Of telecentres and internet/cyber cafes

Wikipedia does a good job at explaining the difference between the two terms, but after conforming to the standard for some time, I all of a sudden think it might not be necessary, to differentiate to that extent TELECENTRE

A telecentre is a public place where people can access computers, the Internet and other technologies that help them gather information and communicate with others at the same time as they develop digital skills. While each telecentre is different, the common focus is on the use of technologies to support community and social development — reducing isolation, bridging the digital divide, promoting health issues, creating economic opportunities, reaching out to youths. Telecentres exist in almost every country on the planet, although they sometimes go by different names (e.g. village knowledge centres, infocentres, community technology centres, community multimedia centres or schoolbased telecentres). You can learn more about telecentres on the telecentre.org web site.


An Internet cafe or cybercafe is a place where one can use a computer with Internet access for a fee, usually per hour or minute; sometimes one can have unmetered access with a pass for a day or month, etc. It may or may not serve as a regular cafe as well, with food and drinks being served. In South Korea they are called PC bang. A similar concept, the LAN Gaming Center is a variation.

Why, you wonder? I don’t think the differentiation is necessary because it slows down the overall development of ICT access initiatives in the end. Internet/cyber cafes lack social consciousness and telecentres are very difficult to replicate sustainably, how then do we move forward? I think the telecentre movement should learn a lesson from microfinance, not least because as microfinance looks for all sorts of way to reduce cost of delivering small loans, telecentre and internet/cyber cafes could play a greater role by becoming distribution nodes, Drishtee and Oneroof come to mind and branchless banking (.pdf) is a potential avenue of improving sustainability by diversify the service mix.

What Is Microfinance?

Microfinance is the supply of loans, savings, and other basic financial services to the poor. People living in poverty, like everyone else, need a diverse range of financial instruments to run their businesses, build assets, stabilize consumption, and shield themselves against risks. Financial services needed by the poor include working capital loans, consumer credit, savings, pensions, insurance, and money transfer services. Read more…..

The telecentre movement is well positioned, to promote improvement of standards and implementation of best practice by encouraging internet/cyber cafe to joins its’ movement in full force. The internet/cyber cafe sector lacks scale, succesful and socially conscious operator can only be born out of better of training of staff, utilisation of appropriately designed management information systems, better planning of finances, capacity utilisation, etc. Uniting these parties will boost overall effectiveness of efforts to improve ICT access regardless of profit or not for profit motives. The telecentre movement has to recognise that playing down the internet/cyber cafes’ role disregards the leading role of privately owned business, which is highly replicable and effective. What we need to watch out for in this case is mission drift. Improving the capacity of internet/cyber cafes’ will help complement the telecentre movement and create more examples of socially aware internet/cyber cafes’. There is a lot to learn from commercially driven operators than the movement might be willing to acknowledge.

How can a MFI reconcile serving non-poor savers with their claim to have a pro-poor focus? Why is serving non-poor depositors NOT an example of mission-drift?

Serving non-poor depositors does not mean that the institution no longer serves poor depositors. For a deposit-taking MFI to operate profitably and thus continue to provide both credit and savings services to the poor, it needs to mobilize deposits from poor savers, non-poor savers, and ideally, institutional savers.Providing poor savers with accounts that allow unlimited number of withdrawals (often the most popular option with poor savers) is labor intensive and costly, even if no interest is paid on the accounts…
Serving non-poor depositors may be an example of mission-expansion but not mission-drift. Even when accepting deposits from non-poor clients, the MFI’s mission need not change at all. Its target market remains poor savers and poor borrowers but it necessarily expands to include non-poor savers (and in some cases non-poor borrowers) but not to the exclusion of poor clients. Read more…

I look forward to your views on this issue, I hope it can lead rephrasing of our literature on this issue to recognise the role played by internet/cyber cafes’ in the war against information poverty. I am confident that as the industry matures multi branch operators will emerge who will be forced by virtue of their scale and greater spending capacity to operate in a social consicous matter Busyinternet. Greater scale will also improve the quality of service of their offerings, and I say this with computer training courses in mind.

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