ICTs for Civil Society. 19/07/2007
ICTs for Civil Society - Applications for the Development Sector
Lyn represented CABSA at this conference and noted key points. Some of the outlines of the reports below are taken from the program on the website.
Sessions feedback, highlights and a blog on the conference will be available on the SANGONeT Website.
David Barnard, Executive Director of SANGONeT and Tebogo Mokgatho, Chairperson of SANGONeT welcomed the delegates.
Deputy Minister of Communications, Min Radhakrishna Padayachie, officially opened the conference. He shared some of the Government’s key focus areas and issues around ICTs. Government shares the vision of civil society for the expansion of digital opportunities to address poverty and development issues – the most serious issues we face today. South Africa has set itself high targets for development and requires the cooperation of civil society to achieve these.
Some of the priorities for government include:
- Integrated ICT development
- Broadcasting Digital Migration
- E-education and e-health
- Access to government services
This will require robust, reliable, accessible services, access to basic infrastructure for all and answering the needs of the present as well as the future.
The South African Post Office is designated as focal point of access to key services by the Government. ICT is one of the driving forces in the modernization of the economic sector and driving economic growth and people centred development.
Daniel Ben-Horin, President, CompuMentor shared some of the similarities and differences between SANGONeT and CompuMentor and the new opportunities for cooperation. He told of the exciting development of a group of capacity building development organisations creating a partnership for providing ICT services and products to grass roots users at a fraction of the commercial costs. The advantages of this network includes that it will:
- Be everywhere
- Enhance civil society capacity as a whole
- Be technologically robust
- Based on financially sustainable business relationships
- Provide support for the ‘new web’ (Wikipedia) that allows cooperation among users – new forms of cooperation
- Be based on the core competency of the network is creating clear methodology for what consists a civil society organisation in a particular setting.
This network will be operating in eleven countries in 3 months – using regional hubs and creating new possibilities of beneficial exchange of goods and services and ideas throughout the world. This will help create the balance between providing a service and sustainability.
Opening Plenary: State of ICTs in the South African NGO Sector
Although many South African NGOs are already active users of ICTs, much more needs to be done to build the capacity of the sector. The introduction and integration of ICTs represents huge opportunities, as well as challenges, in the process of transforming and strengthening the South African NGO sector. However, very little is known about the scope of ICT infrastructure and skills in the NGO sector, the impact of ICT applications on the work of the sector, and how the sector is responding to increasing demands for greater efficiency as a result of ICT adoption and implementation.
In response to this situation, SANGONeT commissioned leading South African ICT research company, World Wide Worx, to conduct a research project on the “State of ICTs in the South African NGO Sector”. The objective of this project is to analyse the South African NGO sector’s application and awareness of ICTs in support of achieving its strategic objectives. The research findings were officially released during the opening plenary session of the conference.
Steven Ambrose from World Wide Worx gave an overview of the study results. Three hundred organisations were surveyed.
The main focus of the study was to find out if ICTs are making a difference to the operation and if the industry is providing for the needs of this sector. He highlighted the strong linkages and similarities between the NGO sector and SME sector.
The study shows that NGOs are mainstream and sophisticated computer users. Some of the key findings:
- Only 19% do not have their own servers,
- 95% use Microsoft as operating system, very few organisations use open source,
- a large component use wireless networking,
- Phone, fax, email is virually universal,
- A small group (21%) view their use of ICT as basic, 39% view themselves as above average,
- 86% use accounting software,
- 27% of organisations have a dedicated IT function
- Only 23% use CRM (client relationship management, or in our case, donor relationship management) software – most adapt Excel or Access ,
- High level of ADSL use,
- Lot of customised software is used,
- Cost of internet connection is an issue,
- Large degree of mobility of NGO staff requires mobile connections,
- Very few use fundraising software.
IT investment is geared to the administrative needs of organisations and not to providing for their key competencies – there is huge opportunities for the market to expand.
