Mozambique launched a comprehensive ICT policy in 2002. The country has been investing in a number of ICT projects ever since. One of these projects – Provincial Digital Resource Centres, or CPRDs – aims to enhance the use and access of ICTs in remote areas. These centres essentially concentrate ICT infrastructure, skills and investment in one place, and so they act as single entry points for ICT activities in the provinces. They encourage the use of ICTs locally in virtually all sectors of development, and support capacity building and the development of local content.
The first CPRDs were established in 2004 by the ICT Policy Implementation Unit, with funds provided by the UNDP. The centres provide ICT training courses, computer maintenance, network administration, data base designs and many other ICT services that had not been offered previously at the provincial level. The impact of these centres in these provinces has been so great that further funding was provided by the UNDP, Microsoft and the Italian government that made it possible to set up similar facilities in six other provinces throughout Mozambique between 2005 and 2009.
A local initiative
One of the CPRDs’ most significant achievements has been to reduce the internal digital divide in Mozambique. The centres act as multifunctional local hubs that reach out across several sectors and provide internet access in rural areas. Not surprisingly, the government has not been able to install centres everywhere, sometimes due to a lack of infrastructure. This is the case in Manica Province, for example, in western Mozambique.
This area is where GM Services came to life. It is a private initiative that I set up with my husband, Guilherme Matola. GM Services is a small internet café business. We both make constant use of ICTs in our work and private lives, from PCs and laptops, to smartphones and Skype. Realizing that a CPRD was unlikely to be set up in Sussundenga– a village about 40 km from the Manica Province’s main city, Chimoio – we decided to set up our own business to fill that gap. The idea was to provide an opportunity for young people to access and use ICTs.
We set up our business in early 2013. We have four employees, one of whom is a woman. GM Services provides access to computers, where users can log onto the internet, send emails and use word processing programs. Our café also has a photocopy machine, a scanner, a fax machine, and we sell school and office materials. Normally students have to travel to Chimoio, which is the closest city, to access these services. We also train basic computer skills to primary and secondary school teachers, students, as well as some local government officials and private enterprise employees.
This experience has taught us that with a modest investment you can set up an initiative that reaches out to many people and enables them to learn how to use ICTs and communicate with other parts of the country and far beyond. So far, our centre has been serving about 50 people a day. Most are especially interested in accessing the internet to search for information and chat with friends, family and others outside the district. We also receive visitors from local government and private businesses, such as market sellers who want information on weather conditions and the latest prices of their produce.
Our internet café began with a budget of US$15,000 – our savings from a small consulting business we ran in Chimoio. About US$10,000 of that was used to buy second-hand equipment, such as six computers, a printer, a photocopy machine and software to operate the network. The remaining US$5,000 was used to renovate the building, which was in terrible condition.
The next step for GM Services will be to secure outside funding through local development initiatives. There is a government strategy, for example, called ‘7 million’, which aims to help small entrepreneurs in rural districts. Additional investment would enable us to sell affordable mobile phones, computers, books and other ICT tools. They would also make it easier to buy the latest equipment and modernise our system. All these tools would go a long way in helping disadvantaged people in this district’s communities.
We are also looking to expand our services to other community areas, such as schools, in order to equip their students with useful tools for the future. Indeed, one of our goals is to contribute to the development of our country by giving people in rural areas training and access to ICTs. It is our hope that some of the young people who are benefitting from our services will go on to develop similar initiatives themselves – not just here in this district but in all the other areas of Mozambique. If our example can create a kind of ripple effect, then hopefully it will contribute something at least to alleviating rural poverty.