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A German, an American, a Zimbabwean, an Australian and a South African Get Into a Car...

Sound like a joke? Well it's not. We were an anthropologist, a soccer captain, a programmer, a sociologist and a social entrepreneur, and we were on our way to go and watch the opening game of the soccer world cup on a SolarWorld solar TV, several kilometres from the South African ESKOM grid (Lutz Scharf, Micah Rose, Susan Hansen, Rick Strickland and Ron Wertlen). SolarWorld had chosen the installation sites in early Summer and so the cold and unseasonal rain that met us as we turned off the N2 to head down to Nkwalini meant that the outdoor TV set could not be used. It also meant that the soccer training camp was curtailed due to the short daylight hours, something that the American planners had not counted on.

Still the soccer camp which included watching World Cup games on TV and practical exercises on the fields of Nkwalini (as bumpy as they are), brought some new insights about the game to the community and strengthened the bonds between visitors and community members.

It is my hope that we'll be able to get funding for a solar powered soccer field for a sport school or academy at Nkwalini. This is something that the community members can see immediate value in, and which could in an environmentally friendly manner lengthen activities in Winter (in particular) in a community which does not have much else and which is very passionate about soccer. This is something I have noticed during my time in the community and also on the that icy cold afternoon of the 11th of June 2010 in a dark community hall, when 300 community members (with only 2 Vuvzelas) cheered on the Bafana Bafana, in a gripping opening game.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: July 27th 2010 08:11

A P2P Middleware Design for Rural Digital Access Nodes in Marginalised Rural Areas ...

... is the title of my masters thesis, which I will hand in for external examination at the end of the week.

Thanks to my family for putting up with my midnight writing sessions.

And thanks to my friends, Erika, Ford, Henry and Tanya for proof-reading the sucker.

And thanks to my readership for putting up with the silence... (I'll publish a copy here as soon as it's final.)

Things have been going along at the speed of light at eKhaya ICT in the meanwhile. In December, Thozamile Ngeju our community coordinator has been doing wonders with the two schools that were operational in that time: Benjamin Mahlasela and Nathaniel Nyaluza (both Secondary Schools). This is our first small forray into the Grahamstown township (impoverished peri-urban area), and we look forward to it moving along fantastically during 2010. All signals are on green for this year.

On the ESTIMA Software Factory front, we are hard at work. A large part of the technical input at the start comes from my thesis -- the primary software objective will be to create a distributed middleware for rural digital access centres. Doesn't that sound familiar. We have hired two programmers and I am late in writing an offer to the third. Oops. So I had better go and do that now.

But first a word about innovation possibilities: we had a fab meeting with the East London IDZ last week. Dr. Nkem-abonta has really internalised all the recommendations that issue from the COFISA foresight workshops (http://www.cofisa.org.za, look under documents), and so the Eastern Cape is looking to attract Knowledge Industries, Green Transport, etc. It sounds, that the IDZ is a little behind schedule. As are many things on the African Continent. Like BROADBAND. Still, if they manage to get a green car manufacturer there, at least we'll have a place to peddle our mobile software. I have been talking to the CEO of neofonie Mobile, and he's keen to expand down this way...
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 2nd 2010 09:02

A thought for the "Newly Connected"

Last Christmas, Manuel Castells led to thoughts about the tradition of giving and the 1950's developmental theory of trickle-down (i.e., building up power points in an under-developed society, which will lead ultimately to trickling down of the capital within the society targeted for development). Castells' theorises that the Net ignores parts of society which are irrelevant from a capitalist point of view (they have no capital). Castells underlines the modern downfall of trickle-down, to my mind. IT, Business Process Management and corporate efficiency have worked toward plugging "leaks" and concentrating capital in "approved" conduits. In the meantime, charities (many cashing in on corporate social responsibility programmes, that have become necessary) continue to be a large part of the trickle-down effect and of development work. Many have a good methodology, but on the whole, the situation represents a double failure, as trickling via charity can be disempowering and dependence building.

An interesting variable in this formula are the "newly connected": those financially disempowered persons (pecuniarily poor) who will be connected to the Net in 2011. The ITU expects that over a billion people will be accessing the Web via mobile phones by 2015, but I think that it's going to be more like 2 billion. The reason for this will be that web services such as M-Money will be clothed in simple UI's so that people will be using the Web, without knowing it. This is very similar to the phenomenon of people who use email or MXiT without knowing they are using the Net. Newly connected persons may still be irrelevant to the Net as an enabler of financial flows, however, they have more possibilities of becoming relevant. And they do present an opportunity for advertising, as one sees with free apps available on Android's Market for applications.

These services are also going to go some way in crossing Castells divide between the Net and the self. Castells postulates that irrelevant portions of the population develop a strong identity, which is localised and which rejects the global Net. The self thus is incompatible with the Net, the local approach incompatible with the global.

All this just goes to underline that networks in 2011 are going to connect more poor people, and corporations and governments will try to leverage economies of scale to draw even more finances out of these newly connected. Money will trickle down, and it will trickle back up too. It might be better to draw an analogy with the mammalian circulatory system: money like blood rushes through vast pipes at the heart of the networked society, and it is forced into ever thinner ducts as it approaches the marginalised areas, until it performs a kind of slow ooze. However, even this ooze has a direction, until eventually the money gathers together in the pipes and heads back to the heart. By trying to draw more money from these regions, what should end up happening is the laying of larger pipes and the tighter integration of marginalised areas to the "big pump". Ultimately this will be beneficial, as new needs will generate new was to access revenues.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: January 31st 2011 06:22

Article: "Nigeria: Much scepticism about OPLC project"

In response to an article by Efem Nkanga "Nigeria: Much scepticism about OPLC project" in Balancing Acts Update number 391 from 8th February 2008.*

no link available yet online for this issue
Dear Russell,

I have been enjoying reading your news updates very much. They are usually well researched and give great insights into the African point of view.

While the latter is still true about Efem Nkanga's article, it is singularly badly researched. The title says it all! Efem Nkanga seems to have taken as much care in investigating the OLPC project and Intel's pull out from it as as he does in copy-reading important parts of his work.

Further, the real plight of the children in decaying schools - and we have plenty right here in the Eastern Cape - is that their imagination and thirst for knowledge is not heeded. While educators worry about desks and seats to sit on, children in these schools desperately need water, food and knowledge - in that order. Desks and school uniforms - while traditionally important in schools here as much as in Nigeria - are really only crucial for learning inasfar as the educators (the absolutely crucial part of the learning process) require them. In the future, thinking hardware will be much more important than these traditional trappings.

