience within and outside of UNESCO shows that people who have had no access to ICTs at all are much less inhibited in their access to these than those who have some knowledge and feel very alienated. The step towards CMCs may, for the local community, not present a huge development jump.

National policy development in the ICT area will have an important impact on these possibilities. In Mozambique, broadcasting is not mentioned in the present media law, and regulations only exist for public and commercial broadcasters. However, progress is being made. The Government of Mozambique has spearheaded the development of a national ICT policy, the implementation of which is presently being concretely planned. The objectives of the policy are to extend the coverage of ICTs, to raise the quality and the number of professionals in the area, to modernize the support infrastructure and provide access for the greater part of the population by means of telecentres, and to create an electronic government network which will raise the effectiveness and efficiency of state institutions.[67]

At the same time the Prime Minister's information office is working to develop a set of regulations to complement existing media legislation in the area of broadcasting. In this context it is being discussed whether an independent body should be charged with the granting of licences to public, community and commercial broadcasters alike. It is hoped that the new regulations will facilitate future independent community broadcasters' access to broadcasting licenses.


Mozambique has had its share of white elephants, the remains of optimistic development plans that do not succeed for a variety of complex reasons. The collapse of dreams carries along disappointment and frustration among the development beneficiaries - and the loss of yet a bit more willingness to strive for things to ever change.

After years of war, natural catastrophes and a life at the bottom of all international economic and human development statistics, Mozambique deserves better. UNESCO Mozambique is presently one of three parties spearheading the initiation of a national community radio network, with the core mandate to establish sustainable systems in the area of training, technical maintenance and appropriate financial solutions. These efforts are at an initial stage of development. But we need to start somewhere. And without such concerted efforts, we will not go anywhere. While real magic seems to come from nowhere, we know that in Mozambique, the community magic for social change will only work if it is a result of concerted efforts of development actors based on understanding and analysis and directed by empowered community commitment.

Photo: Choy

Chapter 9: The Russian Rural Information Network - Nancy Bennett


Since the mid-1990s the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network (DCFRN) has been thinking about and experimenting with the Internet as a way of supporting its work with radio broadcasters and farmers in developing countries. While not all of our efforts to link broadcast radio and the Internet have matched expectations, we have learned from them. This chapter presents some of the ideas we have had and discusses how they were put into action. It is hoped that the case of Developing Countries Farm Radio Network and its evolving efforts to bridge the development divide using a combination of radio and Internet will serve as example, idea, or lesson for others.

In 1997, the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) expressed interest in providing financial support to adapt the DCFRN methodology to support rural development in the Russian Federation. CIDA and the proposed Russian NGO partner, the Foundation for Agrarian Development Research (FADR), were particularly interested in including an Internet component to complement DCFRN's use of radio as a support for agriculture extension. The project, which piloted DCFRN's combined radio and Internet approach, was launched in 1998.

This chapter begins with a description of DCFRN and its work and then goes on to critically examine the experience of the Rural Information Network in the Russian Federation. The conclusion describes some of the lessons learned and plans to apply these lessons to future projects.


Using radio to share information and promote discussion that leads to sustainable livelihoods in rural areas has been the primary modus operandi of the Developing Countries Farm Radio Network (also known as DCFRN or the Farm Radio Network) since its start-up in 1979.

The Farm Radio Network is a Canadian-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) that works to improve food security by supporting and enhancing development communication in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, and South- and South-East Asia. For many years, DCFRN has focused on identifying useful well-researched information about food production, post-harvest, and nutrition, and then putting that information together in an accessible way and distributing it to community, private and public radio broadcasters in almost 100 countries. The information disseminated by DCFRN takes the form of print packages with simple radio scripts, background information about the farming, food security and health issues discussed in the scripts, and ideas for how to incorporate the information into radio programmes. Broadcasters can select, adapt and translate the materials to suit their own radio programmes and the needs of their listeners.

Two central elements of DCFRN work are: the recognition that farmers and rural communities need information; and second, the conviction that broadcast radio, alone or in combination with other methods, is the most effective and efficient way of communicating that information.