Katrin Verclas from the Nonprofit Technology Network (N-Ten) from the United States and Doug Jacquier, Community Information Strategies Australia (CISA) (Australia) highlighted the situations in their respective countries and communities.
The challenge was put to the researchers and those in the field to clearly prove the value of ICTs for the end user in the development arena. Interesting questions were posed about:
- the degree to which NGOs are aware of open source software and why the use is so low within the sector.
- The role ICTs can play in not only enhancing administrative functions but also on providing the key services of the organisation.
Session 1 Building Online Communities
Three parallel sessions after lunch covered ‘Building online communities’; ‘Remix in the Rainbow Nation - Language, Content and Peer Production’ and ‘Monitoring & Evaluation’.
I attended a session on Building Online Communities. This session highlighted Web 2.0 technologies which create opportunities for a range of social actors, campaigners and change advocates to take causes and campaigns to national and global level. We heard that many of the collaborative tools provided are free; lowering barriers to entry for even sophisticated tools like mapping social data onto satellite pictures.
This practical session looked at these technologies from a civil society perspective and will cover blogging, wikis, sharing images and a number of other online tools.
Rob Purdie of UK based ‘Important Projects’ spoke about “Using RSS Feeds” and RSS as foundation technology for Web 2.0 technologies. The first question he asked is “What is RSS and why should NGOs care?”
RSS is ‘Really Simple Syndication’ the publishing of webcontent through
- RSS Feeds
o RSS feeds are XML fields generated by web publishing software
o Provides users or machines with new or updated web content
- RSS aggregator
o Aggregators request and display RSS feeds
- Website managers make content available as feeds on
- CMS-driven websites
End users subscribe to those feeds through feed readers.
Other website managers syndicate the material.
NGOs can benefit from RSS. How will this help us
– will give us updated information without us having to look for it.
– Safes you time
– Make online collaboration easier and cheaper
– You can actually get:
o the information you require
o in the time you have available,
o about the issues you’re interested,
o about your profession,
o about your organisation
o you can search ‘the future’
o You can create ‘team tags’ on sites like del.icio.us
o You can allow others to find you
o You avoid being a spammer
All you need to do:
- choose an aggregator/reader - depending on if you are always online or if you only go online at times
- Subscribe to feeds
More tools and resources are available on the SANGONeT website.
Stefan Lesicnik of ‘Linux System Dynamics’told us more about the possibilities in “Using Google Earth”. He hoped to stimulate thought on possible uses of Google Earth as Tool in our sector.
Various possibilities are available from Google – some free and some at varying costs. The basic version is free while Google Earth Plus provides GPS Support, faster speeds, the possibility to import spreadsheets at a small cost while the more expensive Google Earth Enterprise provides fully customisable options.
We saw how the use of layers strengthen the use of Google Earth for educational purposes. The use of overlays are not technically complicated and the possibilities of combining data with maps are very exciting.
As you can imagine, my mind is spinning! Can you imagine that we could have our project database overlain onto Google Earth! I can see how you can look for a project with specific criteria in a specific geographical area and actually SEE where they are! I will definitely be looking at more possibilities!
The afternoon session provided more choices. Sessions were available on Online Campaigning; Mobile Technologies & Tools; and NGO ACTProcurement.
In the session on Online Campaigns we were addressed by Michelle Odayan, Executive Director, Agenda Feminist Media and Aadila Molale, Manager: NGO Directories, SANGONeT
Michelle reminded us of the need for finding value and understanding the limitations of online technologies in supporting advocacy and campaign interventions in Africa.
Value added include:
- sheer size of the internet
- information at your fingertips
- easy transfer of information
- documentation management
- potential for learning
- can be cost effective …broadband
- not used enough for monitoring and evaluation.
The following Limitations should be considered:
- Situation in African vs Northern developed countries
- Access to and associated costs
- Organisation of information – unsystematic, poorly indexed and random
- Quality of material are variable
- Literacy and language
- Who speaks for whom
Issues to consider when harnessing online technologies for social change:
- make it work for you – strategically
- capacity and knowledge development
- communication and collaboration
- raising awareness
- advancing your work
– gaining support and marketing
- tools in the right hands with the right skills create great things.
