[Subject Prev][Subject Next][Thread Prev][Thread Next][Subject Index][Thread Index]
Sarai Newsletter ePoor.org
Greetings from Pakistan!
The following outlines a Pakistan based initiative spearheaded to bridge
digital divide with pro-poor perspective. This initiative is rooted in
'community development approach' and seeks to create synergy of both the
computer-based software of the Information technology and community-based
'social software' of the pro-poor organizations and programmes. I hope, the
following helps explaining the mission, philosophy, and core themes of the
"most needed" initiative in Pakistan.
Zubair Faisal Abbasi.
Waheed Plaza, West 52, First Floor,
Blue Area, Islamabad, Pakistan.
Ph: 092-051-2201484, 0303-7759274
Let Us Make IT Empowering The Poor And The Marginalized
The mission of ePoor.org is to overcome the digital divide in Pakistan.
To this end, it will develop information technology (IT) solutions for
poverty eradication, undertake and advocate measures to enhance the access
of poor communities to IT resources, and provide policy advice and carry out
advocacy to ensure the installation of structures and frameworks required
for pro-poor development.
The philosophy of ePoor.org is based on the highly successful efforts of
community development led by such pioneers as Akhter Hameed Khan and Shoaib
Sultan Khan. These efforts revolve around the creation of social capital to
enhance the coping and adaptive capacities and strategies of the poor.
An alternative to the traditional, charity-based approaches to poverty
eradication, the pro-poor perspective relies on interventions that
strategically reinforce each other in enhancing the collective capacity of
poor communities. In Pakistan, such interventions have taken the form of
rural support programs, community building programs, integrated rural
development programs and others. While there is considerable diversity among
these programs, they all share a belief that the best way of eradicating
poverty is by targeting the community, namely by strengthening the capacity
of local communities to solve their own problems and overcome their
The focus on community can help build up capacity in the rural areas to
access and use other development resources, including for example, public
sector investments, micro-credit, appropriate technology, and managerial and
Background: Technological Change and Poverty Eradication
The success of the community development programs in Pakistan and elsewhere
was bolstered considerably by the fact that their introduction coincided
with the emergence of a major technological breakthrough, the Green
Revolution. On the one hand, it provided the advocates of community
organization with a general-purpose tool that could enhance the income
generation capacity of the poor; and on the other hand, it provided a badly
needed corrective to the possibly inegalitarian impact of the technological
revolution as well as its potential of dissipating social structures and
destabilizing political arrangements.
Today, the IT revolution has stimulated hopes of similar opportunities and
fears of similar adverse impacts. On the one hand, it has spurred a
tremendous expansion in investment and productivity, but on the other hand
its benefits are increasingly restricted to a small and economically
advanced minority. In Pakistan, the highly ambitious program on
technological development is oriented mainly towards the dynamic, urban, and
export-oriented sector. The expanding access to IT resources is concentrated
in the metropolitan areas, the developing data and information systems are
oriented towards the needs precisely of these areas, whose residents will be
the only one to benefit from the envisaged improvements in governance,
quality of public services, and the emerging investment opportunities and
consequent productivity growth.
The danger is that as in other countries, the unfolding of the potential of
IT and the success of the governmental program to facilitate such unfolding
will further deepen the divide between the rich and the poor, and thus
further destabilize the polity, undermine social structures, and impoverish
and marginalize rural areas. There is a need for creative and critical
thinking to determine how the potential of this revolution can be harnessed
in the interests of poor communities.
This is not a new idea. Concerns about the emerging digital divide are
fairly well known and have been remarked upon by a variety of observers
ranging from Bill Gates to Hillary Clinton, from the management Guru C. K.
Prahalad to the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and from the NGO visionary
Ashok Khosla to the World Bank President James Wolfensohn. The IT policy of
the government of Pakistan, as that of many other developing countries,
recognizes these concerns and seeks to support innovative solutions.
However, these policy aims have not yet been translated into practice.
Indeed, the only investment thus far is in programs with relatively low and
uncertain payoffs, most particularly the opening of technology training
schools in rural areas.
The ePoor Response
The initiative of ePoor.org is to respond precisely to this challenge. In
contrast to the top-down and ?supply-side? orientation of the existing
programs, our approach starts from what may be described as the demand side
of technology. This approach does not take the view that technological
adaptation and development is hindered primarily by the high costs of
technology ? or, equivalently, that it can be facilitated by a variety of
subsidies. Rather, this approach concentrates on the inadequate individual
and collective capacity of marginalized groups to benefit from the
technology, and thus seeks to invest in actions that would enhance this
ability to benefit. In other words, this program is oriented towards
creating a demand for technology, with the assumption that the market can
then provide the appropriate response to the demand.
The main vehicle for such demand creation is investment in the capacity of
communities to use the resources for their own economic, social, political,
and cultural purposes. As a result, ePoor.org seeks mainly to work
collaboratively with community development organizations to raise awareness,
collect and organize information that can be of use to poor communities, and
advocate changes that can provide these communities equal access to
knowledge resources and infrastructure of IT.