Farmers need information on agriculture inputs, innovative and affordable technologies, drought, pests, diseases, credit, market prices and competition. Communities and families need information about nutrition, sanitation, healthcare and so on. But they also need that information to be relevant to their own situations and for it to reach them in an accessible and appropriate way, and from a source they trust. Unless it is successfully communicated, information makes no contribution to food security or human development. “Experience demonstrates that sustainable agricultural development is based less on material inputs (e.g., seeds and fertilizer) than on the people involved in their use. Investments in scientific and material inputs for agricultural production bear little fruit without parallel investments in people.”[68]


Radio is an immensely powerful technology for communication and education. Radio enables disadvantaged groups to engage development agendas that are sensitive to their own needs and aspirations. No other medium has the potential of radio to create conditions that provide people with genuine access to useful information, and to enable them to express their sentiments, opinions, views, dreams and aspirations, fears and insecurities, strengths and capabilities, and of course, their ideas. Radio is a useful tool for engaging communities in participatory processes, and for helping them come to a consensus on their development priorities. Radio can be a conduit between social planners, policy-makers and beneficiaries of development programmes.

High illiteracy rates and low levels of schooling among disadvantaged groups, especially women, continue to limit their ability to lift themselves out of poverty. Existing educational systems are unable to respond to massively increasing demands for education. Consequently, disadvantaged groups continue to be denied access to information, knowledge, and skills. In response to these conditions, radio can be used at the community level to address directly local issues and needs.

Some of the undeniable strengths of radio include the following:


The appearance of new technologies in the 1990s did not diminish the value of radio for development communication strategies. These technologies do present, however, new opportunities for comprehensive communication strategies supporting sustainable development. DCFRN was excited by these opportunities. Radio delivers information to many listeners; but the Internet could enable them to send back information, to ask questions, to request and seek information, and to communicate with specialists. The Internet enables access to information from both national and international sources; radio can localize, repackage, translate and broadcast that content to a wider audience. The benefits of integrating Internet into the radio communication for development programme began to be explored.

Of particular interest was the potential of using the Internet to address issues such as the isolation of many rural broadcasters, their lack of formal training (in radio, in food security issues, and in agriculture) and their inadequate financial resources for thorough research and innovative production. An Internet connection in conjunction with radio could deliver:

Thus, interest was focused on the use of Internet at an intermediary level, by broadcasters, rather than on trying to reach farmers themselves. DCFRN insisted that there was a continuing role for radio, despite the growing interest in using the Internet as a tool to directly serve people in rural areas. It was felt that the convergence of radio and Internet was the most appropriate strategy, rather than using Internet to bypass, or “leapfrog” tried and true methods of communication.

The emerging strategy was based on our understanding of the people being served, in partnership with farm radio broadcasters. Would the average woman who grows, processes and prepares food for her family access and use the Internet in this current lifetime? We were sceptical.


There is no doubt that availability of the Internet is on the rise. However, as knowledge goes online, the Internet is also dividing the educated from the illiterate, the rich from the poor, men from women, young from old, and urban from rural (and, in most cases, English-speaking westerners from the rest of the world[69]). Women need particular access to information. The majority of food producers, family caregivers and household managers in developing countries are women. In rural areas, they are often uneducated and illiterate. They live without access to electricity and telephones. They are unlikely to use a computer in their lifetime.

Furthermore, access was not the only issue grappled with in exploring the use of the Internet for development communication programming. It could not be assumed that simple connectivity would bridge the information gap. Were we, in our enthusiasm to embrace this new technology, overlooking the need for useful information processing and knowledge creation? Were people able to use what they found on the Internet to promote sustainable development? Or were they accessing information that was of no practical use or benefit to them?

Our vision of communication technologies for development encompassed the premises articulated by Gómez and Martínez:[70]

This was the same approach to using communication technologies that had served well when applied to a more traditional technology - broadcast radio. In the case of Internet, we remained cautious. How could we ensure equitable access? Could its use be meaningful if the content was overwhelmingly from the North, and generated to serve commercial market interests in the North? Were rural communities in the South equipped to appropriate the technology and use it for their own benefit?

What if we could use the Internet to enhance communication with and amongst the radio broadcasters in the Farm Radio Network? Could they then become access points for their communities? If so, the Internet could be used to deliver information packages to broadcasters, and could also improve the quantity and quality of feedback from them. We began to explore the use of the Internet to strengthen our network and to further develop the capacity of the broadcasters in the network to communicate effectively with their rural audiences.

