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Cisco Networking Academy Program Helps Rebuild Communities in War-Torn Emerging-Market Nations

October 3, 2007

By Jason Deign, News@Cisco

It is not often that heads of state take an interest in corporate social responsibility programs. But earlier this year, the President of Rwanda, Paul Kagame, went out of his way to thank Cisco Systems, Inc, for introducing the Cisco® Networking Academy® into his country.

The thanks, at a meeting with Mark De Simone, vice president for Cisco operations in the Middle East and Africa, followed the announcement of a pilot involving the establishment of Cisco Certification Academies and program instructor training across eight schools in Rwanda's capital, Kigali.

For officials in Rwanda, the arrival of the Networking Academy (along with the work carried out by Cisco in support of the NEPAD e-schools initiative) is an important step in the road to rebuilding a country that endured devastating civil war in the early 1990s.

But Rwanda is far from the only African nation where the Networking Academy is helping bring about recovery after war.

The Networking Academy is able to operate in regions that would currently be unsafe for Cisco Systems, Inc, and other multinational corporations, as a result of initiatives such as the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Initiative.

This was introduced in 2000 to help train students in LDCs for jobs in the Internet economy and is backed by Cisco, the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United Nations Volunteers (UNITeS) and later the ITU.

"Once the Networking Academy was launched through the LDC Initiative, all it needed to get started in a region was a country mission, such as a UNDP or USAID office," explains Julius Ayuk Tabe.

As the program's West and Central Africa area Academy manager, his patch covers several former war zones, including Liberia and Sierra Leone Rwanda, meanwhile, is covered by East Africa area Academy manager colleague Hital Muraj.

Ayuk Tabe says the LDC Initiative has allowed the Networking Academy to help communities scarred by war and conflict by providing locally-trained IT specialists who can have a much greater impact on the ground than experts brought in from elsewhere.

"These countries need to be reconstructed from the bottom up," Ayuk Tabe says. "We can fast-track this process, but the success comes back down to capacity building. Without training, we need to import skills from abroad, with each person costing about the same as 10 local people."

In addition, he says: "Local competence is doubly advantageous because the people are there for good, not for the duration of a project."

As an example, 24 refugees in a camp in Ghana are currently the first hope of a nascent IT sector in Liberia, which has endured two civil wars since 1989.

The refugees have all completed a CCNA® foundation course in networking provided by the Ghana-India Kofi Annan Centre of Excellence in ICT at Accra, Ghana's capital, and are now preparing to use their skills back in their home nation.

"We are now trying to organize training for these people so they can go out there and kick-start the program," says Ayuk Tabe. "We are also trying to get in touch with the Liberian government, and our sales partners in Liberia, to recruit them. These refugees are real heroes to me."

The reinsertion of skilled local people has so far worked in Liberia's neighbor Sierra Leone, which lived through a devastating civil war from 1991 to 2002.

Here, three instructors have set up the country's first Academy-offering CCNA accreditation-at the University of Sierra Leone in Freetown, the capital, after receiving training at the University of Jos Regional Academy in Nigeria.

Elsewhere, Somalia and Sudan, two east African countries historically plagued by war and instability, are benefiting from the Networking Academy through an initiative with the African Virtual University (AVU), an independent intergovernmental organization backed by the World Bank.

Under the plan, brokered by Hital Muraj, the AVU will deliver the Networking Academy's IT Essentials course to up to around 210 students a year through an initial seven Academies to be created in Somalia.

The initiative will then be expanded to encompass as many as 100 Academies in Somalia and Sudan over the next three to four years.

"The AVU operates a delivery model based on the Internet, so there is a very strong alignment from a pedagogical and delivery methodology point of view," says Middle East and Africa regional Academy manager Shahab Meshki.

"As the AVU has strong presence across the continent, we could be looking at significant expansion in coming years, as well as a deeper affiliation with the World Bank."

Jason Deign is a freelance journalist located in Barcelona, Spain.

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