Community based ICT project in rural Borneo wins international award

The eBario project wins gold medal at Commonwealth Innovation Award. The research project uses innovative application of ICTs with the goal of continually sustaining social and economic programs in a rural community in Sarawak which does not have the basic amenities such as electricity, water and telecommunications.

UNIMAS does Malaysia Proud: eBario Wins Gold Medal at Commonwealth Innovation Award

Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (UNIMAS) and the Bario community’s eBario Project has done the country proud by winning the Gold Medal of the Commonwealth Association of Public Administration and Management (CAPAM) International Innovations Awards in Sydney, Australia on 25th October 2006.

The eBario Project was adjudged the best project from a list of 11 finalists. The finalists were chosen from 32 semi-finalists which were selected from a total of 112 submissions from the Commonwealth countries. Each of the 11 finalists were required to give a short presentation and an interview by an international jury of 14 esteemed public sector leaders from Mauritius, Australia, Barbados, Canada, Fiji, India, Lesotho, Malaysia, Malta and United Kingdom. The Awards Programme is about innovation, based on the theme of “Citizen Engagement and Service Delivery”. Each of the projects was judged according to its effectiveness, innovation, relevance, significance, replicability and appropriateness to context in terms of local culture and socio-economic conditions.

The eBario is a pilot research project involving the innovative application of ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) with the goal of continually sustaining social and economic programs in a rural community in Sarawak which does not have the basic amenities such as electricity, water and telecommunications. One of the innovation and key lessons learnt is that there is a need to focus on people and not just on technology. The project employed a participatory approach whereby the community members were involved in all phases of the project, from planning, implementation, to operation and maintenance of the project. This project has realised a computer laboratory and a community telecentre, both of which are heavily utilised by the students and community. The computer laboratory at the school is equipped with computers as well as Internet access and is used by the students and staff. The telecentre on the other hand provides education, e-government services, e-commerce, health, tele-medicine and personal communication. Computers at the school are powered by diesel generators, while computers at the telecentre are using an innovative hybrid system of solar panel and diesel generator. This Internet access is provided through the use of solar-powered VSAT (very small aperture terminal), a satellite telecommunication system, probably the pioneer application of this technology in the rural area in Malaysia.

Among the important findings of the research include the fact that the success of the eBario project has been largely due to the active participation of the Bario community. The eBario project has demonstrated a people-centred approach in providing ICTs to an isolated rural community in Malaysia. By engaging the community prior, during and after the deployment of ICTs, Bario now has access to telephone and the Internet, and is applying ICTs to enhance its livelihood.

The Gold Medal Award was presented at the President’s Banquet of the CAPAM Biennial Conference in Sydney by Chair of the Jury Panel, Harry Ganoo, former Secretary to Cabinet and Head of the Civil Service, Mauritius, to Professor Dr. Khairuddin Ab Hamid (eBario Project Leader) and Dr. Alvin Yeo (Team Leader) who presented the project to a jury of 14 esteemed judges comprising senior public servants from member countries of the Commonwealth.

According to Professor Dr. Khairuddin, who is also the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Affairs and Alumni) of UNIMAS, “This award is a win not only for Malaysia and UNIMAS, but especially for the Bario community. It is gratifying to note that the hard work put into the project by both UNIMAS researchers, the Bario committee and its partners, is recognised at this international level, in particular amongst 10 other excellent projects presented in the final round ”.

This is acknowledged by the President of CAPAM, Hon. Jocelyne Bourgon, who commented that it is a significant accomplishment to reach the status of Finalists, which were ranked the top 11 from 112 submissions worldwide.

Also present at the CAPAM Biennial Conference to share the success of eBario were Tan Sri Bernard Dompok (Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department), Tan Sri Mohd Sidek Hassan (Chief Secretary to the Malaysian Government), Dato Yaacob Hussin (Director General, Malaysian Administrative Modernisation and Management Planning Unit (MAMPU)) and the rest of Malaysian delegates.

The Silver Medal was awarded to a project from Department of Social Welfare, Government of NCT of Delhi, India entitled “Stree Shaktri: Women’s Empowerment”, and the Bronze Medal Award won by a project from Department of Corrective Services, Government of Western Australia, entitled “Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women”

CAPAM is a not-for-profit, membership-supported organization. It was established in 1994 to enable just and honest government by enhancing and developing skills and promoting common values of senior public officials in the Commonwealth. Today, CAPAM is a network of more than 1,100 public sector professionals in more than 60 countries and territories throughout the Commonwealth. CAPAM is an important forum for sharing information, experience and expertise in public administration and public sector reform.

The International Innovations Awards Programme is opened to CAPAM members every two years; winners are presented with a Gold, Silver or Bronze Award. The Award aimed to elicit examples of innovative practices in providing public services which responded to expressed needs and wishes of citizens and enabled enhanced public participation in decisions surrounding service delivery, such as, how ICTs has been applied to chart new paths in determining and delivering public services.

The eBario project has been internationally recognised for its innovativeness and effectiveness in bridging the digital divide. It has done UNIMAS and Malaysia proud for being acknowledged and recognized with numerous awards such as Mondialogo Award (2005, Berlin), eAsia Award (2004, Taipei), Anugerah Perdana Teknologi Maklumat (2003, Kuala Lumpur), Industry Innovators Award for Systems Development & Applications from the Society of Satellite Professionals International (March 2002, Washington DC), and also because of this project Bario was named one of the Top Seven Intelligent Communities by the World Teleport Association in 2001.