Compared to Kenya and other more-resourced countries, Malawi is a cash-poor country with a relatively underdeveloped telephone infrastructure. The number of telephone lines is especially limited in rural areas, with most new rural lines only working during office hours. The use of cellular telephones in Malawi has spread as coverage has improved. Mobile phone use grows moderately every year, and most mobile phone customers use pre-paid services. Of its estimated population of 13 million, only an estimated 40 thousand people are internet users. There has been an increase in the use of ICTs in the form of radio, computers, internet, cellphones, telephones, TV and video, but the vast majority of the population lives in rural areas that do not have telephony. While the country has agricultural wealth, cash-poverty makes using and acquiring cellular phones too costly, particularly for those in rural areas, not earning cash incomes, but engaging in subsistence agriculture. Malawi has distinct multi-ethnic and multi-lingual communities with Christianity and Islam being the main religions of the population.
There is a high incidence of child-abuse, often relating to girls (such as prostitution, teachers demanding sexual favours from learners, trafficking, and harmful cultural practices) all of which contribute to the spread of HIV/AIDS. The majority of new infections in Malawi occur within the age range of 15 - 24 with girls and women being more vulnerable than boys and men.
In Malawi, the review team visited one umbrella organisation, the Malawi Network of AIDS Service Organisations (MANASO), a Hivos partner that had participated in the initial capacity-building workshop, and one youth organisation, Youth Net and Counselling (Yoneco) that was an implementing partner in the context of the STAR programme.
MANASO has its main office in bustling Blantyre. When the review team visited the organisation, they had organised country-wide World AIDS Day events, and the resource centre was being used for basic computer training on the three computers connected to the internet.
MANASO's target audience is, as their name indicates, AIDS service organisations in various regions of the country, many of whom are non-metropolitan CBOs who have little or no access to ICTs other than radio. This limits the ways in which the organisation is able to communicate with its members. The regional offices have regular meetings and events for members. MANASO makes use of surface mail to communicate with members, such as sending invitations (to meetings or workshops), which often arrive after events, or, due to the poor postal service, do not arrive at all. The organisation has resource centres at each of its regional offices, although these are less resourced than the Blantyre centre. MANASO's Blantyre Resource Centre Officer, Bridget Kumwenda, attended the STAR workshop in February 2006.
Yoneco was established after concerns were raised regarding youth, children and women in relation to poverty, HIV/AIDS, rights violations, drug abuse and a lack of guidance and counselling for youth and children in Malawi. Yoneco is a member of MANASO. The organisation has its main office in Malawi picturesque university town of Zomba, with other district offices in Mangochi and Balaka.
Yoneco aims to provide user and youth-friendly information channels for HIV/AIDS and human rights education, and to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS prevention among young people. In addition to its newly implemented STAR-supported Youth Child Helpline, Yoneco has community-based programmes such as teen mothers groups, youth clubs and women's clubs.
The purpose of the Helpline is to provide support, counselling and information to callers. Where problems cannot be dealt with by volunteer counsellors, callers are referred to social and welfare services. Yoneco main office is better resourced at both technical capacity and human resource levels than its regional offices. The organisation understands the needs of its target audience and is constantly engaging in finding appropriate means to interact with them.
Given Malawi's staunchly patriarchal society, Yoneco is challenged with significant gender imbalance in relation to staffing. Women participation in Yoneco work is particularly important in terms of reaching those members of their target audience (girls and women) who have been identified as most vulnerable.
Volunteers have been trained in counselling skills, but do not have an adequately in-depth understanding of clinical HIV/AIDS information. They have noted an increase in calls that require this kind of information, and the inability to deal with these calls can hamper the effectiveness of the helpline. Greater capacity needs to be built to equip helpline volunteers with a deeper understanding of these matters as well as appropriate referral points. The organisation has already identified this gap which they plan to address.
Calling the helpline from a landline is at no cost to the caller. This free service does not extend to mobile phones. At the time of the MTR field visit, the organisation was in the process of negotiating with a cellphone provider to make calls from mobile phones to the helpline free.
