Vil­lages’ great leap into the new cen­tury

The farm­ers of Quang Ngai will soon be able to check mar­ket prices on their mo­bile phones - and their young peo­ple will be on­line - thanks to an Aus­tralian ini­tia­tive

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Rear View -

WITH lit­tle fan­fare, this week the fam­i­lies of three re­mote Viet­namese vil­lage com­munes will make the tech­no­log­i­cal leap from a rural iso­la­tion bereft of even a land­line con­nec­tion in some cases, to VoIPen­abled mo­bile phones, WiFi ac­cess and 21st cen­tury com­mu­ni­ca­tion broad­band­style.

Tri­alling tech­nol­ogy de­vel­oped by one of the world’s lead­ing IT in­no­va­tors and im­ple­mented by a multi­na­tional pub­lic/ private part­ner­ship, 300 mo­bile phones will be handed out with the in­ten­tion of help­ing dis­trib­ute much needed health and agri­cul­tural in­for­ma­tion to those who pre­vi­ously may have walked for two days to see a doc­tor only to find that the clinic was empty. Now they can call ahead and re­ceive reg­u­lar up­dates.

But like Aus­tralia, says Sam Grigg, who came to work on the project last year as part of the Aus­tralian gov­ern­ment’s Aus­tralian Youth Am­bas­sadors for De­vel­op­ment Pro­gram ( AYAD), for many the phone will be most used sim­ply for talk­ing to friends and fam­ily.

‘‘ As it is with most coun­tries in the world, fam­ily is an in­te­gral part of their be­ing,’’ he ex­plains. ‘‘ One young girl who is liv­ing and work­ing in a com­mune that is not the one she is orig­i­nally from is ex­cited by the fact that she’ll have a phone that we’ll pro­vide her with that she can call her fam­ily on, and the In­ter­net will also be avail­able, so she can chat on­line with friends. A lot of the young ones know what the tech­nol­ogy’s about, they’ve just never been able to af­ford it be­fore.’’

Mr Grigg, 26, a trained agri­cul­tural econ­o­mist, has been liv­ing and work­ing on the WiFi com­mu­ni­ca­tion project in rural cen­tral Quang Ngai Prov­ince for more than a year.

His 12- month term as a youth am­bas­sador saw his role with project co­or­di­na­tor URS Cor­po­ra­tion, funded by AusAID, but that term is now end­ing and he will re­main as a tech­ni­cal ad­vi­sor. ‘‘ At the lo­cal level, we’ve worked with com­mune health of­fi­cers, com­mune agri­cul­tural of­fi­cers and ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cials,’’ he says.

‘‘ We’re train­ing th­ese guys in the use of the tech­nol­ogy and we hope that th­ese peo­ple will start ap­ply­ing what they’ve learnt in as­sist­ing oth­ers to use the tech­nol­ogy as well.’’

In ad­di­tion to URS and AusAID, the pub­lic/ private part­ner­ship be­hind the project in­cludes USAID, the US- based World Re­sources In­sti­tute, In­tel and lo­cal tele­phone op­er­a­tor EVN.

John Fargher, di­rec­tor of In­ter­na­tional De­vel­op­ment for URS, who helped set up the project, says that the WiFi project is a good ex­am­ple of how some of the world’s large com­pa­nies are get­ting in­volved in th­ese de­vel­op­ing ar­eas.

He adds: ‘‘ It’s where the min­eral re­sources are. It’s where the fu­ture mar­kets are and it’s also where there’s a lot of in­no­va­tive young peo­ple.’’

URS has been de­sign­ing and man­ag­ing de­vel­op­ment projects since the early sev­en­ties and took part in its first Viet­namese project in 1978. To­day, its projects in­clude road im­prove­ments in In­done­sia and Pa­pua New Guinea, land man­age­ment in the Solomon Is­lands and com­bat­ing land degra­da­tion in China.

Glob­ally, URS’ in­ter­na­tional de­velop- ment op­er­a­tions are now worth roughly $ US250 mil­lion ($ A268 mil­lion) each year, of which about $ US50 mil­lion is funded from Aus­tralia.

‘‘ In de­vel­op­ing coun­tries we see the aid busi­ness as a way of en­ter­ing into an emerg­ing mar­ket,’’ says Mr Fargher. ‘‘ We have a skill set that can add value to those coun­tries. We have good re­la­tion­ships with multi­na­tional cor­po­ra­tions - we work for all the For­tune 500 com­pa­nies - so we can build bridges with those peo­ple in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries.

‘‘ And where you’ve got a fast- grow­ing coun­try, and Viet­nam’s a clas­sic, it gives us a foothold so that as the multi­na­tional com­pa­nies come in and set up their busi­nesses and as those coun­tries go to mid­dle in­come sta­tus, we’re there to ser­vice their needs.’’

Mr Fargher has just re­turned from Hanoi, where he has been fi­nal­is­ing plans for an AusAID- funded na­tional mon­i­tor­ing and eval­u­a­tion sys­tem to track the more than $ US3.5 bil­lion in de­vel­op­ment money dis­trib­uted through­out the coun­try each year.

‘‘ The best thing you can do for lon­glast­ing change is to sup­port gov­ern­ment or in­sti­tu­tional change, to get the reg­u­la­tory en­vi­ron­ment right so that peo­ple can do things in a sen­si­ble way - in pub­lic/ private part­ner­ships or as in­di­vid­ual en­ter­prises,’’ he says.

Far from Hanoi, in his of­fice in Quang Ngai where he is pre­par­ing to hand out the new phones, which will en­able the farm­ers of Quang Ngai to check the mar­ket price for their goods, Mr Grigg says the work is sat­is­fy­ing but fam­ily is im­por­tant to him and the time there can be tough.

Mr Fargher says that is one of the chal­lenges of work­ing in the de­vel­op­ing world: ‘‘ You go in as a pro­fes­sional and you have a ra­tio­nal set of ac­tiv­i­ties to do but it’s also a very emo­tional thing. Par­tic­u­larly when you are work­ing with very poor peo­ple who are al­most al­ways ex­tremely gen­er­ous.

‘‘ There is this in­cred­i­ble gen­eros­ity and at the same time this con­stant re­minder that, through an ac­ci­dent of birth, we don’t have to suf­fer that hu­mil­ity and dif­fi­culty.’’

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.