Yours sincerely,
Ron
* (Permanent link will probably soon appear under http://www.balancingact-africa.com/news/back/balancing-act_391.html)

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 9th 2008 02:42

Bad grammar and teaching the importance of Internet

I don't usually blog other people's posts, but this was an exceptional one.

On Sunday am off to the SATNAC conference - it is going to be exciting and fun-filled.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 27th 2009 07:43

Barack Obama: A New World Order

Anti-Luddite Blackberry wielding, information disseminating, marketing-savvy, open (as far as the military and dept of homeland security will allow), pro-people - did it take 8 years of the really rotten administration to make us appreciate what Barack Obama is doing? I don't think so. Barack Obama is not only the first African American president (a strong signal to Africa to awaken), he is also the first president who had to come to terms with an ever quickening wave of technology, that began in public (with the first PC) as he started his University career. His entire career as read in Wikipedia, seems to blossom out of working for social development and information (editor Harvard Law Review). Does it seem any wonder at all that the democrats website www.barackobama.com is entitled "Organizing for America"... an echo of Google's: "Organizing the world's information".

And indeed, in his first hundred days, Obama has shown that organising information channels and demanding transparency can speed processes tremendously. Finally the USA unites under a banner for social development. With the head-start and the capacity to single-handedly put mars rovers onto Mars, what else can the American people do when united under such a leader?

A great hope for all of us.

[PS. Of course, his career is also founded on Law. That is a tremendous change from his predecessor, who could not understand what it was good for. The law is so important because it removes power from instinct and subordinates it to common reason. Not one man's reason.]
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 29th 2009 07:08

Changing Perspectives

From this height, the Eastern Cape province is a frothy milky white plain, it is a convuluted dark ridged surface, and it is a hilly green and olive surface bounded by the blue of the ocean, which stretches away to vanish into a wall of tall white clouds - clouds which seem to live here above the warmer waters of the tail of the Mozambique current. Although the perspective is unusual, the feeling for this piece of land is the same. I know what beauty lies down there below me. Even from up here it remains, but transformed. Now a golden fiery snake winds its way beneath. It's broad body is incandescent in the rising sun, twisting this way and that between what must be tall mountains, but seem to be bumps. It can only be the mighty Caledon, the other boundary of this region.

Beside the mighty river, hut roofs glint like diamonds. I am transported into a future where the inhabitants of these dwellings grow up knowing that they have a right to know, that they have the means to know and that they can know about all subjects of human knowledge. The economy that powers this knowledge is built to 95% on renewable energy. Photovoltaics have been revolutionised - their efficiency ratio is still not much above 12,5%, but they are manufactured from cheap plastics that are in turn derived from agricultural by-products and seed oils, right here in the Eastern Cape. These cheap cells are everywhere, and the plentiful sun of this area keeps the knowledge turning over. Solid state cells built of myriads of capacitors keep systems running over night, during darkness, etc. Or cheaper hydrogen cells which occasionally need to be watered, like crops. Even the aeroplane I am sitting in is run on a mixture of Hydrogen, Nitrogen and Oxygen all produced through the renewable power.

A future I look forward to and am building towards.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 2nd 2008 04:53

Drought in the Eastern Cape

Understanding rural impoverished circumstances is quite difficult for people who live in suburban or urban areas. A city's veins are its water and effluent systems and its nerves are the communications and power networks. Living within such an organism and being part of it, one is shielded from all sorts of practicalities of life, which is why we live in cities and which is why they are recognised as being the potential tool to support a large number of humans on the planet in an ecologically sustainable manner.

Since the beginning of our Southern Summer, we have faced water restrictions in Grahamstown and all across the Eastern Cape. We have a fairly sizeable vegetable garden, which is partially also interspersed with the ornamental plants. Water restrictions during a drought are often a death sentence for a garden. One is prohibited from watering, using automatic means such a hose-pipe. All watering must take place manually.

Fetching and carrying water is one of the main tasks performed by an isiXhosa woman, living at the Siyakhula Living Lab. These days they have it easy. The water only needs to be fetched from the nearest community borehole, which may be 500m away. Formerly water may have had to be hauled much farther distances, especially in times of drought. Based on durable plastics, there are several inventions that aim to ease this task (e.g. the water barrel that is also a tyre, and can be pushed). These inventions are struggling to find their way into rural life though and at Nkwalini, one can see women carrying water in the traditional manner - on their heads.

Hauling bucket after bucket of water, just to keep the vegetables alive, I had plenty of time to ponder the rural fate, which involves many such chores, that we take for granted, and to ponder the activities with which we fill the saved time -- productive work, and for some of us, TV / games / etc.). I really enjoyed that reflexive aspect of the drought. I also marvelled at how well the veggies grew, which receive the daily bath water. These recipients of daily water grew magnificently and thrived. The hand watered plants just survived. This highlighted to me the need for drip irrigation schemes such as the ones piloted by SELF in Benin.

South Africa is very vulnerable to food scarcity, because its rural population is not farming veggies, hardly at all. David Martin calls it a joke compared to what he is seeing in South Asia. We need to wake up and use our resources better. Financial and natural resources can be used in win-win ways to boost productivity. For instance linking grants to food growing schemes. If paying out the grants (delivering money) is costing so much, why not deliver what the people are buying with that money from home-grow schemes - boosting employment in rural areas? The spare money should be invested in infrastructure further boosting employment in the rural areas as well as opening new possibilities for economic activity. South Africa is a rich country -- with the potential of being a model African country. That is something I'd like to see.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 25th 2010 05:55

Eastern Cape ICT Summit

Very encouraging words were heard at the EC ICT Summit in Port Elizabeth (Nelson Mandela Bay) this morning from the Hon. Noxolo Kiviet, the province's Premier. Her prime rationale for why the EC government and Premier's Office is so interested in ICT development in this province, is that, "ICT's can mediate the relationship between citizen and state." Technology can "braoden the presence of state" for people especially in rural areas.

This is the enlightened stance that can bridge divides in our province between the impoverished rural areas and the highly developed sectors in cities and rurality. Ms. Kiviet called for an information driven approach to land reform, something that must surely happen as racial lines still distort the reality of the people populating this land.

