A telecentre can be defined as a public space where users have access to various ICT tools, enabling them to obtain information to broaden their knowledge or communicate, while facilitating a better knowledge of digital tools and infrastructure. While every telecentre may have its own specific features, the common goal is to use ICT to foster social, economic and cultural development by facilitating social networking – thus reducing the digital divide.
The reference model is the Multipurpose Community Telecentre
(MCT), which has been supported by UNESCO since 1996 in various parts of the world.
Since the late 1990s, the African continent has witnessed the regular, more or less organized development of numerous projects enabling public access to ICT, be they public and/or private, free or paid. This can be seen as a direct consequence of the weak infrastructure of telecom networks, of the lack of competition between the operators, and of the access costs to their services and to computer equipment. It must be remembered that in this field, the continent is still the most expensive in the world. However, this tendency is perhaps about to be reversed due to the rate of mobile penetration, major technological infrastructure projects and increasing competition between operators and equipment manufacturers.
Many telecentres are situated in urban and suburban areas, but they are becoming increasingly prevalent in rural areas. Access in such areas varies from country to country. In general, it remains dependent on gender issues or on the degree of poverty among rural communities, both of which often limit the frequentation of telecentres. In Mali for instance, as yet too few women make use of telecentres; others criticize their establishment in regions with a largely illiterate population. From an economic standpoint, they struggle to find an appropriate method of management to generate income, compete with large companies and adapt to technological developments.
Despite often struggling with viability and sustainability, MCTs are, nevertheless, the real hub of transformation of African culture and economy. This is especially the case in rural areas, where they serve as vital centres of ecosystems and loci of social and economic innovation, creating a productive dynamic of wealth and knowledge between rural and urban communities. In Africa, more than anywhere else, access to ICT gives rise to homegrown solutions, which transform companies and fuel entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth.
Thus, MCTs can support rural companies in a number of ways. Farmers, for instance, share the ICT tools at their disposal to gain access to urban markets and business intelligence in order to expand their activities or to acquire new professional skills. Their customers can also order online.
(Source: Elearning Africa