The Role of Telecentres in Empowering Rural Communities in Malawi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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Telecentres have existed for over three decades to reduce digital exclusion. However, their effectiveness remains debateable. This is mainly because research has focused on who owns and uses telecentres even though focusing on how telecentres empower their communities would make more meaningful contribution. Therefore, this study investigated how telecentres empower communities in Malawi. Specifically, it investigated how empowered telecentre users empower their communities; and the factors that influence users in empowering communities. I employed qualitative approach to collect data from two telecentres in Malawi. I call these Telecentre A and Telecentre B. Both of these telecentres were established by the Malawi Government and were later handed over to the community and entrepreneurs respectively. Specifically, focus groups, non-participant observation and semi-structured interviews were conducted to collect data from telecentres users, indirect beneficiaries, telecentres managers and a government official. In this project, the telecentre manager, users and indirect beneficiaries were players at micro level while the government official was a major player at the macro level. The findings indicate that telecentres empower their users who, in turn, empower others at micro level i.e. empowering individuals such as friends, families and colleagues; and macro level. Users empower individuals by leading to intrapersonal empowerment for others e.g. increasing indirect beneficiaries’ psychological skills and cognitive frames and skills; and interactional empowerment e.g. critical awareness; leadership development; and career development and employment opportunities. At macro level, users lead to community organisation; and social empowerment e.g. improving health in the communities. The study further finds that some indirect beneficiaries empower others thereby extending empowerment effects of ICTs further. The findings of the study also indicate that conversion of individual user empowerment to community empowerment is enabled by social cohesion, sense of community, beneficiaries’ willingness for help, community participation, users’ desire for advancements and community organisations. The way these factors work differ based on the type of community. However, empowerment is hindered by limited availability of resources, people’s attitudes, gender issues, structural factors and psychological factors. The study furthers our understanding on effectiveness of telecentres in empowering communities, and consequently, in reducing digital exclusion. The main findings in this thesis point to the significance of going beyond telecentre users when assessing the impact of telecentres. The study makes valuable contribution by suggesting a model for understanding the role of telecentre in empowering rural communities in developing countries; and linking individual and community empowerment and the factors that mediate between these. The results are essential to the body of knowledge in ICT4D, practitioners, policy makers and Malawi Government.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Panteli, Niki, Supervisor
  • Bernadi, Roberta, Supervisor, External person
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Jun 2021
Publication statusPublished - 21 May 2021


  • Telecentres
  • ICT4D
  • Digital exclusion
  • Empowerment
  • Rural communities
  • Developing countries
  • Malawi

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