The impact of new information technologies have created a world in which the relationship between knowledge, economic performance and social interaction is growing. Voice and data technology have given us the means to create a knowledge-based economy and society. Competition fosters innovation and investment. This trend has led to the development of new products and services, more consumer choice, job creation and economic development.
Faith-based institutions--the mosques, churches, and temples of muslims, Christians, Jews, Buddhists--are everywhere in the world, in both developed and developing nations.
The church or mosque is the only indigenous African institution that reaches people in small villages and big towns. The individual church or mosque is part of a network, a network that often has headquarters staff and facilities for reaching and influencing large numbers of such institutions. The thesis that the church or mosque is a key "community intermediary" capable of reaching rural and remote populations; alerting them to the challenges confronting them is a very appealing concept. Millions turn to their churches, temples or mosques when they are in need of information or guidance, or food, clothing, and shelter. The church or mosque, then, has become a community intermediary, registering community needs and relaying those needs to those who can help, and using its presence and influence to respond to those needs with information and services. If the pastor or priest or imam, is properly briefed, warns about kerosene, and holds up a solar light, and helps make arrangements to sell and service them, and for small loans so that congregants or community members can buy them, many solar lights will find their way into homes, and jobs and income for entrepreneurs will be created.
Today, electronic faith networks have emerged to address spiritual and secular needs of their members as well as the larger community. Such organizations use ICT tools such as websites, electronic mail, chat rooms, video-conferencing, streaming video and more to bring their messages to their congregations and the surrounding communities. As well, they are educating their congregants in using these technology tools through establishing technology learning, training, and skills building centers. Through such institutions e-faith organizations are declaring their intent to create technology access/knowledge ministries that help their communities become more educated and competent in technology resources.
A number of e-faith organizations are creating technology knowledge ministries that will help their communities become more educated about technology resources. For example faith-based learning centres are being established to make it possible for members of the congregation or the local community to become a student via distance learning.
The wide adoption of broadband connectivity and the growing reliability of wireless broadband and high-band video spectrum broadcasting empowers the possibility of connecting disparate locations and delivering high-quality content through a web-based network.
As the world moves from subsistence to a cash economy, an overarching issue becomes how to bring business opportunities, technology, education and training, and new opportunities for jobs and income to a scattered population speaking many languages, with a high rate of illiteracy, and many communities off the electric grid.
The two-step flow theory of communication developed by Lazarsfeld and Katz stresses the importance of opinion leaders in the formation of public opinion and acknowledges the existence of opinion leaders at all levels of society. It argues that information is channeled to the "masses" through opinion leadership, from opinion leaders to opinion followers. This means people who are influential and better informed about issues explain and diffuse the content to others.
We know that technologies, information, and training reach the developing world but don't penetrate to the people who need them. Thus, the first step in applying this theory is to get "influentials" and opinion leaders to embrace new ideas. The second step is to use the "influentials" to reach those in their social and organizational networks.
The religious leaders of today--the prophets, pastors, priests, and imams--are the "influentials" who can generate the changes the continent needs. The churches and mosques can be mobilized to become the "diffusion networks" and the "supply chains."
Faith-based institutions can become communication centres, providing information on health practices, on improved agricultural methods, and on income-generating opportunities. They can become a demonstration and a business center where new tools and technologies are displayed and made available to the community through small business and microcredit arrangements.
Thus, the concept of "ministry," a traditional mission of faith-based institutions, can be extended to include new developmental services for congregation and community The individual church or mosque is the eye and ear of its community. Linked to other societal institutions, faith-based organizations can become a large and powerful agent of transformation.
The time is right for the launching of such a movement, a movement that will team up with technology professionals and technology access activists to offer a unique level of collaboration and service delivery.
Nana Prof. Osei K. Darkwa, President
African Virtual Campus