Decentralising the helpline, with the functionality of receiving multiple simultaneous calls, needs to be in place in order to direct and refer callers to appropriate local services. During the field visit, helpline volunteers were based in Zomba only and did not have referral information for all parts of Malawi, while also being limited to the local languages spoken in that area.
MANASO's capacity to meet its objectives is significantly limited by its internal capacity to implement its core functions: communication, advocacy, networking and building capacity. An ongoing system of support and mentoring to build MANASO capacity in order for MANASO to effectively build the capacity of member organisations is recommended.
According to MANASO programme manager, Donald Makwakwa, the organisation needs assistance to develop an effective communications capacity appropriate to its context, taking into consideration their limitations. They are paralysed by what they don't have, instead of looking at what they do have. A hands-on training/mentoring/coaching intervention to improve their capacity to communicate, network, advocate and share information would be appropriate. MANASO seems unable to overcome its capacity challenges without external intervention.
2. Sustainability of the STAR interventions
Following the STAR workshop, attended by Masozi Mkandawire of Yoneco, some of the lessons he learnt were implemented in the organisation. The use of Skype was well-received by staff and is now part of national and international communications from the Zomba office.
The concept for Yoneco Youth Child Help Line initiative predates STAR, and participating in STAR has meant the opportunity to implement a longstanding plan. Yoneco is currently negotiating with local mobile phone networks to make calls from a mobile phone to the Youth Child line free. Yoneco is also in the process of developing a long-term relationship with Child Help Line International.
The fact that the organisation developed the project idea themselves, and has been assisted with implementation through STAR, shows a capacity for strategic thinking in the use of ICTs. Yoneco Youth Child Help Line project forms part of a broader plan to create youth information centres around the country, and takes into cognisance the lack of infrastructure and skills in the country.
Piloting a multi-purpose community/youth centre is one way of addressing these gaps. Youth attending the centre would receive ICT training, counselling, have access to the internet, and participate in other youth-targeted activities including skills-building and recreational activities.
MANASO makes computers and internet access available to its members through its resource centres. Anyone from a member organisation can receive basic computer literacy training in how to use a computer and how to make more effective use of the internet for research purposes, a component covered by the STAR workshop.
However, MANASO infrastructure, particularly at district offices, is limited in terms of human capacity, technical skills, hardware and software capacity. Because of interrupted electricity supplies and, in the case of some members of MANASO, the complete absence of electricity; the vast (and costly) distances that people have to travel to access computers; the lack of telephony, with regards to both landlines and mobile phones (the latter less accessible to those in cash-poor areas), radio remains the best medium (although with the fragmentation of radio stations, organisations need to access several stations to reach mass audiences). More than 80% of MANASO members are community-based organisations.
While it is clear that Bridget had internalised the lessons learnt at the workshop, implementing them has been a challenge, particularly because of the patriarchal society in which the organisation operates and the significant infrastructural limitations. Women are rarely seen as experts, and are rarely considered able to think through matters of organisational strategy. In order for the more strategic interventions of the STAR Programme to be taken up in the organisation, MANASO needs its own strategy to develop their communications capacity and begin integrating ICT issues into programmes, budgets and activities. Such a strategy would need to involve the whole organisation and importantly, involve the inclusion of women and men in capacity building efforts.
3. Changes in the internal operations of organisations as a result of STAR
Yoneco and MANASO now use Skype as cost-effective means of communicating with member organisations and district offices.
Masozi Mkandawire attended the STAR workshop in February 2006. Amongst the lessons he brought back to his office was the change Skype has made in how the organisation communicates with its regional offices, and other potential partners.
While the review team visited Yoneco, the Youth Child Help Line was busy, with volunteers receiving and handling about 25 calls per day. Yoneco started raising awareness of the helpline in other districts, which has contributed to the number of calls, and as they continued to raise awareness, the line was likely to get even busier.
The Help Line was launched during the main summer school holidays, and an important part of Yoneco strategy for raising awareness for the Help Line was to visit schools and talk to learners about the service. It is therefore likely that the line is now much busier with schools having re-opened for the new school year.