The convergence of technologies such as telephone, email, radio etc create powerful possibilities. For this to be successful, smart phones can become powerful tools.
She highlighted some of the work Agenda did in the area of gender based violence using ITCs and some of the things they have learned in their use of these technologies. Again access to ICTs remains a challenge.
Strategies going forward:
- advocate for freer access
- telecommunications reform and pricing regulation
- convergence of online tools streamlined in a campaigning process
- learn from the developed world but imperative that we define what works for us
- Women’s participation at all levels.
Aadila spoke about some of the international campaigns and the tools available locally.
- 8% of population have internet access – this is 3.5 million people
- 23% have access through their work
- most internet users are socio-economically more 'comfortable'.
This remains the biggest challenge for Online campaigns.
She highlighted examples of various campaigns
- Amnesty International Million Faces Campaign
Some emerging online tools where illustrated:
- Global Campaign for Education – downloadable material
- Oxfam – management of networks
- Networking Toolkit to combine online and offline content
- PRODDER project – republishing of book. Information for and about the development sector
- SANGONeT is planning a new online open source hosted application with Civi-CRM which will provide exciting new options.
It is clear that we are not using the available tools and especialy the Web 2.0 tools that are freely available enough. We will definitely think about this, and also think about how we can use our already strained human and financial capacity more effectively.
The session on NGO ICT Procurement (which I did not attend) highlighted the SANGOTeCH online technology donation portal.
The SANGOTeCH online technology donation and discount portal is a partnership between SANGONeT and TechSoup, the San Francisco-based non-profit technology capacity building organisation that links technology donations and the NGO sector.
The SANGOTeCH programme assists NGOs in two key ways: by providing software for a very low administration fee, as well as by assisting NGOs in making the most of their ICT purchases and infrastructure. TechSoup programme has been running for nearly five years in the United States, and has distributed software to the value of $600 million to nearly 50 000 non-profit organisations.
In the six months since the launch of the programme in South Africa, SANGOTeCH has already distributed software and hardware to the value of more than R5 million to South African NGOs at a cost of less than R280 000; a saving to the sector of over R4.75 million.
This evening we will be attending the Gala Dinner, which will be a celebration of SANGONeT 20th Anniversary and NGO Web Awards.
Already I have had many interesting discussions, and heard a lot of new ideas in this first day of the conference – I hope that you will be seeing more of what I have learnt in the webpage and our communication in future!
In the first session of the day
sessions where presented on ‘Constituent and Business Management Systems for NGOs - Session 1’; ‘ICT Policy in Africa’ and ‘ICT and HIV/Aids
Off course, I had to attend the session on “ICT and HIV/Aids”
The community ICT sector can play an important role in using technology to support the fight against the disease in a number of ways, including improving the efficiency of organisations in the sector, spreading the message about how to protect oneself against HIV and to reduce stigma, strengthening the health system’s ability to provide care and treatment to HIV+ people, particularly in supplying Anti-RetroViral drugs (ARVs), developing proper monitoring and evaluation systems to help direct the national response to the pandemic, and allowing the voice of the millions infected and affected by HIV to be heard, for self-organisation, wider distribution and linking with the health system.
This session outlined the challenges of HIV and the new targets of the National Strategic Plan (NSP) and explore how the community ICT sector can respond to and assist the implementation of the NSP. Examples will also be presented about innovative uses of ICT in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Dr Peter Benjamin, General Manager, Cell-Life gave background information on the situation around HIV in South Africa, highlighted the key targets of the NSP and the challenges this will pose.
ICTs can support this plan in various ways
- strengthen ‘back office’
- strengthen mass communication
- support health informatics
- monitor and evaluate
- support the self organisation of those living with HIV
- sharing of knowledge andnetworking
At the end the effectiveness of systems, including. ICT systems will determine the success of the plan.