Program of Work
The showcase activity of ePoor.org is the proposed Villages OnLine (VOL)
portal. It will operate only in selected districts, chosen in collaboration
with community development organizations, and aim to digitize all relevant
information in each village ? including data on economic, demographic, and
institutional variables, cultural and social trends, production of goods and
services, property rights, and development activities ? structure it and put
it on-line. In doing so, the aim is to enable the communities to monitor
their progress, learn from others, market their products, and assess the
quality of the services and facilities available to them. Another aim is to
encourage imitation, and thus the development of independent regional
databases, which can be linked to each other.
The purpose of VOL is to simultaneously enhance the access of poor
communities to governance, markets, services, and technologies. The database
will provide transparency, enable tracking of information and progress,
facilitate collective decisions, export lessons of experience, provide
information on crafts and products of the village, identify investment
opportunities as well as opportunities for philanthropic and charitable
activities. More importantly, by creating information that is at the same
time relevant and useful for village communities, it will provide an
incentive for using the database and therefore developing IT capacity in the
This activity will be an ongoing one, and will provide the spine or the
central frame around which other modules will be arranged, although they
will be developed independently and will have independent utility. The
initial expansion of this information in the rural areas will be through the
community development network. The financial structure of the arrangement
will be refined over time. Initially, it will have to be subsidized so as to
create an awareness of the utility of the information. Subsequently, it can
be provided commercially through franchising operations. Once the database
reaches a critical stage in its development, the portal can begin to sustain
itself financially by lining the fee to the maintenance and development
The VOL module will be bilingual initially. Subsequently, through a separate
activity, it will be extended to regional languages as well. It will also
use voice recognition technology to facilitate access by non-literate
Starting from the idea that poverty eradication is best addressed through
interventions that strengthen the capacity of communities, ePoor?s program
of work has been divided into four major themes: ?ePoor Governance?, ?ePoor
Markets?, ?ePoor Services?, and ?ePoor Technologies?. We use the word poor
deliberately, in order to suggest that notwithstanding the common dictionary
meanings, the word ?poor? need not mean ?low quality?. Thus, we use ?ePoor
governance? to refer to governance that is relevant to the conditions of the
poor, not to the quality of governance to which the poor ? and indeed, all
the people of Pakistan ? have become accustomed.
The four thematic areas are oriented respectively towards capacity for
self-governance, benefiting from market opportunities, accessing social
services, and using and deploying technologies. These should be viewed as
supportive activities, which are meant to facilitate and stimulate actions
by governments, community development organizations, and the private sector.
Within the overall themes, the work program will be divided into modules or
projects. Each modules is selected on the basis of three criteria: relevance
to the overall goals of the theme area, interest in collaboration by partner
organizations, and strategic impact of the work in mobilizing supportive
actions by governments, NGOs and the private sector.
Under the core themes the activities given below are based on the ePoor.org?
s efforts for relevant content, infrastructure and capacity development of
1- ePoor Governance
- The aim of the Poor Governance theme is to support the use of IT for
improving the system of governance, and in particular making it accessible
and responsive towards the needs of the poor. The conception of this theme
revolves around two strands: disclosure and outreach.
- The first strand ? disclosure ? refers to making information of a public
nature available in a manner that it is easily and readily accessible to the
- An example is the proposed NGOs on the Web (NOW) database and search
engine, which will collect and organize information on pro-poor
organizations and place it on the web. It will thus enable shared learning
among these organizations, set standards of performance, encourage
disclosure and transparency, and thus help attract resources and export
knowledge. A companion module is the Corporate Law Information Project
(CLIP), which seeks to make information on corporate groups widely
- The second strand ? outreach ? refers to collecting information on
markets, products, services, and institutions that can help local
communities make better decisions. It also includes information about the
communities themselves; such information can attract attention as well as
resources for the communities. The primary engine for this activity is the
- This initiative can also work in tandem with the initiative to work as
eHosts and thus develop broad based opportunities for online consultations,
documentation and transcription.
2- ePoor Markets
- The goal of this theme area is the creation of pro-poor market
opportunities through the judicious application of information technology.
- Again, the primary engine for this activity is the VOL project. It will be
oriented towards providing information to potential buyers of products and
services produced in villages ? which can be developed (subsequently, and as
a separate activity) into an e-commerce program to enable sale and purchase
of goods and services over the web.
- A related activity is the development of web-based sources of information
on goods and products needed by poor communities, including seeds,
fertilizer, construction materials, and others. Again, this can be developed
separately into an e-commerce site.
- Developing policy advice and advocacy on initiating processes through
which the benefits of information technology begin to reach poor
communities - including pricing policies, infrastructure development,
incentives for businesses, credit policies, e-governance policies, and
3- ePoor Services
- The aim of this theme area is to promote and facilitate the use of IT in
the provision of social services (education, health) in order both to
improve the quality of these services, and to make them accessible to poor
communities and rural areas.
