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Should Corporate Social Responsibility start or end at installing computers?

By Wayan Vota on May 23, 2012
mega bilim school computer lab

In Kyrgyzstan, the mobile phone company MegaCom is installing computers in 17 rural schools and training the school Information Science Teacher on ICT in the Mega Билим project. MegaCom is also giving 1 month free Internet bandwidth (after which Internet access is at standard tariff rates) and plans to roll out computers and Internet to 143 schools in every region of the country.

During a recent presentation on Mega Bilim, I asked a company spokesperson what was the project’s overall goal. While the exact response was lost in translation, it seems that MegaCom sees itself as just the ICT4E installer. That makes me wonder:

Is this enough? Or should MegaCom do more before it considers it’s Corporate Social Responsibility fulfilled in education?

At Inveneo, we often ponder this question. We are brought into ICT4E projects as technologies, with no role in increasing user adoption or creating long-term educational gains. Yet we do want our interventions to have impact beyond checking the box that says a school has a computer lab.

When do we have an obligation, or even a right, to ask for or demand reporting on ICT usage? If not us, does the donor? And if they do not, shouldn’t someone care?

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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4 Comments to “Should Corporate Social Responsibility start or end at installing computers?”

  1. Gopal Venkat says:

    The Donors should make these demands which then cascade down at the implementation level. Most Implementers (Installers) are doing their “Job”. If the “Job” does not entail them to educate, they will not do it.

    The Donors need to set more M&E parameters to ensure that the benefits given to communities are self-sustainable.

  2. Tim Denny says:

    Wayan, you pose a very interesting question. I am keenly interested in the forthcoming comments by the readers on this question as I have just written a policy recommendation (among some 30 others) on a related issue for a Southeast Asian ministry of education.

    I recall a similar issue discussed with a colleague in the South Pacific, in that case a donor shipped used computers with a foreign language OS. The computers arrived with no further assistance, thus they were useless to the country at the time until they could figure out how to operate them.

    I think the issue there was a lack of planning on the part of the donor and of the recipient government. Not to blame either party as they both did the best they could in the situation. Yet had the donor gone a step further to do a needs analysis before grating the equipment they may have been able to prevent some of the issues. On the other hand had the government been a bit more proactive and made sure to have at least one competent person on call to work through all possible issues they would have saved themselves a great deal of headache.

    Ok to answer your question… there is no answer… 🙂 CSR in this instance is referring to philanthropy on the part of the company doing something to assist some social endeavour. While it would be wonderful if there were some arrangements for holistic donations of hardware and a related line of supporting services, we cannot expect any one entity to deliver more than they are prepared to do.

    I thus think it is the job of educational planners to be prepared with a clear plan of needs to anticipate where donations can and cannot be made to assist in educational development. Donating hardware is a wonderful gesture and we should thank any donor for their effort, yet we cannot expect them to change the educational system, that is the job of others. We can show them where assistance is needed and open the doors to ensure full participation where donors are willing to help. In that sense CSR should be a partnership based on a clear strategic plan showing where a system is at this point and where it wishes to go.

    Looking forward to reading the comments.

    Cheers
    Tim

  3. NDYOMUGYENYI DEOGRATIUS says:

    It is a good initiative and it will definitely improve Information and Communication Technology. However, strong trainings need be put in place. For example, in Universities, students need to have free laptops with wireless network connection given to them by the administration or better given at a discounted price so that they may not only access internet at school but also at home. Also, parents and teachers need be sensitized before even the implementation. There is a tendency in most schools of administrators considering internet and computer training a waste of time for students in case it is not on the syllabus of the school. this has kept the learning of computer behind; sensitization should be done before anything else. Thanks

  4. Joris Komen says:

    Following this discussion as a lead from one where you rightly argue that M$FT vs FOSS debates are a complete waste of time in ICT4E … As I’ve said before – what we continue to see in ICT4E is highly profitable commercial service providers and proprietary technology giants locking middle-management, decision-making, government officials into systems which are too commercially costly to deploy at the scales we would like them to – to meet even fundamental MDGs in ‘good time’.

    Hence my interest in your ” …MegaCom is also giving 1 month free Internet bandwidth (after which Internet access is at standard tariff rates) and plans to roll out computers and Internet to 143 schools in every region of the country.”

    Are we supposed to say WOW, what a considerate and generous commitment to ICT4E in 17 of the 1,900+ schools of Kyrgyzstan??

    Or do we really see MegaCom paving its way to secure an even more profitable license agreement to distribute their flavour of mobile service in the country on the back of this truly mediocre ‘gift’?

    1 month free internet bandwidth?? This is ridiculous! I see this as yet one more poorly conceived attempt to create an ‘internet dependency’ with the arrogant expectation that such schools henceforward will pay standard tariff rates for this exciting new resource, never before seen outside some privileged schools in Bishkek? This is plainly another good example of contrived commercial schtik.

    Wherever there’s been an innovative effort to embrace effective and affordable long-term total cost of ownership models in primary and secondary education sectors using ICTs, they have been marginalised by greed. Greed for political, socio-economic and industrial hegemony, and a powerful position to pass the buck when things don’t work out the way they were planned. It remains the main reason why such initiatives offer absolutely NO evidence of progress toward Education for All goals.

    A few countries like Rwanda, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Brazil and (parts of) Spain can be seen as exceptions to this rule, but I can’t think of a single developing country which has managed to overcome mind-numbing and largely outdated cost calculations leveraged by commercial ICT salesmen to “put computers in the classroom”. Hence the delays in development, which no amount of innovation will alter until such countries adopt platform neutral ICT acquisition policy, open minds to shifting ICT form factor (including mobile technologies), and then some. And this ‘some’ must include reforms which empower, not marginalise, teachers. And provide FREE and VERY FAST, UNCAPPED, internet access for ALL educational institutions from pre-primary through tertiary. And provide open educational resources regardless of the platform and form factor.