Ms. Kiviet also told me that she has thrice in the last month been at schools in the Elliotdale area, near where our solar schools project has been realised and is running, and that her interests are aligned with the truly broad base. I believe that Ms. Kiviet will continue the kinds of broad based policies that we have seen from her female predecessor, Nosimo Balindlela. This bodes very well for our province.

Siyabulela!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 17th 2010 09:12

eKhaya ICT Concentrates on Core Operations

Well regular readers of this column are wondering what has happened: Where are all the blog posts gone?

Don't despair! The period since the beginning of the year has been a very exciting one. eKhaya ICT has shifted business operations towards it's core business - the rural African software challenge. This has been done in several ways:
  • I am doing my Masters in Computer Science at the University of Fort Hare - eating the same stuff I dish up to the students there! It is really great to be at an Institute specialising in "Developmental ECommerce". See my blog there: http://cs.ufh.ac.za/ron/

  • Work is now intensifying on the SELF project at Zwelenqaba. The project is very tangible. The community and schools are very excited at the prospect of soon having their own computer lab.

  • Connections with Rhodes University are being strengthened - I am starting there as a Research Coordinator 2 days a week. It is going to be very good for eKhaya ICT to have me on the inside of the University - we'll hopefully be able to attract some good graduates, not to mention the cooperation possibilities! I'll be doing my best to coordinate activities there, open new doors to European cooperation and relieve the new Head of the Centre of Excellence (Prof. Alfredo Terzoli) of a lot of his strain. A mutually beneficial arrangement.
We are very excited about the changes and looking forward to the slightly more focused work!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 29th 2008 10:25

eKhaya ICT mentioned in COFISA Newsletter

You can download the August 2009 COFISA newsletter here.  eKhaya ICT is mentioned for participation in the Siyakhula Living Lab.

The COFISA website is at http://www.cofisa.org.za/ but they don't seem to be publishing the newsletters there.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 7th 2009 06:18

Food Matters...

On my last trip to the Siyakhula Living Lab (the extended part at Nkwalini, not Dwesa), a bunch of teachers asked me what the secret of 'you white people' is, and why they are all so rich. My first rather off the cuff answer was that we eat differently - and to illustrate the point I reached into the plastic packet next to me and produced a cucumber and a green pepper. I offered these to the teachers and suggested they try them and see how sweet and wholesome these vegetables are. They actually did "like" them, but refused to have some more - perhaps they didn't want to deprive me of my lunch!

I didn't want to leave it at that though, and also told them about my parents who arrived in South Africa with two suitcases, an education and the will to work. Everything they now have, they had to work for and they owe it to their up-bringing and the education in ex-Soviet block countries. [*]

Because food matters, we are still looking for ways to get solar powered boreholes operating at Nkwalini to water vegetable gardens that will feed the scholars. Fresh food during the day would change their lives.

[*] No-one mentioned apartheid, luckily, still an uncomfortable topic for me. I would probably have reasoned as follows: Did they gain through apartheid? In the short term, yes. Were they discriminated against by their immigrant status? Again, yes. Migrant living is difficult for people who appreciate family life, and my parents struggled. Ultimately apartheid has helped nobody, because material wealth can only do so much in a destabilised environment. And part of what we are doing at eKhaya ICT is an attempt to make good some of the wrongs that were perpetuated across hundreds of years of discrimination.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 21st 2009 07:42

From my diary...

[Apropos robbery and violence:] It is a very scary aspect of being here. The inequalities are terrible. It is almost as though they will continue getting worse and worse - around the globe and in the first world too - as people close a blind eye toward them. By closing a blind eye we are not doing the right thing. The right thing is to look the problem square in the eyes, to open ones eyes and to do something about it. Spreading knowledge and understanding is one way, and it is the only way. Spreading hate, fear and armaments is not the way.

For only through self-understanding will we be able to deal with our archaic biological instincts in a modern world. Archaic biological instincts armed to the teeth with modern weapons are not a pretty perspective.

Two anecdotes concerning the growing gap in income from the developed world:
  • In Berlin one is very conscious of the growing gap between rich and poor. The poor protest and let you know about it.
  • South African friends of ours are leaving London, it is becoming just too violent because of the growing gap between rich and poor.
Are we getting poorer? Or is this just our perception, because we are programmed to pay more attention to bad than to good news? (Another example of biology dictating terms to us.)

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 12th 2007 09:17

From the SAFIPA Conference

Lucy Abrahams from the Wits University (LINK Centre) makes the following interesting point (about 5 minutes ago): We are all "Emerging Information Societies". She says this because there is no perfect Information Society in any country at the moment and her statement is supported by statistics and figures.

Inspecting her statement much more simply, globalisation implies that we are one society made up of many parts, and as long as there is a digital divide, there will only be an emerging information society - because on an information level, there is just one society.

[... looking forward to more interesting insights at this conference...]
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 8th 2009 09:33

Grant Awarded to eKhaya ICT!

The South African Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Cooperation Framework on Innovation Systems between Finland and South (COFISA) have awarded eKhaya ICT a travel grant for the upcoming trip to Germany, Switzerland and Finland. The purpose of the trip is threefold:
  1. To found the Village Scribe Association which will organise an international support network for the deployment of the awareNet technology;

  2. To meet software innovation organisations to improve innovation production of the awareNet technology;

  3. To research how awareNet and the ECSPIRT project as a whole can be includedin activities with specific living labs in the European Network of Living Labs' (ENoLL) project portfolio.
You can find out more about ECSPIRT and the awareNet at the pages of the Village Scribe Association.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: November 17th 2008 12:28

Hackers, Common Software (Wordpress) and Niche Players (Kapenta)

There seems to be a weakness in older or current wordpress versions, which allows some nasty hackers to put their own advertising in. I noticed a while back that my pages looked wierd, and looking at the source I saw a whole lot of advertisements for viagara and other prescription medication! MY SITE HAD BEEN STEALTHILY HACKED. So I removed the offending texts, and also the entry in my footer HTML. But now the ads are back.

How terrible. I don't really know what to do (no time to fix it). I have found nothing on the Internet about the attack only other compromised sites.

