2007 has been another good year for IJMA3 in the community development sector. The commitment of the international community to meeting the development needs of the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region is strong, and has been confirmed in response to regional developments. IJMA3 is uniquely well positioned to serve as a key implementing partner on many such activities throughout the region. As a result, our positioning at the junction of ICT, development, and the Middle East North Africa region has brought tremendous opportunity to the region.
Six key focus areas have emerged in our development work around the region, including:
Workforce development: Ensuring that the workforce in the MENA region has the requisite skills and job training to be able to take advantage of existing and emerging job opportunities in their home communities. Our work in this sector is not simply reactive to existing employment opportunities. Rather, we have been able to take a proactive approach, preparing job applicants, particularly youth and fresh graduates, for opportunities that have a likelihood of emerging in the future. An example of our work in this sector is the IJMA3 Rebuilding Economic Development (IRED) program currently active in Afghanistan.
Educational services: One of the areas in which ICT can have the most dramatic impact is in upgrading the capacities of schools to undertake their educational missions. We have been very involved, in numerous locations around the region, in upgrading the ICT capacities of schools, both in the hardware available in the schools, and in the ICT skills of school teachers, administrators, and students. As such, we are preparing the next generation of ICT-entrepreneurs throughout the region, allowing ICT to become a universal operating platform, rather than simply a niche industry. An example of our work in this area is the Learning Enhances Awareness (LEA) project currently active in Lebanon.
Business incubation: ICT has an important role to play in incubating small and medium size enterprises (SMEs), both in the ICT sector, and in other industries whose operations are facilitated by an ICT strategy. ICT is an important growth industry in many of the countries around the region, and growth is largely being driven by the SME sector. Often, the difference between a successful and a failed entrepreneurial venture is the availability of the correct support at the appropriate time in a company’s life-cycle. IJMA3 has been able to provide this boost in numerous arenas around the region. An example of our work in this area is the Platform project currently active in Lebanon, and the ICT Incubator currently proposed at a prominent Kabul, Afghanistan university.
Professional training: Many of the countries in which we are active are in, or are emerging from, conflict situations. One of the most effective ways of ensuring that a population moves successfully out of a conflict environment is to maintain a forward-looking outlook, focused on the opportunity of the future rather than the problems of the past. Training for on-the-job skills is a key way of achieving this. Training gives communities a profitable way to spend their time, and allows for a focus on the future to rise out of an otherwise bleak landscape. However, training is not limited to post-conflict areas; all dynamic economies have a need for job skills training, as well as in other areas like language acquisition. IJMA3 has played a lead role in harnessing ICT toward training objectives around the region. An example of our work in this area is the Basra International Training Academy in Basra, Iraq.
Community ICT centers: with the profusion of services and networks available via an ICT-enabled environment, IJMA3 has developed around the region a range of community centers with ICT applications at their core. These centers provide ICT-related services like network access, training, and business support services; but the also provide much more, providing a community access point around which communities can gather. Examples of our work in this area are the PIPOP and PICTA centers in Lebanon.
Civil Society capacity building: Governance and civic participation in governance is a key development challenge, and ICT is uniquely well positioned to engage citizens in governance, and allow citizen voices to coalesce in effective units. IJMA3 has been active in harnessing ICT toward supporting community voices around the region, particularly in supporting capacity building efforts for NGOs. An example of our work in this area is the proposed support of governmental-service kiosks in Egypt.
Harness ICT as development engine: ICT also plays an important role in supporting development projects beyond the specific ICT arena. ICT can support the objectives of projects in other sectors, including community development, administrative reform, and economic development. Projects in which we are involved in harnessing ICT toward the fulfillment of development objectives outside of our particular ICT mandate include the Helmand province agricultural services program in Afghanistan, the Connected Communities project in Lebanon, and the Localizing Institutional Capacity project in Sudan.
These activities have been undertaken for a range of bilateral and multilateral donor organizations, including USAID, DfID, the EU and others. In spite of this diversity, a particularly strong implementing partnership has emerged with the international NGO Mercy Corps. Based in Oregon, USA, Mercy Corps is a global leader in community mobilization and disaster relief. The merger of Mercy Corps’ community mobilization expertise with IJMA3’s expertise in ICT development and promotion has proved to be the exact mix required by numerous development challenges around the region. Our partnership throughout the MENA region is strong, and there is the potential for further cooperation globally. Projects have already been undertaken in countries including Pakistan and Sudan, and the opportunity exists for broadening this cooperation to other areas.
In recent years, the lessening commitment of traditional donor agencies away from traditional development approaches, toward straightforward cash-transfers to governments in exchange for policy reform milestones, threatened organizations with a stake in the development agenda. This year, however, saw the return of a renewed commitment to traditional development project style assistance, on the ground projects led by technical experts focusing on the fulfillment of local development agendas. ICT is an important development field in the MENA region, as it is around the globe, and IJMA3 is well positioned to continue to play an key enabling role in this field well into the future.