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30th September 2009 I initiated Internet Now! East-Africa had only seen little connection to the rest of the online world. This changed with the arrival of the fibre at Mombasa port, Kenya on 12th June 2009. Fibre technology enables state of the art affordable access to high-speed Internet.

New development strategies for East-Africa were now possible: why continue giving hand-outs whereas affordable and sustainable access to high-speed Internet could see our beneficiaries becoming earning customers, employees or entrepreneurs in only the next few years?

I soon found James Nguo, Ashoka Fellow and Regional Director of ALIN, ready to join forces with me. ALIN (Arid Lands Information Network) had played an exceptional role for over a decade in helping rural communities in East-Africa to improve their livelihoods using information and local knowledge sharing. More and more they moved to using ICTs and computers to integrate their information services. Their savant approach for sensitizing and mobilising communities into using new technologies generated acceptance at a local level and promising numbers of active participants. Recently they had started offering these services in their trademark Maarifa centres bringing standardization and scalability of services. A new online platform called Sokopepe was in the making funded by Ford Foundation giving farmers online access to market information to sell their products online at better prices even through a simple mobile phone.

Internet Now! got shape soon after: a network of 100 solar-powered Maarifa centres in northern Uganda interconnected with Wi-Fi to the national fibre, offering a Commodity Resource Platform (ALIN’s Ugandan equivalent of Sokopepe), BPO and affordable and sustainable access to high-speed Internet on 1,000 computers. It would be set-up to run as a business within 3 years.

Peter Walop a senior telecom & business consultant was hired by Oxfam Novib to work out the model in more detail. Previously involved in setting up a wireless network in Serbia most of the time he worked as a consultant for the ITU (International Telecom Union) on migration to digital television in emerging markets. Samasource was invited to channel Microwork to each centre to increase our revenues and create new jobs in the local communities. Inveneo with a track record in northern Uganda was invited to connect all centres in a Wi-Fi network.

From 2010 onwards I paid several trips to Uganda to develop the project and established strong collaborations on ground with key stakeholders. ALIN soon started to prepare the ground by installing preparatory centres at Koro, Awach and Metu in 2010. Funded by Oxfam Novib these centres already drew promising crowds of hundreds of community members getting training now on solar powered computers with satellite Internet in anticipation of the arrival of the national fibre in Gulu and a high-speed connection. A big word of thanks goes out to Denis Richardson, director of CLS Uganda, who seriously went out on a limb to make sure we got every operational support we needed, got us in touch with the essential stakeholders and personally oversaw every operation in Gulu from set go to put the odds in our favour.

Seeing the high potential of some Gulu University ICT students managing our first centres I realized our model could do with one more addition: a Super Centre. These students and next generation of leaders for the region would certainly be able to play a key role in our success. Moreover they were as excited for what we were set out to accomplish. Vice- Chancellor Prof. Nyeko Pen-Mogi immediately took to the idea and was gladly willing to host us.

16th of August 2011 ALIN received the prestigious Access to Learning Award (ATLA) by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. An amount of 1,000,000 USD was granted to ALIN in recognition of their groundbreaking work and to expand further on their network of Maarifa centres in Kenya.

9th of February 2012 Internet Now! received the Dreamfund award of the Dutch Postcode Lottery under my leadership. Seven million Euros was granted to build hundred centres in northern Uganda; 4 million allocated to infrastructure and 1,5 million for training of local communities to ensure true Internet access for them at our centres. I dreamed this dream for 2,5 years as a founding father together with James Nguo, with a coalition of very patient partners and with very supportive colleagues at Oxfam Novib. As project leader now I was tasked to unwrap the dream and realize the first Internet Now! model in northern Uganda. Pieter Koning, former managing director of the Dutch broadcasting company Nozema, most generously volunteered with his time and senior expertise to help and supervise the business aspects of our operations.

With no Oxfam presence in Gulu other than my frequent visits so far, John Opira, Country Manager of ALIN Uganda, helped making first preparations on ground waiting for me and the partners to settle in. ALIN Uganda together with CLS Uganda arranged the solar-powered office and 3 project cars were bought for the many miles we were about to travel in and up country. The project management team of partners and SINFA Uganda was completed over summer 2012 to take office together at Upper Churchill Road and find their homes up North for the coming 3 years. It has been a privilege to see all ideas and new ways of working together as partners on a daily basis on ground come to live with great energy.

My great appreciation also for the profound achievements in the preparatory centres and great patience of the ALIN Uganda centre managers in charge: Mildred Okwir (Koro), Bernard Oola (Awach) and Jurugo Simon Drikota (Metu). A final big thanks as well to the Oxfam local project support team for coming on board and for your great efforts in sharing this dream for your country.

A beautiful, innovative and unique design was made by James Nguo for a Super Maarifa centre on solar power offering 50 workplaces dedicated to Microwork for students and graduates. Gulu University staff was left amazed to see this state of the art beehive established at their premises in only 3 days. 14th November 2012 together with Uganda Telecom (UTL) we realized the first high-speed Internet connection for the northern region. 16th November 2012 Internet Now! took off at Gulu University with the launch of its company SINFA Uganda and the opening of the Super Centre. Important stakeholders attended our historic event with speeches of Julius Torach (Director e-Government Services National Information Technology Authority, Uganda; NITA-U), Prof. Nyeko Pen-Mogi (Vice Chancellor Gulu University) and Guest of Honour Hon. James Nabinson Kidega (Gulu Resident District Commisioner).

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    P.O.Box 290 Gulu Uganda
  • +256 471432597
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SINFA is a for profit social enterprise, providing commercial services that address the needs of the local communities in northern Uganda. Since its inception, SINFA has rolled out services that directly and indirectly provide employment opportunities and information in areas of Business Process Outsourcing (BPO)... Read details

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