|Issue:||Africa and the Middle East 2004|
|Topic:||Closing the Technology Skills Gap for Sustainable Development in Africa|
|Title:||Vice-President, Europe, the Middle East and Africa|
Reza Mahdavi is Cisco Systems Vice-President of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. As a Vice-President of Emerging and Developing Markets he has helped create a culture that builds partnerships with government and business leadership teams. He is considered a trusted advisor to many senior government and business leaders and is a permanent member of the Presidential Advisory Council for President Mbeki of South Africa. Mr Mahdavi was named Vice-President of the Year 2002 by the Cisco’s board. Before joining Cisco, Mr Mahdavi was a Director at nCube, a provider of massively parallel architecture systems for interactive television, multimedia and data warehousing. Mr Mahdavi spent several years early in his career at Sequent Systems and at CLSI. Mr Mahdavi holds a BSc in Computer Science from Massachusetts University at Bridgewater and resides in Paris, France.
Technology is seen as the key to bridging the digital divide. International agencies, in strategic partnerships with businesses, have developed and funded projects to help train students in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs). These programmes use e-learning tools to deliver Web-based educational content, provide online testing, track student performance and support hands-on labs and instructor training. Other such initiatives train government officials, provide an information-sharing network for schools, connect LDCs’ agricultural institutes and provide hospitals with life-saving health education.
The Digital Divide and how to end it, is a theme that constantly tops the development agenda for Africa – and technology is seen as a key to closing that gap. It is not simply about giving computers to village schools; it is about Web-enabling entire countries so they can enter the information age and compete economically on the global stage. Moreover, it is not just about hardware and software. Leaders and experts increasingly recognise that a vital ingredient for creating an information society is the human resource capacity in a country – in other words, you need skilled people if you are to independently build and maintain communications networks that will connect your businesses, governments, schools, hospitals and citizens to each other and to the rest of the world. For that, it is necessary to provide accessible and affordable training. In July 2000, following the G-8 Summit, Cisco Systems, Inc., the United Nations Development Programme, the US Agency for International Development and the United Nations Volunteers announced the formation of a strategic partnership to help train students in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) for jobs in the Internet economy. An initial investment of $3.5 million established the global Cisco Networking Academy Programme in LDCs, a comprehensive, eight-course, 560-hour curriculum that trains students and in-transition workers how to design, build and maintain computer networks. Employing an e-learning model, the Networking Academies deliver Web-based educational content, online testing, student performance tracking, hands-on labs and instructor training and support. The LDC initiative provides a compelling example of how business, international organisations and governments can work together to meet the urgent needs of LDCs and promote digital opportunity. We rely upon the expertise and local relationships of its partners to facilitate implementation of the Networking Academy Programme in LDCs. By the end of last year, the Networking Academy Programme had expanded to include 40 of the 49 LDCs, surpassing the initial goal of 24. An additional 13 non-LDCs in Africa are participating in the LDC initiative. The initiative has been further strengthened by the addition of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) in 2002 and their Internet Training Centres Initiative for Developing Countries, which had a set of more specific goals to: Establish 50 Internet Training Centres across the globe by end of 2003, targeting Least Developed Countries where possible Train a minimum of 50 students per institution in the Certified Network Associate curriculum annually Achieve 30 per cent female enrolment Strengthen the Internet and networking skills of the staff within national telecommunication companies. Many of the goals have already been reached – or in some cases exceeded. The Internet Training Centres Initiative has established 55 centres and more than 2,500 students have enrolled so far, of which 30 per cent are female. Additionally, 18 per cent of the 147 instructors trained to date are also female and 181 people have graduated. People who have benefited include a woman in her forties working for a media services company in Uganda, who achieved her Certified Network Associate certification at the Makerere University in Kampala. Her company was expanding into computer networking. Not only did she learn the skills to network her company’s computers, but also to give advice to my clients on computer specifications and to introduce and set up LANs for organisations, companies and schools. Another student from Makere University, who had recently lost the use of his right hand in a sporting accident, believed his mission after graduating was to enhance education in African communities, starting with his home country, Uganda. He wanted to reach out to communities through electronic means, give them hope and prove that even with a physical disability it is still their right to be educated. Then there is the example of the woman in Rwanda who won a scholarship to study at the Networking Academy Programme at Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, 1,000 miles from her home and her husband. She took the opportunity, despite being pregnant with twin boys and knowing she would give birth whilst studying. Her goal was to use the knowledge she gained to help many women in Rwanda learn a skill that could help raise them out of poverty and contribute to the rebuilding of their country. These stories are all testaments to the changes affordable and accessible training can make to people’s lives and to the benefits training can bring the economies of the student’s countries. Most of the students want to remain in their countries and make a contribution to their country’s development. At the World Summit for the Information Society in Geneva last December, Cisco and the ITU signed a Memorandum of Understanding to open 20 more Internet Training Centres in developing countries. This extended collaboration includes establishing 20 new centres in Ministries of Communications, or their equivalent, all running the Networking Academy Programme and using a ‘train the trainers’ approach to prepare institutions for the delivery of Academy courses to students. Of the 20 new centres, half will be in the Central and Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa region. In addition, we are working with the ITU to extend the curriculum in 20 of the best-performing Academies currently within the ITCI, to enhance the IT competencies of students. The expanded Academy curricula – sponsored by HP, Panduit and Sun – will cover PC hardware and software, network operating systems, fundamentals of voice and data cabling systems and UNIX and Java programming besides the Certified Network Associate course. The ITU believes governments in developing countries recognise the importance of having skilled professionals to help them bridge the digital divide and always welcome the opportunity to have adequate IT training facilities to train their own staff responsible for telecommunications policy. One of the ITU’s goals for the Internet Training Centres Initiative is to strengthen Internet skills on a large scale. It believes extending the initiative to include government officials can only benefit the economy of each country. No one is suggesting that technology is more important than food, water, medicine and electricity, but it is a key to increasing a nation’s productivity and, in turn, boosting its GDP. A productive, connected country invites investment – which in turn boosts the economy. Look at the example of Ethiopia; it wishes to transform itself from an agrarian economy to an information economy. Ethiopia is starting its transformation with an e-government initiative that will connect 600 regional government offices, some of them very isolated, to the central government offices in Addis Ababa. Other initiatives include: building an information-sharing network for schools; a scheme to connect 32 agricultural institutes around the country and a project aimed at connecting 100 regional hospitals, enabling them to share life-saving health education. People with the right IT skills are an essential part of projects like these. The technology cannot do it alone. With properly trained people, anything is possible.