The lines are staffed by trained volunteers who work on a shift rotation, who have been trained through STAR to capture data for each call received. The STAR programme supported Yoneco in project management, creating a project team to oversee implementation, and database development and management to ensure appropriate documentation of key data.
Mercy Makondetsa, Child Youth Help Line volunteer
The helpline currently operates out of Zomba, although calls are received from all over the country, following a radio advertisement making clear its existence and purpose. Awareness of the helpline was initially primarily raised through community groups, at schools, at village meetings, and the Yoneco regional offices.
Through Bridget Kumwenda's attending the STAR workshop, all staff in MANASO's various regional offices have been trained in how to use Skype. As a result of using this tool whenever possible, telephone costs have been reduced.
Member organisations have the use of MANASO's resource centres. As a result of Bridget's lessons learnt on making effective use of computers and using the internet for research purposes, having passed these skills on to members, they now require less help from her with finding information, responding to and finding calls for proposals and identifying potential donors and partners.
4. Linking partners and facilitating networking for linkages, learning & collaboration
Through the STAR programme, MANASO has developed a sharing and exchange relationship with SafAIDS. As SafAIDS does similar work as MANASO in terms of resource centre information provision, and is a more capacitated organisation, the possibility of learning from their experience would be valuable to building MANASO capacity. Already, Bridget has participated in a SafAIDS meeting in Zimbabwe, as part of a learning and exchanging process these organisations initiated as a result of their participation in the STAR workshop. They remain in regular contact via Skype.
Because of the communications infrastructure challenges in Malawi (and in, for example, Mozambique and Uganda) forging greater links between civil society organisations through STAR has to be considered with these limitations in mind. For linking and learning to be effective, more traditional communications tools such as radio, story-telling, drama and community meetings need to be used in combination with newer technologies.
As an umbrella organisation with a large membership, the strategic opportunity to reach and make a significant impact on large parts of Malawi, exists as a future possibility. At this stage the internal capacity of MANASO to train or build the capacity of their members needs to be significantly strengthened in order to maximise its effectiveness to better achieve its objectives, to serve its member organisations and ultimately broader Malawian society.
MANASO is currently hampered in implementing its core functions of sharing information, exchanging ideas and best practices, coordination and networking, advocacy and capacity-building. Capacity to meet its objectives is limited in terms of communication, advocacy, networking and building the capacity of its members. All of these limitations can be overcome through a sensitive mentoring and capacity-building process that values and affirms what capacity already exists, and builds on that.
Programmes Manager, MANASO
Through the use of Skype, MANASO less capacitated district offices have easier access to the more resourced (but still limited in capacity) head office in Blantyre. This has facilitated easier access to information held at the main office by district offices.
5. Risks participating in STAR?
Organisations indicated no risks regarding their participation in the STAR programme. The risks for investing STAR resources in these organisations extend only as far as the workshop participants and other STAR focal points leaving their organisations, and migrating to other NGOs or government positions. Should such staff turnover happen, skills had already been transferred to others within organisations, and such migration, while losing some skills within the partner organisation, would contribute to broadening the skills base, and therefore the impact, of civil society in Malawi.
6. Involvement in STAR programme management and decision-making
As with organisations visited in Kenya, Yoneco and MANASO were clear in their appreciation for the way in which the STAR Programme Coordinator approaches her work. Mac Bain Mkandawire, the Executive Director of Yoneco, valued, in particular, the fact that Yoneco is seen as having an understanding of its work, its audience and its context, and that the role of the STAR Programme Coordinator is therefore to work with the organisation to help strengthen its ability to achieve objectives.
7. Are partners likely to develop ICT projects following the end of STAR?
Yoneco has clear long-term communications plans for a youth tele-centre equipped with computers connected to the internet for ICT training.
Given the limitations of MANASO, encouraging the organisation to develop strategic ICT projects would be premature. Developing an appropriate communications strategy and capacity that recognises whatever existing strengths and resources exist in the organisation, should be the starting point of encouraging the organisation to think strategically and begin to be less overwhelmed by its lacks and shortcomings. After that starting block, it is likely that MANASO would be in a better position to strengthen its impact, better perform its interventions, and think more creatively, despite its limitations.