Early research into the feasibility of converging radio and Internet in the network, however, provided a cautionary note. By the mid-1990s, only a small minority of the radio broadcasters and agriculture extension workers - our key points of contact for the farming communities we serve with our programme - reported e-mail addresses. Most had no regular access to the Web, and very few had visited our website. We felt we could not yet generate enough participation to test our strategy to combine radio and Internet. Soon, however, we were presented with a new opportunity to develop and test our ideas.


The dramatic political changes in the former Soviet Union removed the framework within which the rural economy operated. During the Soviet period, political infrastructure was responsible for the distribution of agricultural inputs (including information), and the purchase of agricultural outputs. In the state and collective sectors, all decisions about agricultural practices tended to be made centrally and implemented at the farm level. There was no need to distribute information about appropriate or alternative agricultural practices because officially sanctioned methodologies were determined centrally and disseminated through the channels of political control.

In Soviet Russia, consistent pressure to industrialize agricultural production resulted in a systemic bias against small-scale, intensive and low-input agriculture. Nevertheless, it flourished and innovative small-scale farmers working private plots provided a disproportionate amount of food produce. However, because they operated on the fringes of the agricultural economy, there were few opportunities for sharing innovations within the sector.

Furthermore, everyone involved in food production - not just farmers but also the millions of people who planted allotment gardens, and indeed, the entire rural population - needed new information. Printed materials and other potential sources of information had become prohibitively expensive after Perestroika. A new generation of publications, oriented to dacha plot owners, had a strong bias towards the marketing of inputs. Russians who had formerly worked on large farming collectives were struggling to make the transition to increased responsibility for farm operations and management, whether as an agricultural cooperative member or as a small-scale private farmer with responsibility for an entire farming operation. They needed advice on how to make the best use of their limited resources in a rapidly changing environment. Some techniques that might have been appropriate to their situation had fallen out of general use. Information about appropriate production and marketing methods, widely applied in other countries, was not accessible to the average Russian farmer.

There was a pressing need for an economical, efficient and non-political means of communication. Small-scale farmers in particular, hampered by inexperience, needed information and communication to help them adapt to the market economy. A communication network which promoted the innovative techniques of small-scale farmers on a wider scale, and which could influence state policy to support their activities, would contribute to food security in rural areas.

Based on our experience with radio and rural communication, we were confident that our programme could be adapted to the Russian context. In The russian federation, radio is ubiquitous. Most farmers listen to it and it is a primary source of information. Radio Russia, a national network with significant resources, is primarily an information network. There are also many independent commercial stations and some not-for-profit stations with a local orientation, frequently including agricultural programming. These local stations, in particular, could provide feedback from the farmers that would provide direction to our program.

Furthermore, there was significant opportunity to converge radio and Internet in our project in the Russian Federation. Rural telecommunication centres (telecentres) were being opened in rural areas to provide farmers with community access to the Internet and by 1997 Internet access was available in about 70 rural centres. Some agriculture collectives already had their own e-mail access.

The situation in the Russian Federation appeared to meet three conditions that would enable us to take our project beyond mere connectivity:


The broad objectives of the four-year project (April 1998 to March 2002) were to enable farmers to increase food production, to improve the health and living standards of the rural population, and to support sustainable, appropriate communication among farmers and other rural stakeholders.

These objectives would be achieved by:

A further objective to decentralize DCFRN operations and decision-making processes was to be achieved by structuring the project to be managed largely by FADR in the Russian Federation, with DCFRN having responsibility for consulting, monitoring, and providing project information when appropriate.

Approximately 300 members were recruited to the network. As planned, members used information provided by FADR and DCFRN to enhance communication with their audiences. Information was distributed in hard copy (printed “scripts” and newsletters), and was also available on the Internet. Information stimulated discussion and generated feedback from farmers and other rural people to the project partners. This feedback was used by the project partners for further project planning.

The project quickly gained popularity. Agriculture communicators in regional training centres and technicums, and others from large-scale agriculture development projects such as the World Bank-funded ARIS project, responded immediately to information that dealt with the current situation in Russia. A farmer information needs assessment had revealed an overwhelming demand for practical information about marketing, the changing legal environment for farmers, and farm/business management. There was also a need for information about low-input agriculture, due to the limited financial resources of farmers, exacerbated by currency exchange rates. Print journalists also joined the project, using the scripts and newsletters as a source of information for magazines and newspapers directed at farming communities.

