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The “meshing” of ideas for rural enterprise development and innovation

posted Oct 20, 2010, 1:34 AM by   [ updated Oct 21, 2010, 7:01 AM by Kobus Roux ‎(Broadband4All)‎ ]

The Wireless Mesh Network (WMN) project team of the CSIR Meraka Institute ventured out to Loospruit Wineries near Nkangala, Mpumalanga, on 13 October 2010. to facilitate a Rural Enterprise Development and Innovation (REDI) Workshop. This is under the auspices of collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and Microsoft South Africa. The workshop was aimed at bringing together ideas and notes from different stakeholders involved in rural development and ICT to contribute to the role of the Village Operators (VOs), and find ways in which the different stakeholders can coordinate to make this project a success.

Meraka established a model of internet connectivity using an innovative combination of wireless mesh technology and free and open source software to connect rural communities to the internet at a lower cost. The network is owned and managed by the VOs, who will focus on integrating different layers of economic needs and opportunities within their community to ensure that the WMN project becomes economically viable.

The project entails testing the WMN in three areas: The Nkangala District, the Sekhukhune District and the John Taolo Gaetsewe District. As of date, there are 19 VOs operating in different sub-areas in the Nkangala district.

These VOs deal on an everyday basis with the technology and work in a business environment. The VOs manage the network in their areas, manage their clusters (connected facilities) and clients, and assist with ICT requirements of their communities.

The overriding challenge that these ambitious young people face is the lack of adequate training across the board about ICT. They often struggle to help clients as they do not have sufficient knowledge on the issue at hand. Shortage of equipment such as extra computers and fax machines for the high throughput of feet that they experience daily, has also become a big challenge because they often disappoint people and lose customers.

They do however see great potential in improving their communities with this technology and believe if all individuals come to the party, that they can grow their own businesses and benefit fellow villagers. Individuals no longer need to travel long distances to metropolitan areas to access governmental services such as home affairs or banking services; these services can be done on-line, saving time, money and other resources.

At the workshop, the VOs called upon the different government and private stakeholders and the project group to support and groom them. By helping to enhance their skills and providing the necessary infrastructure to enable them to run their businesses efficiently, the VOs can respond to the most important task at hand: To service their communities.

This REDI workshop is a step to building the bridge between the different stakeholders involved in the project. The workshop contributed to information gathering for the drawing up of models on how to execute such projects, how to tackle problems and exploit opportunities to eventually build sustainable ICT businesses.

Other participants at the workshop included Dept of Education, Dept of Trade & Industry, SEDA, Local Economic Development from Nkangala, Dept of Communications, Ungana Afrika, and the Universal Service and Access Agency of South Africa (USAASA).

For more information on the project, visit