I hoped to see a reply from Paul Richardson of ExpLAN relating to the
Solo. But as there is nothing about the Solo to date I want to share
some relevant background information. However my OOCD/CAWD view is from
a potential customer's viewpoint, with only outside knowledge of the
stumbling blocks. Paul would know the precise details, as ExpLAN would
maintain a close technical relationship with any assembly company.

My link with the Solo comes because the second generation prototype Solo
was field tested in Oke-Ogun in 2002 with the help of OOCD/CAWD. I was
one of those travelling around as part of the trials and through  my
(non techie) eyes the trials seemed a great success. The Solo is
designed not only for *use* in Africa, but also for small scale *local
assembly* - about 100 units a month.  The OOCD/CAWD team hopes to see a
local company go into production for a number of reasons:

- We want to buy Solos for OOCD InfoCentres - because Solo are designed
specifically for that difficult kind of rural environment.
- We want to buy from a company in Oyo state, preferably in the Oke-Ogun
area, because it would benefit the local economy.
- We want to buy from a local supplier because then we could expect
local technical support.
- We want to help small businesses to start because we are a development
- We want to help projects that enable technology transfer because we
are committed to education and training, especially education and
training related to employment opportunities.
- We want to see a Solo assembly company set up because we know what
kind of spin-off employment opportunities it would be likely to generate
in the fullness of time.

How do the moderator's questions relate to Solo production in Oyo state?
> 1. What specific elements does a policy environment need in order to
> encourage the private sector to expand access to poor, isolated,
> underserved areas? Where do such policies exist?

The Nigerian policy document 'USE IT' has some excellent policies.

If those policies are ever implemented then that would help to establish
local assembly of the Solo. These are policies which would make it
easier to import IT components. They would help to overcome present
problems of customs duties, delays at customs, things that would cause
sufficient cash flow problems to ruin a small business.

In addition the policies could stimulate demand. The government could
even become major, long term purchasers if they decided to implement
various of their 'USE IT' policies on health, education, and so on, using
locally assembled Solos.

It is also important for the bank to be interested, understanding and
supportive of the business.

> 3. What are specific, unexploited opportunities for public-private
> partnerships to expand access to the underserved? Please provide
> examples where these opportunities can be exploited effectively.

In the case of the Solo the public-private partnership would split in
the following way.

The Solo assembly company would be a private company. It is part of the
ExpLAN Solo philosophy that all investment must be found locally, so
that all subsequent profits are distributed locally, and influence
regarding company development is also local.

The public part comes in the initial stages of the company development.
A full order book is like money in the bank, especially if the orders
are from a trusted source. This is where purchasing by public bodies
could make all the difference. The company needs to sell around 100
computers a month.

I believe that there are 250 or 350 secondary schools in Oke-Ogun. Say
the policy was to put just ten Solos into each school, over a period of
two years. That would help the order book.

What if each of the schools in Oke-Ogun (I believe there are about one
thousand primary schools) teamed up with a donor school in the connected
community which would buy the partner school a computer. The donor
school might also bear subsequent emailing costs between the two schools
so they could keep in touch, develop an ongoing relationship and learn
about each other's cultures.

What if there was a policy decision to equip health workers, or local
government offices, or NGO field officers or the like. There are loads of
ways that the public sector could push initial business the way of the
company to help it get on its feet.

It is worth noting that the Solo is designed for tough rural areas. It
is designed with minimal moving parts (I think "solid state" technology
may be the "techie" phrase here). From a user point of view there is
precious little in the way of hard drives or fans and such like, it
stays cool, there is nothing really to break down. It seems to just get
on and do the job, powered by what the previous Nigerian Commissioner in
London used to describe as "God's own Kilowatts". This means that with a
Solo the total cost of ownership is mainly in the upfront cost and then
you should get about ten years work out of it without any real problems
(except possibly a replacement screen somewhere along the way dealt with
by your local supplier).

All of this means that public support for projects related to the
assembly or use of Solos would be needed at the initial stages, rather
than in an ongoing way.

Once Solos are available they can be used in various ways by private
entrepreneurs. Small email bureaux are a likely application. The Solo is
ideal for the kind of place where infrastructure is poor so there are
no phones, no electricity supply, poor roads, poor postal services and
therefore a strong need for some new way to communicate. I understand
that ExpLAN would be willing to host email services and set up
arrangements with a satellite company so that a Solo assembly company
could offer a one-stop-shop service for entrepreneurs wanting to set up
a Solo email bureau. The one stop shop could cover everything from
buisness and technical training to all the hardware, software and
services that an email entrepreneur would need.

Perhaps the public sector could help with arranging loans to help such
entrepreneurs to set up in business.

> 5. Within underserved communities, women often face special difficulties
> becoming ICT providers (e.g., lack of capital, education, competing
> demands for time). Are there particular approaches that can be used to
> support women entrepreneurs who want to offer ICT access to underserved
> communities, beyond the 'Grameen cell phone' model?

Its best to discuss this with the women themselves. That can be
arranged. When COL (Commonwealth Of Learning) wanted to know about needs
in Ago-Are they sent an email to OOCD/CAWD. When I was in Ago-Are in
August, OOCD project manager, David Mutua, arranged a number of
community meetings, where the email was shared and discussed. The
meetings were called at short notice so we weren't able to use the best
advertising system, which is through announcements at the mosque and
churches. We had to simply use the town crier and general word of mouth.

Sixty eight women attended the "women's meeting". Four spokeswomen were
chosen to report what had been discussed. They made their reports to a
video camera, using a previously agreed interview format. I brought the
reports back. Some of what they said is directly relevant to this
discussion. However, better still, David could arrange other meetings to
address whatever issues needed addressing. The only interview I still
have up on the Internet was recorded after a different meeting - the
meeting with the men, the "farmers meeting". The spokesman is Baale
Agbe, the chief of the farmers, and there is discussion continuing in
the background. It will serve to illustrate the kind of information
exchange which is possible this way. The link is

Pam McLean

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