Working with the Millennium Villages Project, collaboration between The Earth Institute at Columbia University, Millennium Promise and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Ericsson and Zain have deployed mobile communications services in the Amansie-West district of the Ashanti region of Ghana. The Bonsaaso cluster of Millennium Villages consists of 6 distinct villages namely; Bonsaaso, Watreso, Datano, Keniago, Takorase and Asamang, with an estimated population of 5,000 residents per village. These villages are in a largely rural area of the country and are some of the poorest regions of Ghana. The project will enable them to work towards achieving the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which were endorsed by all world leaders in 2000.
Chris Gabriel, CEO Zain Africa says the company is collaborating with Ericsson to provide communications solutions that will help to improve the quality of life for people in one of the remotest parts of Ghana. “The concept of the Millennium Villages Project reflects the Zain core value belonging. The introduction of the latest 3.5G mobile networks to these villages will empower the residents to climb out of the poverty trap and create a sense of belonging by enabling them to connect with each other and the rest of world by phone and using ultra fast internet connections.”
The villagers in the Bonsaaso cluster are faced with a myriad of problems. Community members have to travel between 2 and 40km to access the few functional health facilities and there is only one hospital within 40km of the villages which has proper facilities to treat all the common health problems experienced by the community. The inadequate number of healthcare workers and the poor conditions of the road, coupled with the lack of adequate transport for the workers, makes healthcare outreach in the communities very difficult. Additionally, from an educational perspective, not only do learners have to walk up to 5km to go to school, but there are not enough primary schools to support the population of this cluster alone. Additionally, as most schools do not have the basic equipment and the adequate number of qualified teachers, there is a large disincentive to many students to attend school.
Economically, most of the fertile lands, which are closer to the communities, have been used for cocoa production, pushing food crop production to remote areas. As a result, farmers have difficulty in finding a ready market for their farm produce due to the long distances from market centers and the poor condition of the road network, which can be very difficult to navigate.
Says Lars Lindén, President of Ericsson sub-Saharan Africa, “Together with Zain, we have developed a comprehensive and end-to-end communication solution by providing state –of- the art 3.5G mobile communications and Internet access for these clusters. This includes not just the underlying infrastructure, but mobile applications that will enable access to health, education, information on weather and agriculture, and in general improve livelihoods, while at the same time support the achievement of the MDGs.”
Since the beginning of the project in Ghana, three new clinics have been constructed and two renovated and Zain, together with Ericsson , are supporting these clinics with fixed wireless terminals for schools and clinics, and toll-free numbers for the emergency services and healthcare workers – allowing for a quicker and more efficient delivery of such services. Zain is also providing SIM cards with a closed user group facility, allowing the healthcare workers to consult each other free of charge with Sony Ericsson is donating the mobile handsets to the community health workers and emergency services. Ericsson has also provided solar powered chargers for the mobile phones – ensuring that these healthcare lifelines are available at all times. Furthermore, by providing fixed wireless terminals and Internet access at learning centers in each cluster, Zain and Ericsson are bringing the outside world to the teachers and pupils – providing them with limited Internet access and valuable teaching aids.
The establishment of a 3.5G network in the clusters also provides farmers with the opportunity to access information about availability of goods and pricing from vendors without having to travel – mitigating risk and diversifying outputs while increasing income.
Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, adds; “The power of access to mobile communication to potentially transform lives in rural African villages and ultimately to help eradicate extreme poverty is beginning to be well documented across the world, and we are bringing this to life with Ericsson and Zain in the MV project. We are convinced that the benefits and potential of this project will fast-track transformation of the lives of the residents of Bonsaaso, and all the Millennium villages, in ways that we could never have imagined just a few years ago.”
“We are creating enormous opportunities for this community and by working with Zain; Ericsson is able to focus its contribution on bringing mobile voice and Internet services to the community which enable access to health, education and small businesses. The project is another concrete example where we are realising our commitment to the MDGs, while at the same time stimulating positive business impacts in Africa,” concludes Lindén.