Pamoja Net – A community commons

Pamoja means “Togetherness” in Swahili.  Just as the internet brings people together, the organisational philosophy behind our work is collective at it’s heart.  Additionally to providing public access internet to Idjwi for the first time, we delivered:

  • An organisational manifesto, signed by the king of the island, to keep information access on our network a publically owned commons.
  • Training for local people with the skills required, to maintain the network themselves.
  • A website, allowing people to attend cultural & educational events, movie and educational screenings and book training in the Microsoft Office suite, thus improving employment opportunities.
  • Full time employment for 4 network guardians, ensuring female representation, to keep the service diverse at its roots.

meeting

  • Free access to a selection of local news, entertainment, weather, health and educational websites in local languages.
  • Internet safety posters for those with low reading capability, and low digital literacy, guiding the uninitiated on how to protect themselves online.

poster-install

  • A captive portal and accompanying android application that allows guardians to sell internet access at a 90% more affordable rate than that provided by 2G Telcos. Our manifesto pledges that any profits will be used to maintain the network.
  • In our kiosk are, 5 permanently installed Microsoft tablets allowing anyone the potential to experience the internet whether or not they can afford a device.

Pamoja Net has got a warm welcome from Idjwi and the reactions from the community has been overwhelmingly positive. We have over 200 user per month, and they come from all over the island. People are walking up to 15 kilometers to use the service, staying overnight with local people before walking home the next day.

Our Network Guardians talk to visitors, to find out how people use the service, and send us weekly reports of their observations. So far, Pamoja Net has been used by the police department, the local radio station, the local church, school teachers, and by CENI, Commission Électorale Nationale Indépendante – the body that runs elections in the DRC.

pamoja

As many people to travel far to use Pamoja Net, many have been asking: ‘Will Pamoja Net arrive to other locations?’

Our goal is to connect the whole island, and in August we took the first step to expand the network. 6 WiFI masts on the island now connect two market towns, a hospital, and a women’s textile manufacturing collective.

“Pamoja Net helps us be more informed about what is happening around us, both in our country and abroad. It helps us participate in the development of our country.” – Isidor, primary school teacher

Towards financial sustainability

To secure the future of Pamoja Net, we are working to make the network self-sustainable.

The Pamoja Pay-As-You-Go payment system is now up and running, and people with their own devices log in through the Pamoja Portal. For those who don’t own their own devices, Windows Tablets that can be rented per hour just arrived to the kiosk.

pamoja-portal-1

Our network guardians manage both Pay-As-You-Go internet access and device rental. The guardians set up the user accounts in an Andriod app and hand out access codes. All Internet access is payed for with cash, as few islanders have bank accounts. Compared to mobile airtime which costs around $80 a month (equal to a month salary on Idjwi), Pamoja Net is very affordable. For just $3, you get a month internet access.

At the moment, we are looking for some funding partners to help Pamoja Net cover its costs for the next 12 months, until the network grows enough in capability and reach to become self-sustainable.

Enabling online literacy and education

As many islanders have little previous experience of the web, it was important for us to help make their first experience as good as possible. We collected a set of popular websites with local news, education and health information. These sites are free to access through the Pamoja Portal.

pamoja-portal-2

We have designed and translated a set of posters that help you how to stay safe online, recognise spam and understand the powerful broadcast implications of social media. They posters are illustrated and written in plain language, so those with limited literacy skills also can understand the content.

The new Windows Tablets come loaded with Microsoft Office, and we are working with the IT entrepreneur Innocent, our partner in Bukawi, to arrange courses in both online literacy and Microsoft Office on Idjwi soon. Proficiency in the Microsoft Office Suite is a very sought after skill in the DRC, so knowing their way around in Word, Excel and PowerPoint will help the islanders find employment.

Ongoing Research

With the Pamoja Net expansion started, we have begun to explore new service concepts that will improve life for the people of Idjwi.

In our initial research, enabling trade was highlighted as one of the most important outcomes of connecting Idjwi. The new trade service needs to suit Idjwi’s light bandwidth, as well as the local culture of conducting business.

Representatives from the women’s textile collective and Chance Urbain, who has extensive knowledge of the coffee trade on Idjwi, have started to do local research and help us exploring what this trade service could look like.

ufin