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SA innovator named Social Entrepreneur of the Year

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

South African telecommunications innovator Rael Lissoos has been named Social Entrepreneur of the Year for his project Dabba which brings cheap mobile communication technology to townships in South Africa.

Images by Gallo Images
The awards which are aimed at promoting social entrepreneurship were hosted earlier this month by German-based Hasso Plattner Ventures, Deutsche Bank and MAN Ferrostaal, a German industrial services firm.

Lissoos' Dabba Telecoms project was honoured for the way in which it uses modern technology to bridge the digital divide.

"His company DABBA Telecoms provides the township of Orange Farm south of Johannesburg with cheap to no cost VoIP mobile communication and thus helps to overcome the disadvantages of the poor in the digital age," said a statement issued by Hasso Plattner Ventures.

"I really wasn't expecting to win, there were many great ideas presented there" said Lissoos. "So it was quite a surprise and the exposure since has been valuable."

"But man cannot survive on awards alone, so our work continues," adds Lissoos.  "We want to roll out Dabba in many more townships and eventually in other developing countries."

Dabba Telecoms is a culmination of Lissoos' ongoing work in technology and education that started with the Learning Channel Campus - an extension of the well known programme from television to the internet.

In order to see as many schools as possible benefit from the online Learning Channel content, Lissoos founded VIKO. An acronym for Video Out Knowledge In, the system allows schools to connect all their computers to one central computer that holds the relevant educational content.

Since the computers are connected via a network, the need for an internet connection is eliminated thus removing financial and technological barriers to access.

To further extend the reach of this educational material, Lissoos pioneered Magnolia Wireless - a system that would allow three or four schools to connect to the central computer by means of wireless technology.

In addition to sharing information via the Magnolia Wireless network, the technology employed also allowed the connected schools to make phone calls to each other free of charge.

From here the logical next step was Dabba - a village-based telecommunications network that would allow poorer communities to make free calls. The first network has been established in Orange Farm with more to follow in other Johannesburg townships.

Lissoos firmly believes that telecommunication companies in South Africa are over charging their customers in what he refers to as "pure greed."

"They really are charging more than necessary and it's the poorest people in the country that pay the harshest prices," he says.

"What we are doing will either encourage the telecoms companies to bring their prices down or we continue to work towards getting Dabba to reach as many people as possible. Either way the right people will benefit," adds Lissoos.

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