The Rural Information Network website[71] was popular, and was continuously enhanced and made more interactive. In addition to posting information that was also available in hard copy, the website featured:

In the fourth year of the project, the website was generating more than 500 000 hits per month, by approximately 55 000 unique visitors.


Two main aspects of the project were particularly successful.

First, the information generated by the project was both welcome and widely respected. Farmers, agricultural extension workers, and community leaders all reported that it met a real need for current, reliable information in a changing environment. The project also generated new, localized, information. In the first half of the project, much of the information shared amongst members was based on DCFRN scripts, adapted by project staff, or was a result of staff research. By the final year, however, half of the scripts were based on information from farmers and other network participants. This made it possible for the project to focus on local issues, and to explore international issues from a local perspective.

Second, the information was accessible to farmers and other people in rural areas. Prepared scripts - responding to needs at the local level - were distributed to 300 Network members in 59 regions in Russia, who were points of contact for an estimated 1.4 million people. Workshops offered by project staff provided basic orientation to the site and training in Internet search techniques, giving them access to the discussion groups and other information on the project website and the Internet. Even farmers who did not use the Internet benefited, since community centres, regional agriculture colleges and extension centres were now better served by educators and extension workers actively participating in the Network.

There was, however, little evidence of effective convergence of radio and the Internet. In adapting the DCFRN methodology to the Russian context, FADR had concentrated on DCFRN's approach to content - making complex technical and scientific information more accessible to intermediaries (agricultural extension workers, teachers, etc.). But there was no corresponding focus on radio. Instead of radio scripts the information was formatted as information sheets, to be printed and distributed directly to extension workers and farmers who were part of the network, rather than to be used in radio programmes. Network members were also encouraged to access the information directly on the project website.

Although the project was providing much-needed support for agriculture extension services (which often consisted of isolated field workers left behind by other international projects), and for those farmers already in the network and with the means to directly access the Internet, it was not realising its full potential to serve rural communities. Farmers who were not served by “traditional” extension services, and farmers who could not directly access the Internet were still without the information and communication channels they needed. In Russia, as in other countries where DCFRN is active, these are the poorest, the least educated, and the most isolated and marginalized people in rural areas.

In the third year of the project, steps were taken to increase the participation of radio broadcasters. With the cooperation of one participating member radio station, programmes were recorded and distributed on CD-ROMs for re-broadcast. A few radio broadcasters participated in training, which was essentially an orientation to the Internet, so that they could download audio files from the project website, join a discussion group that was set up especially for them, and even upload their own recordings. Now, in the fourth and final year of the project, these actions are showing results. Participation of radio broadcasters is increasing; member stations are contributing audio files to the project's archives; and traffic to the radio-focused webpages is on the rise. Radio stations are now taking on a role as intermediaries, using project resources to produce appropriate radio programmes for a wider audience.


The experience of the Rural Information Network project has been useful to the project partners and beneficial to the participants. The network continues to be a important vehicle for exchange of information among stakeholders in rural development and is a trusted resource for farmers needing accessible, appropriate information about food production, agriculture marketing, and the legal context affecting rural people.

Despite its success, however, we do not plan to replicate this project model elsewhere. We believe that the project did not reach its potential because it did not effectively use the most accessible and appropriate medium available in rural areas: radio. Especially in Russia, where the Soviet regime put a radio receiver in every home and developed a tradition of getting information from radio, this medium must be a key component of any rural communication strategy.

We believe that we can improve on results in future projects by modifying the project design to pay more attention to radio and, in particular, to the convergence of radio and Internet. Because we wanted our partner to chart appropriate in-country strategies, we did not explicitly state the media to be emphasized. As a result, the project followed a “multimedia” strategy, with a focus on Internet and face-to-face extension. While this allowed flexibility and local determination, it did not put an emphasis on more innovative possibilities. The Internet is an attractive option: it is relatively easy and inexpensive to make information available, and results are easy to define in terms of website traffic. But it has very limited reach in rural areas. Extension is also a satisfying communication option: use of the project information is easy to measure, and feedback from farmers is easy to obtain. But traditional extension can cost 3000 times more, per contact hour, than radio.

Radio challenges project managers: writing for radio is a particular skill, and results of information use and impact are more difficult to measure. But the reach of radio, and its ability to generate discussion and participation at the grassroots level - especially important in a country struggling with the legacy of centralized planning - is undeniable.

