|Issue:||Asia-Pacific III 2008|
|Topic:||ICT and Afghanistan’s development|
|Organisation:||Roshan, Telecom Development Company Afghanistan Ltd. (TDCA)|
Karim Khoja, is the CEO, of Roshan – the Telecom Development Company Afghanistan Ltd. (TDCA) – Afghanistan’s largest mobile provider. Karim Khoja has served in senior management positions in telecommunications companies for over fifteen years. Mr Khoja was the founding CEO of Mobilink (Pakistan), the Chairman and CEO of EXI Wireless Inc. and a Management Board member of COO Croatian Telecommunication. Karim has also directed marketing and sales strategy for companies such as ERA GSM (Poland), Spectonics Microsystems Ltd, and RAM Mobile Data Ltd. Mr Khoja earned an AMP in the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School, Harvard University, holds an mSc. D.I.C. in Management Science from Imperial College, University of London, and a BSc (Honours) in Biochemistry, Chelsea College, University of London.
Afghanistan, devastated by decades of conflict, is struggling to rebuild. Wireless Internet has helped leapfrog Afghanistan’s telecommunications into the 21st century, providing the infrastructure for social and economic development and growth. Programmes such as telemedicine, e-learning and One Laptop per Child have been of inestimable value. The telemedicine programme ties Afghanistan hospitals with those in other countries for highly specialised support, e-education is preparing Afghanistan for participation in the information economy, and wireless is integrating isolated communities into the economy.
Internet technology provides access, and access to information, people and communities is the key to empowering millions in Afghanistan and billions around the world to improve their lives. For a country like Afghanistan, devastated by decades of conflict and struggling to rebuild, internet technology is a power that can be harnessed for the greater good. The latest wireless technology has helped leapfrog Afghanistan’s telecommunications system into the 21st century, creating an infrastructure that is vital to the country’s growth and development of society and the economy. Under the Taliban, computers were banned for any non-UN or non-governmental use. Internet access and usage in urban and rural Afghanistan still lags behind neighbouring countries and is limited by several factors, including network coverage, cost and availability of computers. Yet studies show that Internet access can be a significant enabler for education, communication and business. Internet usage skills are increasingly important for foreign investment, employment creation and an effective workforce. Few aspects of life are untouched by the benefits of mobile technology, which provides the ability to communicate easily and cheaply. Families displaced or dispersed by conflict can remain connected. Commerce, the lifeblood of a nation’s economy, can grow as business owners are better able to search for the best prices, are aware of when goods will be received and do not have to close down their shops to meet with suppliers. Isolated villages and communities can be better integrated into the fabric of the nation and the economy. Our determination to provide technology solutions to meet the nation’s needs is matched by our commitment to building Afghanistan’s human capacity. Our Corporate Social Responsibility department has developed and supported a wide range of social programmes aimed at leveraging Internet and wireless technology to improve the well-being of the people of Afghanistan. These programmes focus on the key areas of commerce, health, social welfare and education. From telemedicine initiatives that link hospitals in Afghanistan with international medical centres, to laptop connectivity initiatives, to e-learning related programmes, the success of mobile technology is making a difference in people’s lives. Telemedicine Improving the medical system in Afghanistan, where healthcare statistics paint a grim picture, is an urgent priority. The country has one of the world’s highest infant and maternal mortality rates, one in four children does not reach the age of five, and one of the lowest average life expectancy rates at 43 years. In some districts, there is only one doctor for 50 thousand people compared to one for 303 in France and one for 356 in the USA. Some large districts in Afghanistan do not have even one medical doctor. Afghans who seek treatment have to settle for mediocre care or cross neighbouring borders to access healthcare at great expense – often requiring a lifetime of work to repay. Barriers to developing the medical system in Afghanistan are numerous. In the past 23 years of war, most hospitals in the country have been destroyed, there is a deficit of skilled medical expertise and there are limited ongoing training programmes in the sector. A volatile security environment and the language barrier contribute to a lack of expatriates relocating to Afghanistan. An innovative telemedicine project leverages the nationwide telecommunications infrastructure to improve Afghanistan’s healthcare system. The telemedicine solution links hospitals throughout Afghanistan to specialist diagnosis and training resources provided by international medical facilities. Roshan has partnered with the Government of Afghanistan, the Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH) in