Thursday, March 15, 2007

Community Multimedia Centres

Image: UNESCO website

The UNESCO supported "Community Multimedia Centers" are community-based facilities offering both community radio broadcasting and telecenter services. Radio broadcasts by local people in local languages are now possible at low cost due to the development of small, inexpensive, easy-to-operate broadcast facilities. In Africa and other regions, where languages are spoken and national broadcast networks are weak, community radio provides a new and important medium for communication of news, information, and entertainment. The radio not only informs, educates and entertains, but it also empowers the community by giving a strong public voice to the voiceless, and thus encouraging greater accountability in public affairs.

Community telecenter facilities include phone, fax and photocopying services as well as computers linked to the Internet and e-mail. For poor communities in developing nations, they can provide an affordable information lifeline. Individuals and families can use these facilities, which can often have great economic value or indeed be lifesaving. So too, the schools, health centers, agricultural cooperatives, and businesses in a community find such connectivity valuable. Combining together, these users can often more than afford a service which none alone could justify.

Combining community radio and telecenter functions realizes synergies between the two functions. The radio operator has immediate Internet access and communications, vastly enriching broadcast content. The telecenter can broadcast information it receives of general interest, such as weather reports and market prices. There are also economic efficiencies in colatacting the two.

This UNESCO initiative showing the world the power of CMCs is in its fifth year of operation, with 39 pilot CMCs established in communities across Latin America/Caribbean, Africa and South Asia.

The external evaluation of the program finds:
• The CMCs are accepted by and fully integrated into the communities and can in many cases be sustained beyond the pilot phase without core operating grants. The effort and funding that UNESCO has channeled into this transformative initiative has been exceeded by the hard work and commitment of the CMC staff and the communities where they are based. Their contribution to improving quality of life through access to information is confirmed. Equitable and expanded access to ICTS is promoted in many ways, such as subsidized training for special, marginalized groups, close work with schools, small businesses and the independent sector or providing information to more remote communities through radio.

• Longer term benefits are already being realized within individual communities, such as the gradual removal of barriers to social inclusion, the stimulation of poverty alleviation through access to knowledge of better health, resource management and agriculture practices, through the establishment of listeners clubs as self help groups (a direct connection between CMC work and the generation of income from small savings and credit operations), and the creation of new livelihoods opportunities. The CMC role in fostering cultural resilience – the capacity of a community to retain critical knowledge and at the same time adapt to external influences and pressures - is particularly remarkable.

• The evaluation identifies the following success factors for CMCs: building on an existing facility; ownership and/or long term community commitment; good integration of radio and telecentre components; an orientation to development; diversification of content to meet community needs, including promotion of local culture; access to tools and expertise developed by UNESCO and others; diversification of revenues, including capacity to approach local/national governments for delivery of services and the international donor community for project funding.

• UNESCO was commended by key informants for excellence in delivery of the initiative. The CI sector effectively deployed a “rapid results” approach, planning each CMC as a “mini-project” with the elements of small scale, results orientation, rapid implementation and vertical integration of objectives and tasks within each project.

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