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Can Technology Help Reduce Poverty? 2005 APC Hafkin Prize Winner Trains Kenyan Youth for Business Opportunities

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa, May 26 2005 -- For young people living in poverty in  coastal Kenya, surfing the internet and learning how to use computers make most sense when these skills mean better economic opportunities and work-readiness. In recognition of this, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) announced on May 26 that the winner of the APC Africa Hafkin Communications Prize for 2004-5 is the "Global Education Partnership - Wundanyi" in Kenya.
Global Education Partnership - Wundanyi (GEP) is a not-for-profit organisation located in the Taita Taveta District of Kenya. It has created a 12-week comprehensive training programme that focuses on entrepreneurship and work-readiness skills for local youth from 15 to 24 years. "A clear lesson is that entrepreneurs are difficult -if not impossible- to create but they can be identified and supported," GEP's East Africa Regional Coordinator Tammy Palmer told APC.
Taita Taveta is one of the poorest areas of Kenya with a poverty rate of 66% -- 10% higher than the national average. The youth in Taita Tavet can see little on the economic horizon that will offer them a viable livelihood. Access to traditional livelihoods is fast shrinking and most residents are subsistence farmers or squatters.
Over nine years, GEP has trained 948 students, with 944 completing the course, 113 being awarded business capital, and 47 owning their own business. Students are asked to contribute a "commitment" of Kshs 1000 (approximately $12.50 USD).
In recognition of their vision and implementation, a six-member international jury awarded the Kenyans the $7,500 USD award which is named in honour of Nancy Hafkin, a pioneer of networking and development information and communications in Africa.
The Kenyan winners explained how their initiative works: "Over the twelve weeks (of training) students learn from entrepreneurship modules that focus on building basic, but important, business development skills, such as costing goods sold, calculating profit and loss, marketing, business plan development, and inculcating social responsibility."
Students use work-readiness modules to pick up office-related skills, and have information and technology communication (ICT) components woven into the course components. They learn software skills, learn to prepare financial spreadsheets, write business plans and curriculum vitae and use the internet as a real-world communication tool.

Students who create their own businesses, are awarded with a select number of competitive grants called 'venture capital funds' to invest in their nascent enterprises.

Nancy Hafkin, after whom the prize is named, congratulated GEP as "an excellent example of a locally-led initiative that is using information technology to give hope and possibilities to the youth of rural Africa It is my hope that it will be an inspiration to other community initiatives to provide possibilities for economic self-sufficiency to the young people of Africa."
New York-born Hafkin was among the first to enter the field of electronic communications in Africa. Her advocacy over more than two decades drew attention to the growing potential of ICTs in Africa and the cost to Africa of remaining outside the process of social and economic change brought about by the development of the global information society.
Judges for this year's event were ArabDev founder Leila Hassanin of Egypt; Internet Society (ISOC) South Africa chairman Alan Levin; Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) programme officer Ramata Molo Thioune; parliamentarian Johnson Nkuuhe of Uganda; UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) officer Aida Opoku-Mensah and Digital Freedom Initiative in Senegal director Fatimata Seye Sylla.

Judges comments on the prize-winning entry ranged from "a fantastic effort",  "great achievements" to "very well-focused".

"What struck me about GEP is the focus on youth empowerment, which is central to its strategy. ICTs are not used for their own sake; they're integrated in a clear vision of development," Ramata Molo Thioune told APC. As far as sustainability is concerned, I think that it's an example of an initiative from which many organisations may learn."

In addition to recognising GEP, the judges awarded an honourable mention to BorgouNET in Benin, a small West African country which is one of the most densely-populated on the continent.  BorgouNET has provided a number of towns in North Benin with their only means of sending and receiving email to and from the outside world, owing to the absence of telecommunications infrastructures and the non-digitalisation of telephone lines.

The $7,500 USD APC Hafkin Prize - a biennial award - recognises outstanding examples of African initiatives in information and communications technology (ICTs) for development.  The Theme in 2004-5: Community initiatives that use the internet and other digital communication networks to access markets, skills and opportunities to derive real economic benefits.
Prize Winner - Global Education Partnership - Wundanyi
[email protected]

Honourable mention - BourgouNET

The Hafkin Prize is supported in part by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) is one of the world's leading institutions in the generation and application of new knowledge to meet the challenges of international development. For more than 30 years, IDRC has worked in close collaboration with researchers from the developing world in their search for the means to build a healthier, more equitable, and more prosperous society.
The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is an international network of civil society organisations dedicated to empowering and supporting groups and individuals through the strategic use of information and communication technologies, especially internet-related technologies. APC and its members pioneer practical and relevant uses of ICTs for civil society, especially in developing countries. APC is an international facilitator of civil society's engagement with ICTs and related concerns, in both policy and practice.

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