The ads link to a server at yale.edu! So Yale has been hacked as well... http://som-talks.som.yale.edu/forums/images/icons/1/buy-now-online-viagra.html

This kind of thing really undermines confidence in computing and the Internet, and it is also a big plus for niche players like Kapenta. My Mac has no viruses, because it's a niche system and doesn't have the mass appeal to make virus writing for it worth while, it's also pretty well secured but there are always holes. So using Kapenta for blogging etc. could be the way forward, as a niche product, only people with a personal score will want to hack it.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 28th 2009 10:22

ICT4D and Ridiculous Ideas like 4P Computing

Wayan Vota, dreamt up the idea of 4P computing and it got onto the ICT4D article on wikipedia. It seems that to him, ICT4D works best on equipment which is low on power, high on performance, very portable and has a low cost (price) associated with ownership. These are the 4 "p"s. But they are not derived objectively. Instead Vota in his blog looks at attributes on which the OLPC and similar solutions score well and then postulated these are the right criteria for ICT4D equipment.

This is however not necessarily the case. Portability is often seen as a negative point in development projects. Telecentres for instance would like their computers to stay where they are. Also performance is often only a factor if there is a comparison (i.e. a better machine in the lab tends to be used more heavily, but otherwise, as long as it works people don't care much). Further, the equation does not include networking and communications potential. The Internet is a very big component of ICT4D equipment which is ignored in this equation. BTW, the Internet also inculcates patience as bandwidth is often very very low in ICT4D situations.

Anyhow, 4P computing is an idea that fits well in a comparison matrix, but doesn't do the entire field merit for its complexity.

Another comparison is available from ComputerAid.org.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 10th 2009 10:36

Impressions of a GeekDinner

Met up with Jonathan Endersby and Dave Duarte at the GeekDinner in Cape Town in October to check out that corner of the Open Source IT scene in South Africa. I am happy to report that the amount of enthusiasm and the number of projects being cooked up is great.

Charl Van Niekerk's talk started off with a bit of advertising for Google's Summer of Code programme - a very worthwhile and cool programme if I ever saw one with an altruistic touch befitting of the Google "do good" motto. Interesting to hear about the interest of Joomla to integrate RDF into their mobile apps. Perhaps the semantic web is not as far away as one may think - the hype is over and it is the right time for the technology to consolidate and move into the mainstream.

By the end of the meeting the sponsored wine had created a really happy atmosphere at the meeting - the slideshow karaoke was a hit!

Probably next time I attend one of these things, I will be talking about eKhaya ICT's successes and experiences with Open Source in the field (or doing a 3 minute analysis of my bash shell's history). I hope it'llbe soon Cape Town is fab place to be.

(Thanks to Richard Kilpert for driving and patience with us geeks.)
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: December 9th 2007 07:50

ITU-R - Harmonising the World's Vibrations

I recently attended an ITU-R feedback meeting on the World Radiotelecommunications Conference of 2007 (WRC-07). The WRC is where all the wireless regulators get together and bash out a consensual position for world wireless and satellite usage of spectra and satellite orbitals (so they don't crash) for 4 weeks.

It seems a little strange: An organisation that sets its agenda 6 years in advance, that requires its final agenda to be ratified 2 years in advance of the ratifying meting, must surely be a dinosaur in the these times. Everyone in the Internet industry and other hi-tech branches seems to be intoxicated by the dizzying speed with which developments are occuring.

Add to that a conservative seemingly bureaucratic heart of the ITU, the motto being something like "waste not, want not" as regards radio frequencies, is a questionable thing. People want free radiowaves. Technology allows an ever finer slicing of the airwaves - is this just not enforcing the monopolies and what about deregulating worldwide that is going on in the local-loops.

So, what possible use can such a body have, one might ask?

Quite simply there are some critical aspects of radiotelecommunication, like emergency bands that need to be kept clear of "harmful interference". Also regulations that affect international disaster relief are becoming a priority in the ITU-R. It also regulates things like satellite orbits and is a forum for countries and industries to make known their intentions as far as radiotelecommunication is concerned.

The ITU organisational model is sound, it brings nations together and works on voluntary consensus. While that means, that it has very few means to enforce regulations or to act as adjudicator in feuds between mismatched rivals such as Cuba and the USA. It is a lot like it's cousin - the UN - in that respect.

Also as a virtual organisation it sees itself critically and is in the process of reviewing what regulations are going to be needed in future as most technologies converge to IP.

About the ITU-R: http://www.itu.int/ITU-R

The sibling organisation the ITU-D is on the other hand much more interesting to eKhaya ICT and our venture... but it's good to get to know the whole family!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 3rd 2008 09:37

Learning From Experience

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The school of life is full of fantastic lessons, and there is nothing more challenging today than working in the ICT industry as an entrepreneur, and within that industry, there is probably no more challenging space than Africa. Because, although ICT practitioners always have recourse to escape in a virtual world --working and creating virtual products for online customers paying by online transfer -- Africa has a way of impinging on virtuality through its power failures, regulations and sheer earthiness (humidity and/or dust). 

I found a delightful personal blog today by such an African entrepreneur, Joe Botha. He blogs a list of lessons learned that are definitely not stale even after 4 years. Here are my favourites on the lessons he learned at entrepreneur University:
  • Option paralysis and Occam’s razor. The simple answer is usually the right answer, not making a decision is always the wrong answer.
  • Focus.
  • Don't count your chickens.
Those three have to be my favourites, in no particular order. Joe has a long list, with riders and provisos, they're fabulous. 

It shows: a University degree is never stale.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 7th 2011 07:38

Mitdenken - "Thinking Along"

Just on my way home from a meeting in Berlin at a Strandbar (beach bar). Someone sitting behind me lost or forgot their car key under their seat. A good samaritan found the key, and then told people sitting in the vicinity (including us) that they were going to hand in the key at the bar. More than half an hour later we overheard someone talking to a next door table and gesticulating. I checked and the fellow said he was looking for his car key - which he could go pick up at the bar without further ado. Patrick Paulisch - a local entrepreneur I was having a drink with at the bar - said that this was the perfect example of "Mitdenken" (Friends of Facebook should check out Wooga's brain game ). The good samaritan had helped doubly by not only handing in the key, but imagining what would happen when the person looking for the key came by (they might never think of asking at the bar).

It is awesome to be on the road in Europe again. The people have a different way of thinking and acting here - people are used to being your peers and they see you as their peer. This is not possible in an unequal society, it takes effort on both parts in an unequal society: the ones at the bottom of the pyramid have to try to bootstrap themselves up in their imagination and then basically pretend - something that causes stress - further the ones higher up in the pyramid have to suspend a whole range of prejudice and impatient thought patterns, which also ultimately causes stress. Societies develop laborious traditions to ease such stresses, such as the caste system, which introduces easy to follow rules about how to behave to preserve the status quo. I suppose that is why it is so difficult to do development work - no matter how user-driven you want to be, ultimately you want to promote change which challenges traditions. That is an immensely difficult point which can only be solved with time, understanding and patience.

