Leading ICT for Development organisation, Sarvodaya-Fusion, has been celebrated for its pioneering work with rural communities this week. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) detailed Fusion’s work within their annual Information and Economy Report that investigates the progress of the software industry in developing countries. It is the first time that Sri Lanka has been featured in the UNCTAD report and represents  a unique opportunity to showcase how ICT can be used to support development in the country.

The official Sri Lankan launch of the report featured a head table of Mr Dinesh Saparamadu (CEO, hSenid), Reshan Dewapura (CEO, ICTA), Mr Dumindra Ratnayaka (Etisalat CEO), Dr Subinay Nandy (United Nations Sri Lanka), Dr Harsha Liyanage (eNovation 4D & Sarvodaya Fusion), Isura Silva (Manager, Sarvodaya-Fusion)

Sri Lanka’s rural communities have been the beneficiaries of a world beating scheme that has introduced smart devices such as phones and tabs to locations across the island.  The 2012 report acknowledges the innovative grassroots project that has been developed by the organisation through the use of Smart devices such as Android mobile phones and tablets. According to the report, the project played an important in the establishment of a unique eco system that has helped develop a series of locally relevant mobile applications.

Isura Silva, Manager of Sarvodaya-Fusion, commented on the report by saying “It is obviously a tremendous honour for our small organisation to be acknowledged by the UN. This is a moment that can be celebrated by Sri Lankan’s everywhere as we are truly leading the world in demonstrating how emergent technologies can be used to make the lives of deprived communities better.”

“It has been a wonderful experience for us working with these different communities across Sri Lanka. They have welcomed us into their homes and have really inspired us with what they have achieved and what they want to do with the equipment. We have been working to show them the different things that can be done, but we have been amazed at how quickly they have utilised the technology for a huge array of different things.”

“The technology has been used to reduce journeys by providing information in their own homes, it has been used to support young people to learn and study, it has helped some people to improve the language and spelling skills. The opportunities are endless and this is really just the start of our Smart Village programmes. With the support of the business community in Sri Lanka we hope that this scheme can grow to even further. In time we hope that you will be able to find a shared smart device in every rural community on the island. That is our dream”.

The project was launched in 2011 as a partnership between Sarvodaya-Fusion and Etisalat who supplied pre-paid sim card for the different devices. Individuals and groups from each location have been able to use the portable devices as part of a shared community resource, the first time in the world that mobile technology has been used in such a way.

Etisalat CEO Dumindra Ratnayaka spoke to the packed conference hall “This project has really enabled us to overcome the lack of internet penetration in many parts of the country and provide solutions to rural communities directly. Working with Sarvodaya-Fusion has enabled us to reach the grassroots of communities in Sri Lanka and demonstrate the true power and opportunities that the internet can provide. With the internet we can communicate better, we can connect communities through social media and spur economic development by tapping into the information economy.”

Reshan Dewapura CEO of ICTA, Sri Lanka’s Information and Communication Technology Agency, spoke at the event saying “the value of partnerships like those between Sarvodaya-Fusion and Etisalat are tremendously important and offer great value for the country. It shows how we can find a synergy and come together to move forward towards the country’s development goals faster than solely relying on government.”

Asked about the important of ICT as a tool for development Mr Dewapura replied “Ten years ago I would have said it was important, today I would say it is mandatory. ICT is all around us like the air we breathe. It creates development opportunities right across the spectrum from bettering people’s health to decreasing corruption, and from increasing efficiency to improving the quality of life of people throughout the island.”

The joint ICT for development project between Etisalat and Sarvodaya-Fusion known as Android Village Hubs is set to be extended in the coming months to a total of twelve locations.