Monday, 2 May 2011

Expanding the ICT Innovation Space in Ghana

Basic school pupils at Atorkor, Ghana learning with computers. Picture credit:
There is a striking difference between the rate of Information Communication Technology (ICT) adoption in Accra and other parts of Ghana. While the innovation graph is spiking speedily in the capital, and a few other cities, there is hardly any activity being recorded for places such as Tarkwa, Dormaa, Navrongo and Keta. The innovation space seems to be concentrated, clustered and reserved for only the few who dwell in cities, leaving small town and rural dwellers only dreaming of their piece of the pie. It stands to reason that if we are to witness a major technology revolution in Ghana anytime soon, we must strive to get folks in the hinterlands, especially the young ones, on the technology bandwagon. How best can this be done?

Get Quality Infrastructure on the Ground
Quality infrastructure should not be the preserve of urban centres alone. In smaller towns, provisions must be made for electricity access, availability of affordable computing devices and Internet connection. Telecommunication companies should, as a matter of principle, ensure that their mobile broadband coverage extends to every nook and cranny of the country. Laying such a strong foundation will create many sockets of opportunity from which entrepreneurial folks will draw current, and consequently ignite massive ICT adoption, innovation, wealth creation and development on an unprecedented scale.

Diversify Location of Training Centres
One step that will draw technology activity for sure to the smaller towns is the availability of ICT training centres or schools in these areas. Accra is considered as one of the high technology hubs in sub-Saharan Africa, partly due to its relatively impressive array of top notch universities and professional training institutions. The ICT curricula of these schools cover both technology and business aspects of ICT. If the same training opportunities are offered to youth from less developed areas, within their communities, they are likely to become effective innovation agents. Setting up training opportunities in deprived communities may also draw development–conscious instructors and professionals to these communities, in the name of the public good, thus creating great opportunities for skills transfer.

Incentivise Companies to Set up in Rural Areas
Once the youth of rural communities are endowed with employable IT skills, the temptation for rural-urban migration, in search of greener pastures, will arise. By encouraging small companies to set up their operations in these areas, employment opportunities will be created for local IT graduates, thus nipping the threat of migration in the bud. In addition, budding entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to assess, at first-hand, the exigencies of the technology start-up world. The emergence of a thriving technology community in Accra can be directly attributed to the pioneering efforts of its first few local entrepreneurs. This success can be replicated elsewhere in Ghana.

Show Them It Works and They Need It
Many open source tools can address the technology needs of poor communities, but a major problem faced by many ICT for Development (ICT4D) professionals is the abysmally low rate of adoption. Locals will only embrace ICT when they see it at work. Deploying exciting and effective solutions in community hospitals, police stations, post offices, schools and banks will be great way to demonstrate the beauty of technology at work. Similarly, showing local businesses how to connect with their customers and partners, in other parts of the country and the world, through online communication channels will give large scale ICT adoption a shot in the arm.

Intensify Outreach: Organise more IT Events in Rural Areas
Over the past few years, ICT-themed events and innovation fora that provide learning, networking and business opportunities have become immensely popular among Accra’s thriving entrepreneurial community. These events give many technopreneurial newbies their first taste of the modern business world. The successes of BarCampGhana, ICT Innovation Week, G-Ghana, TEDx and lately Ghana ICT and Telecom Summit will be further amplified if their messages are taken to poorer areas, where they are needed most. Again, rural folk will enjoy the benefit of first-hand demonstration of ICT applications, thus encouraging massive adoption.

Improvise, Experiment and Localise
The peculiarities of executing development projects in deprived communities make it instructive to adopt highly creative approaches that address resource challenges. Improvisation will minimize potential high operational costs and leave enough room for experiments in the earlier stages. Will it be possible, for example to have a mobile IT van that can teach computing to children in a number of villages? Could there be a way of increasing the availability of inexpensive gadgets such as One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) computers? How about exploring ways in which local content, including local languages, can make rural people relate more to sophisticated technology, thus making them amenable to its use?

To sum up, ICT’s potential as a change agent in Ghana will only be truly realised if kids all over the country are given some exposure to its usage. By building quality infrastructure, providing educational opportunities, encouraging local technopreneurship, demonstrating ICT applications and making necessary intelligent adaptations, I think the innovative space will truly be expanded to reach all people wherever they may be. What do you think?


Keep comments and insights coming to get the discussion going!