Talk in Malawi isn’t cheap
BY Patrick Byrne | October 10, 2016
Currently, Malawi is among the most expensive African countries in which to make a phone call. This is further shown in a study carried out by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), who claimed that network rates for phone calls in Malawi are among the highest in the world.
This results in the following inefficiencies:
Operating charges are costing the UN agencies far more than they should
Joint programme and operations meetings are expensive and less effective as a result of the cost of communication between agencies and are becoming increasingly difficult to administer due to the growing volume of such programmes
This issue is particularly pertinent during the implementation of joint programmes, those that bring more than one agency together to address multi-sectoral issues such as gender equality. Regularly, separate agencies will have to discuss activities and outputs over the phone, driving up operating costs. What’s more, in times of humanitarian response when programmes have to be monitored from Lilongwe, the costs associated with implementing activities increase sharply.
Installing VOIP to Increase Efficiency
We conducted a thorough analysis and then pitched a method of interconnecting agencies through a VOIP system, reducing the costs which are currently being incurred. The VOIP system had a relatively low implementation cost, with agencies dialing each other free of charge thereafter.
The implementation phase included the following:
Install the VPN system, connecting all the agencies
Use the existing switchboard equipment, of which the majority are VOIP compatible
Procure voice cards for those agencies whose switch boards are not VOIP compatible
This system, which was fully installed in September, will be complemented by cable technology, which is leased from local cable phone operators. This will also allow for UN agencies to be interconnected with agency switchboards programmed to use these lines when calling each other.
Savings for Programmes
Using a three month baseline from data within each agency switchboards, we think that the savings from the VOIP system will be impressive, with up to $95,000 saved every year. We plan to measure the savings by first, measuring the changes in the telephone bills from month to month and, second, by tracking data on the agency switchboards quarterly. What we save on telephone calls will be re-directed into programmes, increasing the development effectiveness of the UN in Malawi.
We would love to hear others’ experiences making talk cheaper. Let us know what you have tried and what works.
UN Liberia comes together to fill IT gap
BY Albert Dayyeah | May 19, 2016
Many people see the internet as the best means of communicating, reporting and sharing information while others see it as a link between people, offices, countries and the rest of the world.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch, founder, chairman and former CEO of the global media company News Corporation, said that “the Internet has been the most fundamental change during his lifetime and for hundreds of years.”
Liberia is no exception to the information revolution referred by Murdoch.
Recently, the UN in Liberia has embarked on an innovative project to provide fast internet connection to agencies in the field at a reduced cost following the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) transition and drawdown.
The project, which is currently being implemented in three locations (Lofa and Grand Gedeh and Bong), will ensure UN agencies use the same internet connectivity for voice and data in these areas allowing a complete terrestrial network for both our operations and our partners.
Thanks to this innovation, projects supporting refugees, rural women’s empowerment, school feeding and livelihoods will be able to keep running their operations smoothly.
The challenges in the field
Since the deployment of the UN Mission in the counties, UN agencies have heavily relied on it for basic support in running their field offices. The UN Mission provided office space, internet connectivity and fuel supply among other services. In most of the regions, the UN Mission building hosts UN agencies’ personnel. June 2016 is the date in which the UN Mission will finalize its security transition in Liberia. The UN Mission has reduced its foot print in the counties from 15 to 5 counties.The Mission planned transition will be finalized in 2017 or as mandated by the Security Council.
When the timeline was announced, we all started getting prepared to guarantee that our programmes and projects will be affected minimally especially in the counties where the UN programmes had a more concentrated presence.From an information and communication technology (ICT) point of view, this meant to address challenges such as providing the technology to guarantee implementation, monitoring and reporting from the field to the central offices so that colleagues do not face challenges in communicating with each other or sharing communication with different stakeholders due to lack of internet connection.
This will ensure that programmes are implemented in time and issues are addressed as they occur. Upon completion, the network will facilitate the operations of nine agencies (IOM, UNHCR, WFP, FAO, UNOPS, UNICEF, UNIDO, UNFPA and UNDP) with field presence in the three separate locations. It will also reduce the recurring monthly cost for these agencies by 50 percent. The implementation of this innovative ICT project will also decrease the call costs by agencies based in Monrovia to the ones in the field. The network also enables cheaper international calls helping agencies to reduce a 3,000 USD monthly phone bill plus a monthly charge of 600 USD for internet connectivity. In short, this project will also release more resources that agencies will be able to invest in other programme activities.
After all the preparations, the project will be officially lunched this month. Stay tuned to read how it goes!