Mali: Selected Snapshots of the 12,000 CLIC Clients (dot-ORG)
In May 2004, twelve Community Learning and Information Centers (CLICs)opened their doors to the communities they were meant to serve in a mix of urban and rural areas across Mali with funding from USAID's Mali Mission. A thirteenth CLIC opened its doors in late 2004. CLICs are community- based telecenters providing information and communication services and locally relevant content to support other USAID efforts in sectors such as education, health and local governance.
After 10 months of operation, most of the CLICs are taking off. If the CLICs struggled through the first 5 months, they are now clearly making progress in terms of the number of clients and revenues. The installation of VSAT connections in all thirteen CLICs in December/January has no doubt contributed to the surge in clients in the past couple of months.
While it is too early to suggest that the CLICs are now financially autonomous, many of them are progressing in that direction. Key to their sustainability is their ability to serve the needs of various segments of the local community. Since the beginning of the project, a strong emphasis was placed on the need to structure the CLICs in such a way that they serve the local community and are clearly differentiated from cybercafes both in the range of services they provide and in the range of clients they serve. This article provides snapshots of CLIC clients encountered during recent visits to seven of the thirteen CLICs.
Who are the clients?
Out of the more than 12,000 clients who have walked in the doors of CLICs to avail themselves of their services, thirteen percent (13%) were women. This aggregate number hides a couple of important facts, however:
Secondary school students
Moussa Oulalé comes to the Ségou CLIC to study for his high school graduation exams. He is in his senior year at the Lyçée Michel Alain in Ségou and came to consult the list of useful URLs that was put together by AED's local partner, INAGEF. A regular client, Moussa walked in on a Saturday at 6pm and asked for an hour of Internet connection at 500 FCFA (~ $1.00) This hourly fee is very low compared to what other CLICs are charging (mostly 1500 FCFA/hour or $3 per hour) because the competition is charging 1000 FCFA per hour and offers a faster service. The CLICs comparative advantage, however, is the quality of service and extensive support provided by the manager, intern and Peace Corps volunteer who supports the CLIC on a part-time basis.
In many CLICs, students have largely benefited from the vouchers that were distributed between October and December 2004. These vouchers allowed many youths to be introduced to the CLICs services. Common uses of the vouchers by students included 1) access to the Encarta encyclopedia; 2) basic training in Word and Excel.
Amadou Cissé and Moctar Cissé who explained that they may share the same last name but they are not brothers come to the Djenné CLIC almost daily. Both men are tour guides in Djenné and they use the CLIC almost daily to communicate with clients and friends via email. Amadou (in the front), has been a regular client since the CLIC opened in May 2004. He suggested to the managers that they sell prepaid tickets at a discount for regular clients like himself, a pricing innovation that has been implemented and that is very popular.
Tourists and expatriates
The tourist season spans from December to February. Some of the 13 CLICs benefit heavily from their presence and their use of the Internet. This is a double-edge sword, however. 1) The tourist season is short and the CLICs must be careful not to make income projections based on that period; 2) CLICs are meant to serve the community and should not be seen as just another cybercafe. A CLIC that serves primarily tourists and expatriates may be profitable but it will not be a successful CLIC.
CLICs can also benefit more indirectly from the tourism industry. In Djenné, the CLIC provided all the posters, tickets and badges that were made for the Djenné Festival that took place at the end of February. The services were paid for by the local Festival organizers who themselves rely on the tickets sales to tourists as a source of revenues. The key is for the CLICs to position themselves to be able to take advantage of such opportunities when they emerge.
Local civil servants
Four of the 13 CLICs are hosted by Mayors offices. In such cases, the CLIC provides easy access to a range of information and communication services for the local administration. Word processing and photocopying services are particularly popular. The host organization pays for the services just as a regular client would but the time saving advantages are significant. Even where the CLIC is not hosted by the Mayors office, the local civil servants use the services of the CLIC. In Djenné, the CLIC is hosted by the only local radio station, Radio Jamana-Djenné. The local prefet (head of the local government) uses the CLIC for all its word processing and photocopying needs.
The professional woman
Mrs. Kinta Badji Maharafa at the Djenné CLIC. Mrs. Maharafa works as a consultant for a French organization called Association Ille-Et-Villaine/Mopti. She has a computer at home but comes to the CLIC for the Internet connection. "There are not enough women coming the CLIC," Mrs. Maharafa says. "We can't move forward without the women. Mrs. Maharafa is not a typical client since most are men, but rather a typical woman client, well educated and already quite computer literate.
The local artist
Djimé Diakite is not a typical user but demonstrates the CLICs potential to benefit a broad range of individuals within Malian communities. Mr. Diakite is an agro-engineer by training and artist/painter by vocation. He comes to the CLIC in Bougouni to work on his web site and to try to share his artwork across the world through the Internet and he loves to talk about his art.
This poster depicting a traditional mask was scanned at the CLIC and with the help of a technology savvy CLIC intern, posted on Djimé Diakites web site.
While it is too early to claim complete success, most of the CLICs have made significant strides in attracting a regular clientele to use their services.In the near future, the CLICs will need to consolidate their gains in terms of clientele, to watch more closely which services are profitable and which are not, to continue outreach efforts towards women and other disadvantaged groups, to make more effective use of the locally relevant content they have accumulated, and to continuously improve their monitoring systems.
(Look for a more complete report based on a recent monitoring and evaluation trip in the library)
AED was awarded the Mali CLIC Project for a period of two years between May 2003 - May 2005 (Award No. 688-G-00-03-00038-00 under the dot-ORG Leader Award No.GDG-A-00-01-00014-00).