He also spoke of the range of service Cell-Life provides through cell phone technologies. There are many exciting possibilities for the HIV arena and particularly for those providing medical treatment and care. Peter highlighted the disconnect between information providers and those requiring information and ways in which cell phones can overcome this and ways in which TAC particularly are trying to use this technology. Possibilities for cell phone users include:
- interaction in organisation
- peer to peer support
- wiki type collaboration
- social network etc.
A process has just been started to create a national mass HIV/AIDS information network via cell-phone. This exciting project has huge potential for our communication needs, and I will discuss ways of being part of this with the organisers.
Sally Shackleton, Deputy Director, Women’sNet spoke of her organisation’s concern with the voices of women being heard. She shared a video focussing on ‘digital stories’. She highlighted research on the use of cell phone technologies in HIV work. She reminded us that:
- as violence and HIV is a gendered issue, so is access to ICTs!
- The key factor in success of incorporating a technology into a system is TIME – this can take at least five years.
- ICTs can not make an inefficient system work, but can make a system that works more efficient.
- Access is determined by a wide set of criteria – socio economic status, gender, location.
- A universal solution is not possible in South Africa, systems need to be localised.
Andree Gacoin, AIDS Portal. This project focuses on linking organisations and networks through a dynamic internet platform. This tool is becoming a gateway to high quality information on key topics in the HIV arena. Andprovides the opportunity for discussions to bring stakeholders together on key issue.
Tukisang Senne, Health Director, Mindset Network. This organisation provides large scale health education to health workers and the public via satellite driven broadcasts in health delivery areas, as well as on demand broadcast through a computer interface both online and offline. Through this service the organisation:
- provides educational material
- ensures continuous professional development
- provides the ability to monitor public health
- enables remote consultations
- improve efficiency of the health system
Cornel Silaule, Information Specialist, Soul City told of the Soul City Edutainment model using TV, radio, drama and print and how they integrate this.
The delegates were divided into groups which discussed ways in which ICTs can strengthen the response to HIV in the areas of youth and sexuality; women’s empowerment; health systems; mass information & broadcasting; counselling and community capacity building. Each group discussed
- What are the issues and challenges in this area
- What could ICTs offer
- What are the challenges
- What are the opportunities
Many powerful suggestions and ideas came to the fore. I am sure that many of these ideas will be taken ahead by SANGONeT in the time head.
The next parallel session provided a choice between session on Session 2 on Constituent and Business Management Systems for NGOs; Open Source Case Studies & Trends for NGOs; and Community Access to ICTs.
As an introduction we heard about the Association for Progressive information and the APC Internet Rights Charter and were encouraged to join in this process to ensure
- internet access for all;
- freedom of expression and association; and
- access to knowledge.
I would encourage you to have a look at the charter on their website.
In the discussion on Open Source Case Studies & Trends for NGOs we looked at the usability of Open Source and the ideological factors of NGOs Open Source use.
Cassim de Bruin, IT Manager of the Institute for Democracy in South Africa (IDASA) sketched the challenges and use of IT in the organisation and their challenges in moving to open source products. Although we heard a lot of technical information, the key message is that the move to Open Source was not easy but in the end was worthwhile and increased the abilities of the organisation. He highlighted LDAP, Novell Group Software, SAMBA, Swish-E. His key message was – with Open Source there are no limits! He reminded that the cost of IT is not only the cost of a computer but that a variety of related costs should be included and that organisations should consider IT in all parts of their organisation’s strategic planning.
Tshepo Thlaku is Programme Manager of Ungana Afrika (who provides support to NGOs through the E-riders programme). He explained that Open Source materials are not only free to obtain but also open to be modified and redistributed. Although the material is free, there are cost factors to be considered – training, support etc. He presented a case study where the organisation provided technology support for community based radio stations in Mpumalanga. Interestingly, it was easier to convince ‘new’ computer users to use these products than established users. As with any change process, it was important to convince users of the benefit of the new products for them. In order to integrate Open Source into the work of an organisation, it was necessarily to de-mystify the process, to provide training and support which is focussed on the needs of the organisation.
