Innovations in work: Leapfrogging the digital divide How Technology was used to bring back a traditional craft and restore the livelihood of members of the Pradit Torakarn community in Bangkok.

Absence of necessary and appropriate technology could be an apt definition of poverty. Deficiencies in technology whether in sanitation, health care, safety or communication impoverishes people and their community. The greater the lack, the more extreme the poverty.

Over the past few years, access to modern communication technology for the poor has changed from an aspiration to a necessity.

The Telecenter Movement as adapted in Thailand shows some promise to bringing that technology within the reach of the urban poor to better their lives and their job prospects. The Telecenter Movement an international movement, initiated to establish telecenters in less developed countries to provide ICT skills and knowledge primarily to poor and marginalized communities.

In Thailand, beginning in 2007 Ministry of Information and Communication Technology took the lead in developing the country’s Telecenters. Then, the Ministry promulgated the Knowledge Based Society strategy that focused on developing ICT skill and knowledge. Besides the ministry’s involvement, the Research Centre of Communication and Development Knowledge Management (CCDKM) assists in the development of websites supporting the ICT Telecenters. Two of which thaitelecentremall.org or e-Shop and aseanhomeworkers.org promote community products and assist the poor, especially women at home, with training for the workplace.

One of these Telecenters, the Pradit Torakarn Telecentre, is located in Bangkok near Kasetsart University. The Pradit Torakarn neighborhood is a migrant community of people from other parts of Thailand whose livelihood depended on the fabrication and sale of kitchen utensils and flatware. The members of the community had migrated to this neighborhood over the past few decades to continue to practice their craft in a location where they hoped that they could earn a better living than in the communities they left behind and by so doing pull their families out of poverty. They moved into a neighborhood in the shadow of the great Chatuchuck Market, Bangkok’s largest and most successful crafts market, in hopes of attracting to their stalls nearby some of the legions of Thais and tourists who thronged through the market.

Recently they found themselves in deepening financial straits. With the recent political and economic difficulties experienced by the country and the closing of the Market because of disputes over ownership of the land and operation of the Market, their livelihood disappeared. Many stopped producing their products and had to find other ways of making a living. Presently, there are only 10 households producing bronze craft.

To expand the business opportunity for this traditional handicraft, ICT training was provided to the community. The training consisted of instruction on how individuals can use the technology and facilities of the Telecenter. Along with the bronze craft people other home workers from the neighborhood also brought their products, such as textile bag, crystal accessories and plastic woven baskets and learned how use the technology to market their products also. Following the training the Pradit Torakarn Telecentre provided the community marketing assistance and access to their sites so that the community could promote their products through e-commerce.

Director of CCDKM, Dr. Kamolrat Intaratat described different types of Telecenters in Thailand;

Accessible Telecenters: enhances ICT accessibility of all people; especially those living in rural and remote areas.

Multifunctional Telecenters: provides ICT facilities, (e.g., internet, computer and other peripherals) to develop individual and community capability in e-learning, e-shop and e-commerce, e-governance and e-service and so on. Potential

Development Telecenter: develops sustainable ICT potential of the community. More than 1000 Telecenters have been set up throughout Thailand.

Over the past few years the concept of a telecenter have evolved to include a broad mix of activities. While the centers are still places where people can learn how to use computer technology and provide the equipment for individuals and organizations to use, like a community internet café. Some of these centers have begun to be used as gathering places for the community as well, a sort of a high-tech community center.

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