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.
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
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 CDs.
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 and knowledge.
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 and developed.
The project will, in all likelihood, also hold some lessons for replication nationally as well as in other developing countries. So, stay tuned. See