Some of the applications used include:
- Open Office
- Turbo Cash
- Mozilla Thunderbird
- Mozilla Firefox
- E-base - CRM application
- Audacity - radio production software
- Campcaster - broadcasting software, (piloted)
Some of the successes were that stations
- became aware and used licensed software
- have better software selection
- have access to tools that were not available to them before
- understand the concepts of FOSS
- integrate the FOSS into their operations.
It became clear that there should be greater integration of FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software) but that support, both technical and funding support, is critical.
Bill Lester, Chief Information Officer of EngenderHealth spoke of Open Source in their organisation. The have a philosophy of sharing their best practises with partner organisations and the community at large, so they are committed to the philosophy of open source, but find the practical application difficult.
He explained the specific need they had for a content management system for their Standard Operating Procedures. They were looking for a uncomplicated system with good support. He again emphasised that there are costs involved in setting up and training for the use of open source materials. The choice fell on PLONE – this system has been implemented and is still in the test phase. Other PLONE specific sites are also being built for the organisation. The ease of use, fact that specialists are not necessary to work on this program, search functionality, print options and email options were specifically appreciated.
I think, for me, this session again opened my mind to the large number of opportunities and possibilities out there! There is a strong sense that the philosophy behind the Open Source products naturally fit with the philosophy and key way of operation of NGOs. We are continually reminded of the fact that we should consider the costs and possibilities inherent in this tool.
The challenge for me is again to find way in which we can use this information to make the service we provide better and more accessible.
After lunch it was time for the last parallel session of the conference, which provided a choice between ‘Online Giving Opportunities - The Giver's Journey’ and ‘Women, ICT and the Media
You all know how we constantly struggle with finances, so once again the choice was made for me. I just had to attend the session on ‘Online Giving Opportunities - The Giver's Journey’
This session was described as follows “Strategies for Understanding and Maximizing ICT to Encourage Relationship Building and Grow Online Giving Opportunities - The Giver's Journey
The session will focus on GreaterGood SA's (www.ggsa.co.za) international research into the power, potential and style of online marketplaces and giving platforms over the past two years. It will present insights into the learnings and demonstrate the strategies informing the development of the new GGSA social networking and online giving platform. The new platform moves beyond being the transactional to cater for the needs of both the giver and NGO, facilitating meaningful engagement between the two groups.
Specific objectives of the session are to demonstrate how to encourage considered, ongoing, outcomes-based giving; encourage NGOs to think about moving away from the classic donation model to a new interactive model that focuses on engaging the giver more meaningful in the online environment; develop an understanding in NGOs about the benefits of multiple forms of support and how these can be managed in the online environment (demonstrated on the new GGSA platform); demonstrate the potential for sustained relationships through the provision of a variety of online social networking tools; and emphasise the importance of measuring impact, keeping information relevant and up to date and how this can be effectively managed online.”
Carol Tappenden, Managing Director, Greater Good SA, and some of the organisations staff introduced the new Greater Good website and the different ways of giving it provides for.
Greater Good did various evaluations to determine the needs of givers and organisations:
- wordiness, confusing languages etc was a problem
- a lot of action not enough giving
- people stumbled across organisations by chance, and was then not able to find them again
- high number of once of given
- people don’t ‘see’ what options are available; especially not on the right menu
- lack of relationship management
- learning curve for using site too steep
- not enough automation
- process was not clear enough
- no donations on first visit
- site was focussed on the receiver and not on givers!
