by Susan Mwape
Many Zambians active in the Information Communication Technology (ICT) sector have come to appreciate the use of open source software; this is software that can be used in Windows and can be acquired freely or at a very minimal cost.
The eRiding project is one project that promotes the use of open source software. A brainchild of Rescue Mission Zambia, the concept came to Zambia sometime in 2003 after an ICT training that was convened by OSISA in Botswana. One of the ICT experts that brought back the idea of the eRiding project to Zambia was Shalala Oliver Sepiso, Executive Director of Rescue Mission Zambia, together with NGOCC the project was set up with NGOCC as the administrator of the project.
eRiding projects aim at understanding potential values of ICTs, integrating ICTs into programs and enhancing ICT components into management. The projects are run by eRiders who are roving technology consultants; these are usually experts, trainers, management consultants and communication strategists. They are referred to as consultants because they "take one through the process" as opposed to "doing for" when it comes to problem solving. The eRiders execute their duties on a one to one basis, helping each one develop and implement ICT strategies tailored to their unique aims and context.
Before the project started, Rescue Mission Zambia carried out a needs assessment exercise among 100 NGOs that had shown interest in the project, to understand how best they (NGOs) could benefit from the eRiding service. A number of NGOs, those that were deemed ready to be in the project and with the highest potential to benefit, were then selected.
The project is housed at NGOCC, where all the project finances are also handled. Since eRiding needs a lot of funding to implement, NGOCC played a crucial role in getting OSISA on board as the sole donor of the project. Though the project was conceptualized by Rescue Mission Zambia, NGOCC is a partner and chairs the governing board of the project, with the project run by a manager from Rescue Mission Zambia.
The project has been running for more than a year now. By the end of March, the 11 NGOs that are currently under the project should be finished; its hope is that by then, a Strategic Technology Plans for these clients would be developed. The eRiding project has helped the NGOs improve their ICT layout and use, trained their staff in basic ICT skills, and helped deploy open source software.
eRiding is still quite new in the world, especially in Africa. The Zambian project is the very first one conceptualized, implemented, and run by Africans. Despite it being a new phenomenon, Zambian NGOs took to it very well. This could be because ICTs, by default, are an attractive area. The project received over 80 applications for participation from Zambian NGOs during the month that followed the call for applications, yet they could only take on the 11 NGOs that are currently being supported.
According to Shalala, Many other NGOs have continuously requested to be included on the project. He hopes the project can get more funding to extend its current clientele and expand its coverage area.
As Project Manager, he hopes to see eRiding becoming the support model of choice by Zambian non-profits whenever they need consultancy in the ICT sector. "I also see this project benefiting many NGOs in Zambia, and that in time, NGOs will have enough skills within their staff not to depend on commercial consultancy to fully enjoy the benefits of ICTs in their work," he said.
According to Shalala's assessment of the project, open source software will become more commonly used among the non-profits in Zambia by the time the project winds up.
"Currently, I would easily say, the project is serving its purpose. But it will need adjustments as we move forward. Later this month (February), I will be attending a Southern African eRiding Experts meeting in Midrand, South Africa, where we shall be looking at expanding the current project and getting funding from the donors who will be in attendance. We shall also be working to expand eRiding to other countries such as Mozambique, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and Lesotho," he said.
As Zambians join the rest of the world in the global village, we should be conscious of ICT projects such as eRiding because that would help us keep abreast with the rest of the world in terms of development. It is good to note that NGOs such as NGOCC and Rescue Mission are playing a major role in bringing ICTs closer to every Zambian.