These stresses can only really be understood when you go into the field and talk to people who have nothing and who cannot imagine your life.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: August 2nd 2009 12:00

Nicholas Carr - Google making us stupid

I finally had time to read this article in the Atlantic Monthly, read it here. It's definitely thought-provoking. However, for the husband of a neuro-etologist, it is not convincing at all.

In fact, the first thought that went through my mind was that Carr was suffering from stress related psychological illness that has simply impaired his ability to focus. That has as much to do with modern life as Google. Or invoking Henry Ford, substitute conveyor belt with Google, and factory worker's station with armchair (or desk) -> inhuman conditions from which one needs to take a break. Get out of your armchair Carr!

The worst thing about Carr's argument is that he begins by being quite precise with his qualification of "I and some others" ... but by the end of the article he speaks of "us/we" as though he spoke for all humanity. What he fails to see is the basic illiteracy of many of "us". Illiteracy is endemic at the bottom of the pyramid, that means some 4 billion people are just barely literate and have never read anything longer than this blog post. They stand to benefit tremendously from Google's service.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 26th 2009 10:11

Participation in Local Government through ICT

I am currently working on a study into the Potential to Utilize Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to Promote Inclusion, Public Participation and Accountability in Local Governance in South Africa.

Dear Reader, please take this survey:

Attitude:
  • What has your municipality done for you today? (Are you aware of the things your municipality is doing for you?)
  • Do you know the name of your ward councillor? (YES/ NO)
  • Does your municipality respond to your queries (written or telephonic), if you have any? (YES/NO)
Planning:
  • If you could easily find out what your municipality is planning for the next 5 years, would you bother to read the documentation? (YES/NO)
  • Would you be more likely to read the plan, if your neighbourhood has its own section in the plan? (YES/NO)
  • Would you be more likely to read a summary of say 5 pages? Or 1 page? (YES/NO)
Governance:
  • Would you like to be mayor for a day? (YES/NO)
  • Do you think that you can help your municipality function better? (YES/NO)
  • Would you like to be able to send SMS to your councillor and actually get a response? (YES/NO)
  • If you use Twitter, would you follow your municipality? (YES/NO)

Your local government needs you, please respond.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 17th 2011 07:14

President Zuma on ICT for Africa at the AU

In a very telegraphic style, Jacob Zuma pointed out that ICT's are a potential vehicle toward unlocking the potential of Africa and bringing its countries together for our mutual benefit.

The following are all really truisms in any netizens mind, however they are not generally accepted, so to hear this from Zuma is quite a thing:
  • Technology is shaping the future of the world, challenging geographical boundaries and revolutionising economic, social and political activity.

  • Information technology has the capacity to improve living standards for millions of people on the continent.

  • At the same time, it has the potential to reverse existing inequality and marginalisation. For Africa, information and communication technology is not simply about science.

  • Nor should it merely be viewed as another economic sector, like agriculture or mining.
Zuma is a populist - he has his fingers on the pulse of what the people want. In this speech, he has clearly been influenced by the younger set and is projecting a forward thinking South Africa as a guiding light for the continent. This really makes it clear that the people love technology and communicating. (E.g. the favourite feature of awareNet so far is the chat function.) This does represent a shift of power on the continent as hierarchies are replaced by networks. And markets. Control of the media is not as effective, when people are allowed to communicate p2p / f2f in a free manner.

Every metre of fibre laid, strengthens and extends the rope-ladder which is going to hoist the African people out of impoverishment.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 20th 2010 06:08

Questions to take to SEWF2011

Next week is the Social Enterprise World Forum 2011 in Johannesburg. I will be there and happy to link up.

What bothers me about VC (Venture Capital), is the “exit strategy” or simply exit. Most Venture Capital plans aim for the sale to a big multinational (notably new social enterprise funding plans, as outlined e.g. by the Young Foundation in their “Open Social” book show how this can be done differently). Some questions I take to SEWF 2011 with me are:

  • Is one not placing undue power in the hands of the multinationals through regular VC strategy?
  • Isn’t the more socially valuable exit to earn enough to buy back portions of the company from VCs, so that one can pursue and independent line, and make partnerships that don’t tie one to a particular ideology?
  • Can VC’s apply some of the social metrics (success criteria) to measure public good of the projects they support and get support from government/public bodies for this?

Ok, so you probably noticed it, I am a social entrepreneur and very concerned about ethical business practice… SEWF 2011, here we come.


By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 30th 2011 07:50

Regulating the Internet in South Africa

The new Films and Publications Act, No. 3 which amends Act No. 89 of 1998 has an interesting section which pertains to persons providing Social Media aimed at children. This is stipulated in Section 24C.

I think it is a fairly worded law, questions only arise over implementation, i.e. whether the 60-year old judge presiding over the legal case has ever used Google (let alone understanding the intricacies of GUI design for browsers). All of the items in the Act have been or are being addressed by awareNet, our home-grown social networking software specially for schools...

"Obligations of internet access and service providers

24C. (1) For the purposes of this section, unless the context otherwise indicates-
  • (a) ‘child-oriented service’ means a contact service and includes a content service which is specifically targeted at children;

  • (b) ‘contact service’ means any service intended to enable people previously unacquainted with each other to make initial contact and to communicate with each other;

  • (c) ‘content’ means any sound, text, still picture, moving picture, other audio visual representation or sensory representation and includes any combination of the preceding which is capable of being created, manipulated, stored, retrieved or communicated but excludes content contained in private communications between consumers;

  • (d) ‘content service’ means-
    • (i) the provision of content; or
    • (ii) the exercise of editorial control over the content conveyed via a communications network, as defined in the Electronic Communications Act, 2005 (Act No. 35 of 2005), to the public or sections of the public; and

  • (e) ‘operator’ means any person who provides a child-oriented contact service or content service, including Internet chat-rooms.

