ICT for Development in Arab Region
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Introduction
Objectives
Country Implementation
 
 
 
 
Introduction

MASHROATI aims at using information and communication technology to improve the business capacities of existing small and medium enterprises (M/SME) by creating centers of excellence that will utilize ICT to bring the necessary support that M/SMEs need to develop and prosper thus generating sustainable employment opportunities from their business activities.

In many parts of the world, M/SME constitute the vast majority of businesses and are the mainstay of economic activity where most of the movement and innovation take place. The Arab region is no different in the sense that M/SMEs make up more than 90% of existing businesses. In many regions and sectors, however, business is still conducted in a rudimentary fashion, with primitive tools and techniques that have been inherited over generations. This often means limited productivity, local exposure only, and limited markets. Compounded further by the pressures of globalization and increased competition, and by severe bureaucracy and lack of government support, the situation of M/SMEs is threatened with becoming worse, resulting in many failed businesses and a shrinkage of an already small market share, leading to increased unemployment and poverty.

In a region as ridden with social and economic problems as the Arab region, this could spell disaster. While ICT is not the end-all solution to the entire issue, it certainly has a key role to play in terms of not only keeping M/SME alive, but also in expanding them and in creating new ones, in both cases creating more jobs and making them more sustainable. ICT interventions could happen at either or both sides of the value chain: the production/ cost side, making the operation more efficient and cost-effective, or the sales and marketing side, resulting in increased exposure and revenue.

This ICT for M/SMEs initiative is therefore a prime example of an intervention where the ultimate objectives go far beyond the immediate benefits of making businesses more productive, to addressing much more serious social and economic issues.

MASHROATI achieves its objectives by setting up Centers of Excellence, or Hubs, that provide technical training, consulting services, business incubation services, and knowledge sharing platforms to M/SMEs. A Hub is linked to networks of Community Access Centers, each of which in turn becomes a smaller hub for businesses in its local area, extending the reach of the main center of excellence. In addition, ICTDAR has developed an SME toolkit that provides all the basic ICT tools any small business needs in a customizable format. This Toolkit and training on how to use it are made available through the hubs. The management of each hub is also given management training and a model to help turn the hub itself into a small business, ensuring its sustainability.

 
 
Relevance to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)

MASHROATI aims at improving the capacities and effectiveness, and therefore the long-term expansion and viability, of M/SMEs in the Arab region. This is achieved by increasing ICT literacy and providing direct support to small businesses, helping them create new and sustainable employment and resulting in overall economic growth. By doing this, the initiative therefore contributes to achieving the Millennium Development Goals in general and in particular the goals of eradicating extreme poverty and reducing illiteracy.

 
 
Objectives

MASHROATI sets up M/SME centers of excellence providing services and tools to local entrepreneurs enabling them to manage and grow their businesses. The intervention contributes to sustainable growth and the development of new job opportunities in general, and the revitalization of rural areas in particular, leading to decreasing the migration towards congested urban areas and to a more equitable distribution of economic activities and wealth across regions in a country.

The specific objectives of the initiative are:

    • Providing eligible entrepreneurs, as needed, with premises, IT infrastructure, and training/ consulting services on administrative, financial, legal, and technical issues relating to the running and growth of small and medium-sized businesses.
    • Forge partnerships with GOs, NGOs, professional associations, and chambers of commerce to provide incubation to startup businesses, supporting entrepreneurship especially amongst youth and women.
    • Dissemination of ICTDAR’s “ICT for SMEs” toolkit through the hubs and networks of Community Access Centers, and provision of ToT on its usage.
    • Develop national M/SME information portals to be e-meeting places for young entrepreneurs where they can exchange knowledge and explore new opportunities.
 
 
Implementation Strategy

To reach its intended objectives, the initiative uses an implementation strategy focusing on four tracks:

Knowledge acquisition and skills building: ICTDAR implements a ToT program that covers ICT and basic business skills. In addition, ICTDAR has developed a user-friendly “ICT for SME” toolkit that addresses the needs of M/SMEs. It covers information that will enable them to establish, grow, and manage their businesses. In addition, it includes all tools and templates that an entrepreneur requires to run his or her business.

Access to information: A center of excellence is established as an ICT hub. Its function is to serve its surrounding eligible M/SMEs and entrepreneurs within a radius of 200 kilometers by providing them with training, business advice, tools, incubation services, etc. in return for a fee. In addition, an M/SME portal is developed to act as a virtual meeting place for sharing of knowledge and exploration of new business opportunities.

Point of Access Availability: A “hub-and-spoke” system is developed where the hub is connected with a network of community access centers within its area of operations. Each of these CACs in turn becomes a mini center of excellence that serves, for a fee, businesses and entrepreneurs within 150 km, thus extending the reach of the original hub.

Institutional Building : Each hub and each CAC in the network offer their services for a fee, and are therefore treated as a small business in their own right, which ensures the long term sustainability of the initiative. ICTDAR provides a business model and provides training on how to run the hubs and CACs so they are self-sustaining.

 
 
Management Arrangements

ICTDAR retains overall management and coordination responsibility both on a regional as well as on a country level throughout the lifetime of the project. However, a steering committee with representative from all partners is formed for each country, to provide general guidance, oversight, and facilitation. In addition, ICTDAR ensures that best practices are shared across steering committees in the various countries of implementation.

 
 
Partners

ICTDAR partners with ministries and local government agencies, the private sector, and NGOs among others to execute its initiatives.

Government agencies are typically responsible for:

    • Providing locations for the hubs and community access centers.
    • Preparing them (furniture, accessories, connectivity).
    • Management and operational costs.
    • Outreach to local M/SMEs.

NGOs where applicable typically provide:

    • Locations for the CACs.
    • Management and outreach at the local level.

The private sector contributes:

    • Hardware and software.
    • Training curricula and ToT sessions.

ICTDAR typically provides:

    • Research and selection of implementation partners.
    • Fund-raising activities.
    • Overall management and technical expertise.
    • The business and management models for the hub and CACs.
    • Training curricula and ToT sessions.
    • The “ICT for SME” toolkit.
    • The creation of the Portal.
    • Monitoring and impact assessment.

Partners who have collaborated with ICTDAR on MASCHROATI include:

 
Country Implementation

MASHROATI has already been implemented in Morocco and Syria, where a center of excellence has been established in each of the two countries. Additional activities have taken place or are in planning for Somalia, Yemen, and Egypt. The “ICT for SME” toolkit, which was developed in the first cycle, is ready for customization and use as a part of any of ICTDAR’s initiatives where appropriate.

 
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