ICT-assisted Economic Empowerment – Integrated Tools Development Project
The ‘ICT-assisted Economic Empowerment – Integrated Tools Development Project’ (now known as the ECHO) was conceptualized as a solution for the networking and communication needs between Salaam Wanita members and the eHomemakers project team. The viability of the project has been internationally endorsed via the receipt of one of seven awards given internationally under the 2003 Pan Asia ICT R&D Grants Programme which receives its funds from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Asia-Pacific Development Information Programme (APDIP) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Asia Pacific Network Information Centre(APNIC). (See www.panasia.org.sg/grants –‘Grants Awarded’ and look under “ICT Assisted Economic Empowerment – Integrated Tools Development (0302A4_L33)”
The project addresses core problems faced by the project beneficiaries and the society at large. Socially responsible organizations seeking to assist large segments of the needy face financial, time and resource constraints, thus limiting their ability to communicate effectively with their beneficiaries. Despite the tremendous worldwide hype about the digital revolution and how it contributes to social development, the reality is far different from the hype. The digital revolution, as it is now, involves heavy usage of the computer and the Internet, creating a wider divide between the information-haves and have-nots. Computers and the Internet, despite their much-touted benefits, are not instruments of prime necessity for the disadvantaged.
The constraints they face are not only financial, but also the problems of learning new skills (time, money and ability), the cost of owning and maintaining the equipment as opposed to finances required for basic necessities such as food and medicine, the appropriateness of such equipment in the disadvantaged women’s day-to-day activities that require multi-tasking and overcoming of disability/illness barriers. Such digital revolution is not the solution for the disadvantaged groups.
The integrated ICT tools application bridges this gap by taking cognizance of the very real limitations and needs of the disadvantaged. It consists of an integrated platform of ICT tools to network the stakeholders — project management, beneficiaries, potential buyers and out-source employers of home-based products and services — for communication efficiency and cost effectiveness.
The tools encompass: house phones (which are highly affordable and available in most households), mobile phones (which are getting more affordable and readily available among the target beneficiaries) to facsimile machines (which could double up as phones and which relays messages to the blind (Braille enabled machines) and the deaf.
They are affordable and easily maintainable by the beneficiaries. The application maximizes on current technology for the average person on the street. It is an application which provides a viable solution which will not involve needless expenses on the part of the already beleaguered beneficiaries but delivers necessary communication to them via their existing ICT tools, giving them a foothold in the ever expanding ‘digital’ world.
In short, it bridges the digital divide efficiently and effectively.