Karachi, The French Medical Institute for Children (FMIC) in Kabul, Cisco Systems and other telecoms suppliers to undertake the project, which will involve unprecedented cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan to improve delivery of healthcare in the region. Presently, AKUH in Karachi is connected to FMIC in Kabul. Utilizing broad coverage and secure, reliable and trusted networks to connect hospitals across difficult and remote terrain, telemedicine uses broadband technology to provide real-time, high-speed access for the transfer of medical imaging, video, data and voice transmission. Through the digital transfer of CT scans and other medical imaging, this technology will allow specialist and remote diagnosis of many medical conditions that can then be treated successfully in Afghanistan. It will also provide video conferencing services for training, lecturing and procedure and diagnostic supervision that will help to develop and build Afghanistan’s medical capacity and resources. The telemedicine link currently facilitates medical care for 40 cases per month, 2 teleconferences per week and 2 e-lectures per week through the current link between AKUH Karachi and FMIC Kabul. The second phase of the initiative, scheduled for completion by December 2008, will provide a link between FMIC and Bamiyan Hospital in the largest region of central Afghanistan. The third phase of the initiative will link other regional hospitals to FMIC. One Laptop per Child Today, Internet access and training in Afghanistan is limited by the high cost of connectivity and computers. Increasing the number of laptops in Afghanistan will create many opportunities for Afghan youth to learn and connect with contemporaries in other countries. The use of laptops and Internet connections is potentially a faster and significantly less expensive educational resource than building and equipping schools and hiring teachers and administrators. By empowering youth to educate themselves, a new generation will ultimately be better prepared to tackle peace-building challenges in Afghanistan, as well as other issues including poverty, malnutrition and disease. Numerous studies have already shown the developmental impact of this strategy and the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) Foundation, a US non-profit organization dedicated to the design, manufacture and distribution of low-cost laptop computers as a critical tool in eradicating poverty, is contributing 10,000 laptops to a public-private partnership in Afghanistan. This partnership includes the OLPC Foundation, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, USAID, the Afghanistan Small and Medium Enterprise Development and Roshan. We are also working to develop a small network of Internet training facilities, but the demand is huge and in need of significant funding. Now, with the contribution of ten thousand low-cost laptops, there will be considerable opportunity to showcase the educational and developmental impact of low-cost computing and communications access. We are committed to working with the partnership to improve the information technology infrastructure of Afghanistan through this initiative, with the ultimate goal of increasing educational opportunities for the youth of Afghanistan. The company will donate 1,000 laptops and will provide other management support to the project as required. The company is also working to extend its support and counsel to installation teams responsible for implementation of networking infrastructure and internet connectivity systems. E-learning centers We are also working to build human capacity and empower local populations through the creation of its e-learning centres and through a partnership with Cisco’s Net Academies. Presently, there are computer and IT training laboratories funded in Bamyan, Timany, Charkala, and at the Kandahar Women’s Center and Net Academies in Kabul and Mazar. Centres are mainly targeted towards women and in Timany and Charkala also towards children. Conquering technical illiteracy and empowering communities to obtain education as a means to financially support and lift themselves out of the poverty cycle, is something that these types of initiatives strive towards. The centres are equipped with modern wireless technologies and wireless connectivity and in some cases computer equipment. The centres arrange training. Every three months, 35 women graduate from a variety of technical programmes at the e-learning centres, which trains them in professional skills much needed by businesses. Additionally, every three to six months, 120 women graduate from the Roshan/Cisco Net Academies. Using the skills learned, women can generate income to provide education for their children and ultimately improve their livelihoods. Sixty per cent of course participants are women, demonstrating the programme’s commitment to encourage and develop the skills of women in technology Few aspects of life are untouched by the ability to communicate easily and cheaply made possible by Internet technology, whether through crucially needed remote medical diagnosis and programmes such as the telemedicine initiative or by empowering the next generation of Afghans to self-educate and connect with others internationally. Internet technology allows limitless opportunities for the development of Afghanistan’s future.