(2) Any person who provides child-oriented services, including chatrooms, on or through mobile cellular telephones or the internet, shall-

  • (a) moderate such services and take such reasonable steps as are necessary to ensure that such services are not being used by any person for the purpose of the commission of any offence against children;

  • (b) prominently display reasonable safety messages in a language that will be clearly understood by children, on all advertisements for a child-oriented service, as well as in the medium used to access such child-oriented service including, where appropriate, chat-room safety messages for chat-rooms or similar contact services;

  • (c) provide a mechanism to enable children to report suspicious behaviour by any person in a chat-room to the service or access provider;

  • (d) report details of any information regarding behaviour which is indicative of the commission of any offence by any person against any child to a police official of the South African Police Service; and

  • (e) where technically feasible, provide children and their parents or primary care-givers with information concerning software or other tools which can be used to filter or block access to content services and contact services, where allowing a child to access such content service or contact service would constitute an offence under this Act or which may be considered unsuitable for children, as well as information concerning the use of such software or other tools.
(3) Any person who fails to comply with subsection (2) shall be guilty of an offence and liable, upon conviction, to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding six months or to both a fine and such imprisonment."

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 10th 2009 07:32

SATNAC - Telcos! Give up your Fear and embrace Innovation

Several talkers at the conference, including keynote speaker Anton Musgrave used the word extinction. They were refering to Telcos (or telecommunications operators) like Telkom or the Deutsche Telekom. In fact these are not extinct. They have restructured and are restructuring and _some_ are suffering under the yoke of regulators. They are perhaps an endangered species, but not extinct at all. In Africa, government Telcos are a reality to be reckoned with A brave new world of ubiquitous ICTs as trumpeted by some is still no more than the hint of a cooling breeze in the overheated information desert. And there is no sign of rain. Unsocially minded MBA graduates who live in an ethically sterile environment make the decisions which leave the poor in the lurch (as one Exec with an Engineering background put it - Engineers should be making the decisions, not MBAs). The absolutely unapologetic and uncaring (even smirking) attitude visible in most African Telcos and governments is hopefully a last show of strength from the endangered raptor. They seem to be waking up to the danger being mastered by their 1st world cousins. The problem is their reaction could be (as in Iran and China) deleterious to the majority of the population, i.e. a poison pill for ICT4D. That is perhaps a good thing about a conference like this - which highlights that a glass being half-full and half-empty are fundemantally different. As a context for decisions they lead to completely different outcomes. As the MC just said: I don't know if I should be scared or euphoric about the future. Telcos - give up your fear! Embrace the future - unlock the frozen government Universal Service Access funds by making a strong move for the future. It WILL pay off!

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 1st 2009 07:53

SiLLMU - A Budding New Organisation

In Finnish, SiLLMU* means "bud" (as in flower bud). To us it is the Siyakhula Living Lab Management Unit. This is a newly formed organisation set up to provide leadership in matters pertaining to the Siyakhula Living Lab (SLL). The current infrastructure setup between Dwesa, Nqabara and Nkwalini in the Mbashe province of the Eastern Cape is a valuable rural entrepreneurial incubator based on commitment from the communities and the partners working in the living lab. It is a collection of some of the basic information services required to bring rural areas into the knowledge society and a worthy platform to try out new products and techniques. The communities are not apathetic and jaded through research efforts, because of a continuing and paced strategic intervention which works as much with the consciousness of the people as with technology.

The SiLLMU has received funding for one year from COFISA (Finnish South African Cooperation Framework on Innovation in South Africa), and will shortly open its doors to connect the SLL and open it to new possibilities.

Part of the SiLLMU funding will go directly to strengthening community involvement in the SLL. This is a welcome direct assistance for the community members that are spending their time and effort in the project and making things happen.

[* 09-05-25] I have in the meantime been using Google Translate Finnish >> English, and it is great. In Finnish "Silmu" is written with one "L", which I guess sounds the same. It also means "eye". Now I wonder if that is specifically the eye of a potato, for instance, or whether it is also the organ of vision. SiLLMU is definitely tasked as an organ of vision for the SLL!
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 6th 2009 10:17

Singularity may be prevented by humanitarian crises

Ray Kurzweil predicts AI - the merging of technology and human intelligence to form AI and super-humans by 2045. This kind of development he admits is a double-edged sword. A pure technological advance like the harnessing of atomic fission, may be used for destructive purposes, as was so ably demonstrated in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

The purpose of AI, will be dictated by the social circumstances that shape the face of humanity in 2030+. If these are not balanced to some extent, if the disparities growing daily are not redressed, then the future of humanity will look bleak, despite its technological advances.

ICT4D, is a way to make AI work for everyone. With awareNet, eKhaya ICT is trying to put AI techniques (using WordNet, NTLK libraries, and open source) to the service of the bottom of the pyramid. We are not alone. There are others who also believe that ICTs can pave the way to a more equal world. We are all trying to prepare for a future that most do not yet see and comprehend.

Let's hope that come 2055, Kurzweil's bright future will prevail, that energy needs will be met worldwide with renewable solar energy leading the way, and that an informed global population will be balanced by rational choices driven by AI, undermining dictatorships and organised crime syndicates.

I can see the singularity now, and I want it to benefit everyone. It should not serve vested interests of the few who would harness it to extend the lives of their families and their poodles.

Aside: as a mathematician, I must protest the use of the word singularity. The singularity defines a point c, at which f(c) is not defined. Kurzweil plays on this when he says that technology is exploding exponentially... However, mostly f(x) as x->c and x<c exists, as does it when x->c and x>c so the mathematical singularity he refers to succeeds an asymptote. However, because reality is proceeding multi-dimensionally, and because these dimensions are not independant, the singularity never comes about, because the exponential growth in one dimension is mitigated by lack of growth in others.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 25th 2009 10:19

Siphiwo Msindwana

Siphiwo Msindwana is a born and bred inhabitant of Nkwalini, he worked for many years in the interim in Johannesburg. A softly spoken intelligent guy, Siphiwo has been training community members in typing and computer operations at the Zweenqaba school as part of the ECSPIRT project's community component. An amazing volunteer, Siphiwo is the embodiment of an entrepreneur. I just hope that we will soon be able to get funding to change his status to actual entrepreneur.

