Tech-savvy nuns building cybercafes in Africa

A group of Boston-based nuns are building cybercafes in remote parts of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) to enable the locals to use the Internet, computers, printers and other electronic devices for a small fee.

The nuns, known as Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, started the project earlier this year and have since received funding worth of US$20,000 from the Alliance for Global Good’s innovations fund.

“A few of our locations are so remote that using Skype is the only method of voice communications. One older man walked 80 kilometers to be able to talk with his son via Skype,” Sister Lorraine Connell, the general treasurer for the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, told VentureBeat.

The cafes have four computers that operate for three hours on average each day, generating around US$360 per month. The sisters are looking into expanding the project further by adding more computers that could generate thousands of dollars annually.

The project is already having positive effects for the locals. Some micro-businesses are already springing up, including phone-charging stations, considering that electricity is scarce in these remote places. Teachers also the facility to access reliable and current information for their students, while local readers use them to research on business opportunities.

The nuns, however, say that as women they are faced with one cultural drawback that limits them in terms of operating businesses. They have had to consider this in their operations, hence they framed the cybercafe initiative under the heading of the local ministry.

The nuns hope to eventually make the local community self-reliant and contribute to the country’s economic growth. The DRC still has one of the lowest Internet penetrations in Africa, with close to 915,000 Internet users as of December 2011, representing a mere 1.3 percent of its population of nearly 73.6 million.

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