Zahedan IT project one of several aimed at making information technology
available to youth
By Sussan Tahmasebi
May 17, 2002
When the Science and Arts Foundation
(SAF) team in Iran first suggested setting up a community information technology
(IT) center in Zahedan, the capital of Sistan and Baluchistan Province, many people
expressed reservations. Some thought this remote city would not be suitable for a
technological project of this kind. Fortunately, the SAF team disagreed. They knew
if this project were to be successful, the impact in this province, which holds a
wealth of potential but still ranks last among Iran's 28 provinces on almost every
development indicator, would be profound.
Then there was one more person who thought setting up a community IT center in Zahedan
was a good idea. If you come to Iran and you start to work on women and youth issues,
you are bound to run across Ms. Keshmiri. She is one of those dedicated and innovative
thinkers, who gets the job done. She is a very strong and exceptional woman indeed
and if it were not for her dedication and commitment, this project, which now boasts
over 15 local, national and international partners, would never have come to fruition.
The Zahedan IT
Center was launched in February 2002 after more than a year of planning,
focused on conducting needs assessments and developing partnerships. The center will
provide ongoing training in information technology to the local population, but will
especially target youth and women. See photos
In the short time since its establishment, the center has trained over 130 people
and secured a contract to develop a website for Sistan and Baluchistan. This is the
center's first income generating project. Talented and dedicated youth in the province
have already been recruited to spearhead the effort. The Center will also be providing
training to Afghani refugees in Zahedan and launching a robotics program.
The Science and Arts Foundation's application for funding in support of the center's
activities was recently approved by the World Bank's Information
for Development Program . Besides supporting the training activities at the
center and an e-shop, the grant from the World Bank, will support the launching and
testing of an e-learning platform developed by Sharif University of Technology, one
of SAF's main partners, and the development of interactive, multimedia educational
Youth make up over 50% of the Iranian population. Addressing the economic and employment
needs of this generation of young Iranians requires innovation and also a global
perspective. IT training allows for both. Of course, the impact of the Internet is
well established and beyond doubt because it allows youth from different backgrounds
to communicate with each other across the world and allows unlimited access to information
What is still in dispute for some, is the opportunity for economic empowerment. It
is always interesting to see that everyone, especially international development
agencies working in Iran, are so keen to get Iranian youth involved in carpet weaving
projects. But when you ask them to equip youth centers and schools with computers,
so that youth can become empowered to compete in the new global economy, a multitude
of reasons are raised against it.
But with the support of many generous Iranian donors,
and more recently some foundations and international development agencies, the Science
and Arts Foundation, has been breaking this trend. Over the past three years, SAF
has provided Iranian youth with a chance to test and develop their talents, by providing
computers and Internet connections to over 120 educational centers in 11 provinces
across Iran. Zahedan is only one example.
In order to address the economic needs of youth and the large number of female-headed
households in Sistan and Baluchistan, the center will carry out income-generating
activities intended to promote economic development on two tracks -- targeting low
and higher skilled workers.
To address the needs of low skilled workers, and especially female heads of households,
an e-shop will be set up through the Zahedan IT Center, where the local handicrafts
of Baluchi women will be made available on the Internet to an international market.
Baluchi needlework is one of the most beautiful crafts of Iran. But because of the
time and labor involved, and the low compensation, it is also a dying craft. The
Zahedan e-shop will transfer the profits from the sale of these products directly
to the producers. Through this project, women producers will eventually be trained
to manage the e-shop and market their own products.
The project will also implement an IT micro-enterprise program for youth, which will
provide small loans to young entrepreneurs seeking to start IT businesses. Those
interested in competing for these loans will also be provided with intensive management
training courses. One of SAF's accomplishments through its SchoolNet
program has been economic independence for youth.
The students who have received training from SAF, and through computer sites provided
by SAF at their schools, have gone on to find employment in the IT field. Many have
also started small scale IT companies, which develop software and provide services.
Some of these talented young people have in turn been hired by SAF.
As such, besides education, one of SAF's main activities
has been focused on employment and income generation for Iranian youth. Already SAF
has found that there are a large number of extremely talented and gifted youth in
Sistan and Baluchistan, eager to learn and to succeed.
The SAF team in Iran feels that the Zahedan IT Center will give these youth the chance
to do just that. And, hopefully it will also hold some lessons for international
development planners, who seem to have forgotten that most of Iran's educated youth
need to be challenged and provided with opportunities where their talents are fostered
The project will, in all likelihood, also hold some lessons for replication nationally
as well as in other developing countries. So, stay tuned. See