For future projects, we will invest more in the radio broadcasters themselves. The Rural Information Network provided free and reliable information that could be used in their programming, but the information was not distributed as radio scripts, but as information sheets. Poorly funded and inadequately staffed radio stations had to invest significant resources to “translate” the information back into radio language. Thus, participation in the project required significant investment by the radio stations. In future projects, we will invest in them.

Training, peer-to-peer networking, exchanges among broadcasters and between broadcasters and other stakeholders will occupy as much space in our planning, our budget and our evaluation as the information product for which we are known. Farm radio programmes are extremely challenging to produce. Complex information, often requiring understanding of scientific, technical and legal issues must be conveyed in clear, concise language in a limited amount of time. Radio broadcasters are also under pressure to produce entertaining programmes to attract listeners. Farm radio broadcasters need training, and they need the support of their station management to be able to attend training sessions. Future DCFRN projects will ensure that investment is made in broadcasters, to help them produce programmes and access local resources and experts.

Future projects will also leverage the resources of our international network. This project was designed to respond to Russian needs and the Russian context. It was an opportunity to provide locally specific information and resources. But our concentration on Russia, combined with our “hands-off” approach in an effort to let our partner take the lead, resulted in a project that was isolated from the experience of our partners in Africa, South America and elsewhere. Future projects will ensure that there is an international exchange of information and experience.


At the time of writing, the Rural Information Network project is coming to a close. We hope to secure funding for a second phase that will build on the network already established and implement lessons learned over the past four years. The second phase of the Rural Information Network will focus clearly on radio broadcasters as priority members. Priority activities will include:

The Canadian International Development Agency, which has provided more than financial support throughout this project, has expressed interest in a second phase of the project. Other agencies are also supporting radio and Internet initiatives in Russia.

This donor interest coincides with a growing radio movement. Across Central and Eastern Europe, radio stations have multiplied in recent years. In Russia, there are now hundreds of radio stations, opening the way to radio that meets the needs of rural communities by bridging the gap between grassroots needs and views on the one hand, and local and national policy-makers on the other. With appropriate support, this new generation of radio can bridge the digital divide.

[53] This paper would not have been possible without the work and inputs of Tanya Notley. The authors would also like to recognize the contribution of K.M. Karunaratna of Colombo University.
[54] Unpublished UNESCO documents related to the replication of the Kothmale project; Wijayananda Jayaweera, 2001.
[55] Partners included the Sri Lankan Government, Sri Lanka Telecommunications Authority, Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation, Sri Lanka Telecom and University of Colombo.
[56] Community radio in Sri Lanka, including Kothmale Community Radio (KCR), came into being during the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of people as a result of the Mahaweli irrigation project. Community radios were identified as a means to mitigate the relocation of people into new areas. For more on the Mahaweli Community Radio project see David, MJR, "Mahaweli Community Radio" in Girard, Bruce, A Passion for Radio: Radio Waves and Community (1992). Available online at
[57] Unpublished report on the Kothmale project; Tanya Notley, 2000.
[58] KCR broadcasts in both Sinhalese and Tamil.
[59] Sunil Wijisinghe, Kothmale Station Controller, quoted in a unpublished project report; Tanya Notley (2000).
[60] Unpublished report on the Kothmale project; Tanya Notley, 2000.
[61] Report on UNESCO Seminar on Integrating New and Traditional Information and Communications Technologies for Community Development held at Kothmale in January 2001; Ian Pringle (2001).
[62] Tanya Notley: Observations about the Kothmale project in email correspondence (2001).
[65] Four different types of community-oriented stations can be found in Mozambique: those initiated by the State communication institute, by Catholic associations, by independent community-based associations, and by municipalities.
[66] Today the best way of getting a letter from one part of the country to the other is to go to the airport and find someone travelling to as close as possible to the recipient, and to ask him or her to bring the letter or package.
[67] Cited from: "Summary of the ICT Policy Implementation Strategy" produced by the official Comissão para a Política de Informática.
[68] Loy Van Crowder et al. Knowledge and information for food security in Africa: from traditional media to the Internet. FAO 1998.
[69] Approximately 86% of webpages are published in English, and 97% of Internet hosts are in developed nations.
[70] Ricardo Gómez & Juliana Martínez, The Internet... Why? and What For? (Acceso, IDRC 2001)

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