- Given the overall philosophy of the approach, the structure of the ePoor
Services is to enhance the capacity of village communities to mobilize,
access, manage, and monitor the delivery of social services. To this end,
the goal is to organize information and knowledge resources into
poor-friendly formats and structures.
- A component program, ePoor Health, will be developed in collaboration with
health-based organizations (e.g. APPNA-Sehat), and will be aimed at
collecting information that can enable the community-based health groups to
access information on health-related issues from the web. Some of this
information is already present on the web (e.g. through webdoctor.org). The
rest can be collected and organized in the form of a web portal with links
to existing sites.
- A second component, ePoor Education, will aim to assist village
communities accessing and improving education services. A flagship program
in this area is the Virtual Library project, being developed in
collaboration with SDPI and the University of Peshawar.
- The theme area also includes the identification of institutional and
financial mechanisms to induce services to move into rural or poor areas,
and for these service agencies to register improvements in quality.
4- ePoor Technologies
- Research on the information needs of the urban and rural poor. The
research includes the aspects of access and control over IT infrastructure
- Development of portals and websites that provide access to information of
relevance and use to the target communities.
- Policy recommendations on equitable IT sector growth which fosters better
prospects for participatory and equitable growth.
Websites, information portals, compact discs, IT solutions including
e-commerce and support for e-conferencing
ePoor.org is a non-profit public interest organization. It has independent
Board of Governors and is managed by Project Director who works with a team
of IT specialists.
Partnerships and Projects
ePoor.org seeks to develop a partnership networks to advance the agenda of
overcoming the digital divide. To this end, it has started developing a long
list of potential collaborators, including pro-poor NGOs, software
developers, business groups, government institutions, and organizations
engaged in research, advice and advocacy.
The aims of such partnerships are:
· Synergies from complementary skills, knowledge and experience.
· Getting support for remote volunteering, internship programmes.
· Opportunities to develop more culturally and politically sensitive IT
· Strengthening of local human resource talent and leadership for equitable
IT sector growth.
· More cost-effective delivery closer to end-users specially those living in
remote rural areas.
· Inter-organizational knowledge sharing and learning.
The following organizations have been contacted for joint work:
1- SUNGI Development Foundation (http://sungi.sdnpk.org)
ePoor.org has approached SUNGI and SAAG (Sustainable Agriculture Action
Group) to jointly undertake a website development and CD publishing project
on using IT in advocacy on farmer?s rights, food rights, and unethical
incidence of bio-technologies. Initial understanding has been reached and
now project proposal is being developed.
2- Consumer Rights Commission of Pakistan (http://crcp.sdnpk.org)
ePoor.org has approached CRCP to develop a joint project on Consumer
Education and Empowerment. The project includes a consumer portal and CD to
disseminate information on consumer issues, consumer concerns regarding
products and services, consumer laws, and networking consumer initiatives
etc. The project proposal is ready for submission to other partner
3- TheNetwork for Consumer Protection in Pakistan (http://thenetwork.org.pk)
TheNetwork is being contacted to join the above-mentioned project on
Consumer Education and Empowerment. This organization would be a good
resource on information on consumer issues especially on health related
4- Ghazi Barotha Tarqiati Idara (GBTI),
A project NGO working for the rehabilitation of the project affected person
of Ghazi Barotha Hydropower Project has been contacted for the pilot phase
of VOL (Villages Online) in which ePoor.org would create websites of the
three Model Villages developed for project affected persons. These websites
would bring into focus the economy, governance structure, poverty profile,
demography, social services (e.g., education and health facilities), and
other aspects of living.
5- APNA Sehat http://www.appna.org/SEHAT.htm
APNA SEHAT, an innovative project of Association of Pakistani Physicians of
North America for primary health care in rural areas, has been contacted and
they have assured full cooperation in developing partnership and contribute
in ePoor.org efforts.
6- IDSP - Institute for Development Studies and Practice
IDSP institute has been contacted and it is willing to work in close
collaboration with ePoor.org. The fact that the institute has orientation of
?information technology as a tool for development? the partnership with
ePoor.org has a lot of potential for collaborative work especially in the
7- Computer Society of Pakistan
Computer Society of Pakistan, has been contacted and it has shown great
interest in collaborating with ePoor.org. This body of IT specialists is
working to promote computer use for education, impart IT training to
students and professionals, and holding IT seminars and exhibitions.
In the start up phase of its activities, ePoor.org has developed the
following projects and seeking partners to start working on them:
VOL: Villages Online.
NOW: NGOs On the Web.
CLIP: Corporate Law Information Project.
CIEP: Consumer Information and Empowerment Programme.
Virtual Library: Project is under development with Peshawar University and
PRIDE: Participatory, Representative, and Informative Dialogue.
eMART: Expanding Market of The Rural and Traditional
eHealth: Expanding the Health Care
Newsletter mailing list