matchmaking as a funding mechanism for ICT4D

In Learning Technologies on May 22, 2009 at 9:40 am

Rust never sleeps. Yes, I am still writing about funding ICT for development. The next solution draws it’s inspiration from the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. This festival in the west of Ireland has been running for over 150 years. Every Autumn, the matchmakers would invite farmers who had eligible sons and daughters to Lisdoonvarna to make matches.

Despite the recession, governments and schools in the “developed world” have and will continue to spend significant sums of money on ICT in education and in particular digital content and platforms. In the UK alone, the UK Department of Education invested Stg£500 million by way of e-learning credits through Curriculum Online in the last few years and continues to provide substantial funding through the Harnessing Technology strategy. Much of this was spent on online content and software that has no significant incremental cost of delivery for the vendor.

Matchmaking simply requires matching schools who have the financial resources to purchase software products at full price with those who are deprived, and therefore cannot. These schools are not necessarily thousands of miles away from each other. Even in developing countries, some schools, typically serving the sons and daughters of expats, have significant financial resources. Every time a school purchases (or subscribes to) a software product at full price, the matched school also receives a license. In this way, there is a transfer of economic wealth from the well-off to the deprived.

But why would a vendor do this? The likelihood is that the vendor will never get the sale from the deprived school as they simply can’t afford the products. For this reason, their markets are a low priority. This is particularly the case for small-to-medium sized businesses located in the UK or US. As such, the vendor hasn’t really lost an opportunity and the cost of delivery is so marginal that the opportunity cost is minimal, especially for online content services. At the same time, the vendor can (A) use the opportunity to do the right thing and justify it as a corporate social responsibility strategy and/or for those cynics among you,  (B) use it as part of a marketing campaign in their home market (while building a brand presence in an emerging market), and/or (C ) trial their products in an emerging market. For software publishers, it is a win-win situation particularly for those software publishers whose primary market is located at a sufficiently long distance away from the deprived market.

From discussing the idea with publishers on Global Grid for Learning, there is guarded interest in the idea. The key questions are:

  • Who will identify and validate the deprived schools including their capacity to use the products?
  • How will the deprived schools receive support for the products?
  • How will participating companies be identified?
  • Who will fund and market the scheme to the paying schools?

From teachers, there was only one question – how can we develop our relationship with the deprived school. In effect, how can we move from matching to twinning. 

Hopefully, these questions can be addressed in the coming months. If so, we may be able to get sufficient momentum to create and sustain change for all stakeholders.


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