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L-R: N.N, Mvelile Ngonyama, Ron Wertlen, Siphiwo Msindwana
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: February 25th 2009 09:01

Sometu - the future of education in an Information Society

Sometu

It was very interesting to see this question on the Sometu Network and even more interesting to see the wide array of future looking answers from Finns, who are without doubt among the best educated people in the world - especially in Maths Science and Technology (Science, Engineering and Technology, if you prefer) subjects. The view of independent learning, based on free information flows is something that is so alien to the situation we are faced with at the Eastern Cape schools we work with (Nkwalini, Dwesa, etc.). Just picturing the poor learners at Mndwaka JSS or Zwelenqaba SSS - left alone with technology tools to make their own way through is quite sadenning - because the Finnish trust in their familial and social contexts to such an extent that they can challenge their children to be more independent in learning, developing and playing. Our learners are still struggling to learn to read and write.

Nevertheless, I do believe that we have to start thinking this way and that the the first place to bring these thoughts in are the teachers. Many are open to new ideas (as long as they don't mean more work). They need to be comfortable with the concepts and to facilitate. E.g. at our project, the teachers use computer club learners to help give technology based classes on subjects like Geography. This leaves the Teacher to talk about the subject and learners who have difficulties with mice etc. are shown by other learners. This passing on of responsibility is the first step toward self-motivated and driven learning with the assistance of technology.

We are very hopeful.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: June 9th 2009 09:42

Sorry Wayan Vota

In the previous post I wrote in an insensitive manner about Wayan Vota's idea of 4P Computing, without really getting to the root of the idea that bothered me so much. In that post, I made an untrue assumption about Wayan's actions and motivations (writing that he had pushed his idea onto wikipedia), which he had not done.

I'd like to apologise for that and will make sure to research my statements better in future, especially where they reflect on someone's character.

In my partial defense (of course, I concede guilty as charged), I was editing ICT4D on wikipedia and the amount of link spam and trash that lands in there (and often its impossible to get rid of) just got me thinking in a unilateral manner.

Humble apologies, Wayan.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 15th 2009 07:25

Speech from Solar Computer Lab Opening

Ron Wertlen held a speech as the solar computer lab project coordinator at the official launch ceremony on the 1st of August 2008. The following conveys the sense of the speech:
"Good day dignitaries and guests, ladies and gentlemen of the community, educators and learners. I am very glad to see you all here! Thank you indeed for coming. We have looked forward to this day together for quite some time.

I will keep the speech short, because this should be a festive occasion and not one of long-winded speeches.

There is an important thing I wish to impress on all of you learners, as you begin to work with the computers that have been brought to your schools. Words that are spoken are like the dust outside on the street [1]. They are ephemeral and blown about by the slightest breeze and can be a nuisance. You cannot build a house with dust. If you however gather that dust and form it into a brick [2], and make several bricks then you can build yourself a house. You can trade bricks and you can help your neighbour build his house by giving him some bricks. The written word is like a brick. You can use it to build a roof over your heads. So remember this when you use the computer - write down your thoughts and share them with others. It will make you a richer person.

Secondly, another important thing: When you work at the laptops, remember to sit up straight. Don't sit at the computer all bent and crooked - you will end up looking like me, and you might get back pains.

Thirdly, the prizes for the drawing competition are being handed over aftewards at the outdoor party. Please all come over.

Thank you very much and enjoy the day!"
Check out photos of the Launch...

Notes:
  1. Tafalehashi at the end of Winter is a very very dusty place. The dust permeates everything and there is no escaping it.

  2. Most of the housing in the area is built with mud bricks. The finest dust that blows around turns into the slickest and best mud when wettened. Just add straw, place in a brck form and cure in the sun.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 9th 2008 08:48

Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER)

Technology and Infrastructure for Emerging Regions (TIER) is a great project doing really very worthwhile research at the University of California Berkeley which has been investigating innovative technology specifically for developing areas. The rather unfortunate choice of name seems to come from the economic term "emerging markets", which suggests that new markets and buying power emerge in areas where previously little or no market activity was discernable (now that makes sense). "Emerging regions" on the other hand seem to be geographical regions that arise out of a previously amorphous landmass, perhaps owing to their newly formed markets -- a very odd concept indeed. Suddenly these regions emerge on our radar, out of the mists. Do the people living in these areas feel different before and after emergence?

// Here's that link http://tier.cs.berkeley.edu/wiki/Home
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: April 27th 2009 09:45

TeleWeaver at SEWF2011

At this point in time, it is looking very much like Ron Wertlen is going to be giving sneak previews of TeleWeaver at the World Cafe at SEWF2011. All interested persons are invited to come by to the WorldCafe gatherings at lunch time and see what this future rural access software offers!!

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 31st 2011 07:39

The Kliptown Youth Project

As an East Cape person, visiting Johannesburg is something I like to avoid like the plague. I ask my relatives who live there why they are still there. Especially after they have recounted the latest displeasures of living in Johannesburg. The displeasures range from drug using youth scenes, to muggings, to traffic congestion. All the more worrying it is to get in a car and head to Soweto - a good thing to liven up a conference!

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A good thing that Neo is on the end of line - guiding a nervous Soweto-first-timer to Freedom Square in Kliptown. The place that the Freedom Charter was signed at on the 26th of June 1955. Now it is a huge brick edifice - a freedom mall apparently - taxis and traffic mill with music blaring... Just down a side-road here is Neo's place.

From there we head of West accross the railway tracks to the Kliptown Youth Project. This is a really squalid township scene, and I would not go in here without Neo. And definitely not at night. In the rural areas, people tend to smile more, and the poverty is somehow easier to bear. But just half an hour walk from this desperately poor place, sports cars and limousines worth millions of rands each (Porsche, Mercedes, BMW, etc.) ferry impatient business people around. They don't make the traffic jams move any faster.

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The Kliptown Youth Project is about hands, minds and hearts. It is about winning the youth over to hope! By occupying the minds and hands with useful activites the hearts of these youth are filled with hope, confidence and a will to achieve more. A group of youth are in the yard kicking a ball around. Another couple are stting in the office working on their CVs. During school, there are 100 children with OLPC laptops creating digital artefacts in a classroom which is also used for remedial work. Teachers come to give after hours assistance to learners - mainly matrics to help them go further. They have a great role model in Thulani Madondo. Quietly confident, he has travelled far afield to gain experience and he knows that there is something important about what he is doing here at KYP. It is a real pleasure to speak to him and I hope to go on a Kliptown tour with him one day soon.

The great thing about KYP is that the momentum of this project comes from the participants. What a lesson this is to other projects, that aim for the same hands, minds and hearts effect but bring in impetus from outside (see my next blog post about Andrew Summer's project at St Matthews school near Keiskammahoek).