- Feedback to givers was not good enough
- Repeat givers included the process into their budgets
International research show that the following is important
- understand givers
- giver relationship management is critical
- trust integrity etc critical
- innovative ways of evaluating return on investment
- increasing utility for NPO
- giver fundraising online I a growing theme
- let givers monitor own giving
- field is ‘maturing’
- micro-financing as means to give
- customer service key on both sides
- incorporate Web 2.0 technologies
- Messiness of complex sites is a problem
“Greater Good wants to create a culture of connected individuals who experience the gift of giving responsibly as part of an ongoing lifestyle towards social profit”
In order to make this more successful they had to create a new user experience strategy with the giver in the centre. This was called the ‘Giver’s Journey’ and hopefully will get giver’s to function in a mature lifestyle integrated way
Research has shown how important language is in presenting philanthropy to prospective givers. (Social Profit Organisations, Non Profit organisations, Charities, Causes). It was also important to create more of a doing website that a reading one and use some of the social connectivity tools to create a network and opportunities for conversation. Important points considered is seeing others, seeing the context and seeing yourself.
The Journey of Givers are linked to a Receivers Journey and the processes and tools of Greater Good SA make both the journeys as simple as possible.
This is a wonderful opportunity for all qualifying organisations – I want to encourage all of you to register your organisations and also those of you interested in giving to register and hopefully to channel your donations also to CABSA and CARIS! I plan to have us registered very soon!
Closing Plenary Session: Changing ICT Environment - Challenges and Opportunities for the South African NGO Sector
This session reflected on changes in the local and international ICT environment and highlight the implications in this regard for NGOs and civil society in general.
Damaria Senne, Senior Journalist, IT-Web chaired the panel discussion. Participants include:
Lyndall Shope-Mafole, Director General, Department of Communications
Godfrey Mokate, Chief Executive Officer, National Development Agency (NDA)
James Theledi, Chief Executive Officer, Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA)
Chose Choeu, Law and Corporate Affairs Director, Microsoft SA
Anriette Esterhuysen, Executive Director, Association for Progressive Communications (APC)
Daniel Ben-Horin, President, CompuMentor
Some points raised include:
- The uptake and access to ICTs need to be expanded and civil society needs to play a central role in this process together with government and business.
- Poor communities need to understand that ICTs can be used to address poverty
- Service providers need to explore innovative ways in addressing access to technologies
- Civil Society Organisations need to be part of the exciting developments and opportunities available such as SANGOTeCH and Unlimited Opportunities
- The world is moving to a point where global civil societies are seen as having increased power and strength and where collaboration is becoming more important.
- Civil Society Communities and networks are becoming more important to other sectors – we need to leverage this to strengthen our organisations
- Civil society should play a role in holding key role players accountable
- Civil Society and Government should not alienate each other, especially when ideological matters are at stake, but deal with the issues on the table.
- Partnerships should be evaluated independently
- The policies of government has not converted to uptake and access to ICTs. It is important to look at the full global situation. Although cost is a factor, Government uptake of ICTs in developing countries drive uptake and access of the public – so the South African government should be encouraged to increase their uptake.
- Access need to be integrated to community needs, development goals, content and training.
- It is not always easy to measure the use of ICTs and particularly the use of ICTs for development.
- Partnership between research organisations and grassroots project for transfer of knowledge is crucial
- We need to monitor more than numbers but also impact and outcomes.
- Collaboration in South Africa is at an interesting point. Due to the history of South Africa, we have a situation where NGOs capacitated government as well as business and there are unique collaboration opportunities.
- We need to explore and utilise the huge potential of mobile phones
- There is still a luck of trust on the continent in the NGO sector – we in SA need to play a role in changing these perceptions.
- NGOs need to assist government in achieving the principles of BBBE
- We need to understand the telecommunications act.
- Environmental issues and global warming can be a strong unifying issue.
- Stay focussed on your values and mission, but take time to consider what your organisation’s role is in the wider ICT and development world
- We need to find the balance between gathering information and action
Microsoft donated three laptops which was presented to the lucky draw recipients.
Khehla Shubane of the SANGONeT Board of Directors made the final comments and gave a vote of thanks to all involved.
Final comments from me:
The SANGONeT website will provide more and more detailed information if you are interested in this very exciting field. Blogs and presentations are available.
Once again this was a wonderful opportunity for growth, but also a sobering experience when I think of all the challenges. I hope that I will be able to convert this knowledge into better access to information for all of you.