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Internet Now! getting northern Uganda villagers online

Internet Now! is an Oxfam project to connect 100 villages in northern Uganda with high speed internet.

Dennis. Photo: Grace Cahill/Oxfam
Dennis works at one of the Internet Now! microcentres

Dennis is a law student not just using the internet to do his studies but to fund them too.  Since starting his degree four years ago, he has struggled to find enough money for his education and is currently taking a year out of his degree to save.  In fact, since the age of twelve he worked as a farm labourer doing backbreaking work, planting crops and brick-laying, to pay for his schooling himself, not having been fortunate enough to receive help from his family.  But now he is earning money for his education by working at one of Internet Now!’s micro-centres in the trading village of Awach, northern Uganda. By working Monday to Friday, Dennis earns 270,000 Ugandan Shillings ($104) a month and is able to save roughly half to go towards his degree.

Internet Now! is an Oxfam project which is connecting 100 villages with the internet in areas of northern Uganda. Dennis works at one of the newly established micro-centres, small metal containers housing 5-6 computers.

Inside an Internet Now! supercentre in Gulu University. Photo: James Akena/Oxfam
Inside an Internet Now! supercentre in Gulu University

Local young people aged between 18 to 30 years, an age group severely affected by unemployment in the region (which was ravaged by years of war with the LRA) , are employed to do “microwork” at the centres.  Microwork is a type of business process outsourcing, breaking large cloud-based tasks down into several parts.  Internet Now! is being funded by Oxfam until the 100 centres are established by the end of 2014, when it will run as an independent social enterprise.

Like many young people involved in Internet Now!, Dennis has big plans for how he can transform the fate of his fellow people living in Acholi sub-region.  Dennis grew up as an orphan after one of his parents was killed in the war, and despite funding his education single-handedly since the age of twelve, he says he has not “lost trust when it comes to making a difference in his own community”.  When Dennis eventually finishes his law degree, he plans to “reduce the inequality gap in Uganda by offering legal advice to the poor”.  He believes micro-centres, like the one where he works in Awach, could provide the perfect place for poor people to access legal information through the internet.  But for now, Dennis is saving the money he earns for university and in the evening uses the internet connection at the micro-centre to access judicial material so he can continue studying even though he can’t currently afford to be in university.

Internet Now! in numbers:

  • By 2015, we expect 200,000 people will have visited the centres to use the internet
  • 45,000 people will have directly earned an income from the project by 2015
  • $5 is the average earning per day for each micro-worker
  • 100 rural villages will be connected with a high-speed fibre-optic connection
  • Computers at the centres run on 23W and are powered entirely by solar energy

Internet Now! is giving me the skills I need for the workplace

Barbara Lanyero is 24 years old and works at Internet Now!’s supercentre at Gulu University

Barbara works at the Internet Now! supercentre at Gulu University. Photo: Grace Cahill
Barbara works at the Internet Now! supercentre at Gulu University

Barbara graduated from Gulu University with a degree in Industrial and Organisational Psychology in January this year, she had always planned to work in Human Resources: “It’s very hard for young people graduating from university to get jobs.  I was at home and my mum was complaining that I wasn’t at work,” she says.

Then Barbara saw an advert for micro-work at Internet Now!’s supercentre in the grounds of her university.  “At first it was just a job, but then I realised I was gaining experience in areas other than what I studied at university,” says Barbara, who never planned to be working in ICT after graduation. “My mum appreciates me working here now because I’m busy and earning money.”

The supercentre at Gulu University was the first centre in the Internet Now! project and now employs around 90 young people in micro-work based tasks.  Most of the centre’s employees are recent graduates from the university who would have otherwise struggled to find professional employment in this deprived part of northern Uganda.

Internet Now! is teaching fresh graduates a practical approach to work, Barbara comments “I was never very good at time management but now I’m learning, and learning how to work under pressure”.

An Internet Now! microcentre in the small village of Keyo. Photo: James Akena / Oxfam
An Internet Now! microcentre in the small village of Keyo

The assistant manager at the supercentre, Mildred, has noticed that many young people leave university without the necessary skills for the workplace. “There’s often the challenge of young people coming along with a very school-based attitude, they usually need to learn how to be more independent”.

But the high-pressure environment of micro-work, which requires both attention to detail and speed, is helping to give these fresh graduates a new set of skills. “Work here is about quality and quantity, you must make sure you submit things on time” says Barbara.

Barbara has been working at the supercentre for just five months now and she is confident she can use her experience here when it comes to being employed in a different sector. “At first I just wanted a job, but then I realised I could get experience in areas other than what I studied at university, including ICT.  I’m happy working here because I’m working in a team and understanding how people relate to each other.  It’s all good experience for when I get a job related to my degree in HR”.

Internet Now! is an Oxfam project seeking to improve people’s lives across 100 communities in northern Uganda.  Internet Now! computer centres create employment through microwork, a specialised form of business process outsourcing.  The centres also give access to an agricultural commodity platform, and other services, all driven by specially designed information technology.  By 2015, Internet Now! will run independently as a for-profit social enterprise called SINFA (Stichting Internet Now Foundation).  The groundbreaking and innovative project has been realised through the generous funding received from the Dutch National Postcode Lottery’s Dream Fund. It is supported by three implementation partners – the Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN), Inveneo and Samasource.

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Written by Grace Cahill

Grace is on secondment as communications officer in Uganda

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