This is a very worthy project for the OLPC and it is great to see them using the technology so ably.

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By now Neo has taken another 150 OLPCs to an installation in Natal at a rural school (Esibonisweni Primary School). I see some photos of the school and it looks quite well off compared to the schools we are working at. I am sure that they will also make good use of the laptops under Neo's tutelage. And what a good export product for KYP. Performing OLPC training and installs. I hope that all goes well with that and that the DoE and Municipality finally pay this project the attention it deserves.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: October 20th 2008 09:05

Village Scribe Association Blog

Funny thing, the busier one is, the more blog posts one has to write. I am now writing a blog at the Village Scribe Association too. Don't miss out on that:

http://www.dorfschreiber.org/wordpress/

Contributors include other staff of the Village Scribe Association as well as guest writers from the projects.
By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: March 7th 2011 06:38

Vulnerability and Empowerment

Recently, the following exchange occurred on the Dwesa mailing list of Rhodes University. I got permission to reprint it here, from Mario Marais and Caroline Khene. It was in response to a news article on CSIR training programmes in marginalised rural areas targeted at cyber-security (which I take to mean specifically security in a networked computer environment).
Ron:
What I always wonder when I read these stories is: have there been any reported cases of rural marginalised/disadvantaged computer users being defrauded by cyber-criminals or mobbed by facebook users, etc.?

Mario:
Not sure about that Ron! I'm not involved in this project, but what we have encountered is lots of PCs at schools that are crippled by viruses. What has your experience been?

Caroline:
I agree with Mario. They are in fact the most vulnerable, given they are not as informed about risks on the Internet. When we were in Dwesa, the youth were always downloading stuff from the Internet. Also, who knows who they'll meet online. Furthermore, the new services being introduced, e-government, e-business etc, obviously involves the circulation of private/sensitive information. There are a number of ethical aspects when it comes to ICT4D.

Ron:
I agree with Mario too.

@Mario: Viruses appear on computers almost immediately when we install
them anywhere. Even without Internet (which is restricted to only a few
computers at Nkwalini labs), almost all computers are infected because
of music and video sharing and outdated [Virus] scanners.

I also agree with any form of training and time spent in the community.
This is essential.

@Caroline: I agree that there are strong ethical aspects in ICTD. And
one thing we must encourage is empowerment and playing to strengths of
the rural people! So I do not agree that people in the rural areas are
the most vulnerable (especially as they are for the most part unbanked,
offline, have limited English knowledge and in general very very
cautious around technology). I would even go so far as to say that this
perspective promotes disempowerment of the rural people who do have a
culture and are in many instances proud and capable within their social
context.

Caroline:
@Ron. Yes you do make an important point. But perhaps you may have misunderstood me. I am referring to people who use the Internet or have
access to it via various projects or mobile phones. Informing them about risks in using the Internet or mobile services in fact empowers them. If we assume we all have a culture and are capable in our contexts, why then do we still need to inform each other about information security issues. Everyone, whether rural or not, needs to be informed. We are all vulnerable, but our advantage is that we are more informed (or not).

Ron:
Good points, yes, security should be part of any curriculum, and because it hasn't been in many cases, some people are more vulnerable than others - to paraphrase you, Caroline.
I think Caroline was quite kind to me in this debate. Of course, our aim is to get rural and uninformed people into the Internet more, so to argue that the rural people are not vulnerable because they are offline is to argue against our own work in ICTD!

The main point I was trying to make though, is once again the idea that everyone has strengths that development can and should play towards in order to activate the person who is the object of the development. There can be an uneasy relationship between development worker and target of the development work. The way out of this uneasiness is through "informed consent" -- an ethical consideration that research must be initiated in an open manner and results kept transparent. Such ethical considerations are fortunately anchored in the Rhodes University Ethical Standard, which applies to our work.

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: September 26th 2010 11:53

WIZZIT Banking

Last week, Siphiwo Msindwana, our community co-ordinator in Nkwalini made the trip up to Grahamstown, so that we could attend a course on WIZZIT banking and being Wizz-kids (the course was in PE). 

imageexpanded|raUID=670284694110678977|size=thumb|  What could be better than this: drive down through some of the prettiest countryside in the Eastern Cape (admiring the wildlife, sunlight and bush), chat and joke about life in the rural areas, and look forward to an interesting day learning about micro-finance the WIZZIT way.  Siphiwo also has such interesting stories to tell about his home. He spoke of problems in his rural local muncipality and the intitiative they just got underway to get kids into school. 

Mbashe must surely be one of the most rural and most dysfunctional local municipalities in South Africa -- at least from the point of view of someone living in the farthest reaches of the municipality!  It is an almost three hour drive from Idutywa, the main city to Nkwalini, and it is in fact much closer to the main cities in neighbouring municipalities.  However, provincial and national government have recently been making strong infrastructural improvements in the area, so there is much to be thankful for.

The Nkwalini Quality Education Forum has been started to ensure that children go to school. The problem is that parents often do not know about their childrens' absence from school, or they are not able to help their children work out why they should go to school and do not care. The forum will in such cases speak to parents and to learners, to explain to them the reasons for going to school as well as legal implications. This forum is definitely as worthwhile as the "neighbourhood watch" concept for security...

We were very impressed by the WIZZIT system and the simplicity it brought to opening bank accounts and gaining a foothold in the financial world. Shortly after opening my account I was able to send Thozi our awareNet coordinator airtime, as my usual FNB platform was down for the day. The system certainly does work!

Siphiwo also connected with the Reed House Systems team of developers and gave his inputs into the new isiXhosa version of the software. He was very impressed by that as well.

Siphiwo wrote the following about his experience:

"
This is a marvelous visit to me, because I've [experienced as much as would normally be] done in a week['s] time.

The very first day on the 11th May 2011 we went for workshop on a WIZZIT consultant in PE and that's where Ron opened the account on WIZZIT, then the following day the 12th May 2011 that's when I opened my account too, it took only 5 minutes. The WIZZIT account will [bring much assistance for the] first time to the people from rural communities -- buying of airtime,electricity,telkom prepaid vouchers etc.

After finishing with that I went to Reed House Systems where there is another program of helping people at the rural communities not to spend a lot when they looking for services.

For me that's great for the people whom I staying with at my community.

Thanks a lot

S. Msindwana
"

By: Ron Wertlen [permalink]
Posted: May 17th 2011 08:20






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