Editorial: Focus on Sustainability

The path to a successful and long-lived project is complex and cannot be prescribed by others than those seeking the path.
Steve Cisler
Sustainability as a symptom of the short-term project approach to development
Development projects have start and end dates that usually correspond to the beginning and end of financial support. In between those two dates, money flows to the project, activities are undertaken. One of the project’s objectives may be that it becomes sustainable. One of its proposed activities may be to develop a sustainability plan. There may be expectations or hopes of additional funding if the project is able to show some quick positive results yet requires additional support for benefits to be sustained or expanded. Given the short life-span of many projects, it is safe to say that it is never too late to start thinking about how what was started under a project will be continued beyond the project’s life.

Sustainability is not something that concerns only ICT projects. All development projects need to be concerned about sustainability. Yet ICT projects bring up specific sustainability challenges.

Looking beyond financial sustainability
This is not the place to debate the meaning of sustainability. It should be sufficient to note that sustainability, in this issue of the DOT-COMments newsletter, goes beyond financial sustainability.

A solution for telecentre sustainability emerges when one looks further than simple financial sustainability and widens the understanding of sustainability in such a way that it includes, besides financial sustainability, social, political, cultural and technical sustainability as elements of equal value.
Klaus Stoll
The articles in this issue of the DOT-COMments newsletter do not cover all aspects of sustainability. Instead, they offer snapshots of what sustainability means in different project contexts.

Beyond the project and beyond sustainability - metamorphosis
The Enlace Quiche project was started under the USAID-funded LearnLink program, further supported under the more recent DOT-COM Alliance. This “project” illustrates well how a project can show initial positive results that encourage a funder to provide continued funding under a follow-on project, giving additional time for the “project” to transform itself into a non-governmental organization. What was “Enlace Quiché”, the project is now “Asociación Ajb’atz’ Enlace Quiché”, operating on its own as an independent NGO in Guatemala.

Read Enlace Quiché: Metamorphosis from dot-EDU Project to Guatemalan NGO to learn more about this project’s transformation.

Instead of simply looking at whether a project is generating sufficient financial resources to cover its recurring costs, should we not be also looking at the sustainability of a project’s impact? Projects with significant training components are a good example. The average short-term training program results in very short-term gains. A well designed training program results in transformation, with life-long benefits. The project has achieved what it needed to achieve and has transformed the lives of the participants. Now the challenge is one of replication and scale rather than simply sustainability. Programa para o futuro, the IT employability training implemented in Brazil’s Recife (featured most recently in the Fall 2004 edition of DOT-COMments), closed at the end of October 2004. A recent reunion of many of its participants suggested that the networking and transformation facilitated by the project are likely to be self-sustaining. The remaining challenge is to replicate and scale up to expand the project’s benefits to many more participants. This would involve carefully balancing the need to allocate sufficient funding to have a quality training program on the one hand and the need to develop a model that is cost- effective so host governments can afford to support it in many locations.

Read about the Programa para o futuro reunion that took place in early December 2004.

To charge or not to charge….. is that the real question?
When computer labs in schools or other educational institutions open their doors to the community at large and start to charge user fees to cover recurring costs, there is a risk of losing track of the educational objectives of the computer labs. While such a solution may be appropriate in some settings, it is not always the only solution or the most appropriate solution for computer labs in educational institutions. In Uganda, the Primary Teachers Colleges (PTCs) have been struggling to develop sustainability plans. While opening up computer access to the community to charge fees was considered an option, it was ultimately rejected. Until recently, the PTCs’ prospects for sustainability were bleak.

Read Technology Centers in Ugandan Teacher Training Colleges Take Major Step toward Sustainability to learn about some positive developments. In this case, policy aspects of sustainability were at play.

Rwanda’s Community Internet Centers are run by private entrepreneurs. While we may hope that they have some development objectives in mind, their primary objective is to generate enough revenues to stay profitable. Here the question is not to charge or not to charge but rather how to operate effectively as a small private entrepreneur.

Read Local Entrepreneurial Skills & Sustainability in Rwanda’s Community Internet Centers to learn more about how local entrepreneurs are learning skills essential to ensure the sustainability of the CICs.

Technology & the total cost of ownership
At times, technology choices and the total cost of ownership associated with such choices over time have a significant impact on financial sustainability. For private entrepreneurs operating under a business model, financial sustainability is essential. For example, a combination of more energy efficient hardware and power-back up systems create both cost savings and opportunities for increased revenues.

Read Rwanda: The Power to Succeed to learn more about how energy solutions and technology choices can impact the sustainability of Rwanda’s Community Internet Centers (CICs).

Knowledge networks
While each project may have to develop its own unique path towards sustainability (as Steve Cisler’s words suggest at the beginning of this editorial), there is no reason for each project to try to reinvent the wheel and search for its own path in isolation. Online communities such as those fostered and nurtured through the Global Knowledge for Development (GKD) discussion list are a valuable resource for many around the world who seek that path.

Read The Global Knowledge Development Forum: A unique learning community and DOT-COM partner to learn more about how the GKD list supports knowledge networking.

ICT policy and Sustainability
dot-GOV promotes policy and regulatory reform to create enabling environment for ICT. In this context, two questions relate to sustainability: 1) What does it take to make ICT policy reform sustainable? What is the impact of ICT policy and policy reforms on the sustainability of efforts to bridge the digital divide and to make effective use of ICT to tackle development challenges?

Read ICT Policy and Sustainability: Two Perspectives to learn more about dot-GOV’s approach to sustainability.

For More Information, Contact:
Barbara Fillip
Evaluation & Communication Specialist, DOT-COM
Academy for Educational Development
Tel: 202 884-8003

Related DOT-COM Activity
Brazil - Programa Para o Futuro

Rwanda - ICTs for Elections and Community Access

Guatemala - Proyecto Enlace Quiche

Uganda - Connect-ED Phase II
Related DOT-COMments Newsletter Articles
Related Links
  • Schools Online Planning for Sustainability: How to keep your ICT project running
  • Telecentres Sustainability: What does it mean?
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Click on Internews Network logo, to visit Internews
Click on Academy for Educational Development (AED) logo to visit AED
Click on Educational Development Center (EDC) logo to visit EDC
Core funding for the DOT-COM Alliance is provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), Bureau for Economic Growth, Agriculture & Trade, Office of Infrastructure and Engineering (EGAT/OI&E), Office of Education (EGAT/ED), and Office of Women in Development (EGAT/WID), under the terms of Award numbers: GDG-A-00-01-00009-00, dot-GOV; GDG-A-00-01-00014-00, dot-ORG; GDG-A-00-01-00011-00, dot-EDU.
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