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The Dili Distance Learning Center: Working to Rebuild Timor-Leste

Monday, May 1st, 2006

Training Programs Bring Much-Needed Expertise to New Nation

A street scene in downtown Dili. Photo: Alex Baluyut, World Bank Photo Library

The Dili Distance Learning Center (DDLC), the Global Development Learning Network affiliate in Timor-Leste, has become instrumental in providing much-needed knowledge and expertise for the region’s newest nation.

The force behind it is its manager, João Loução. Together with his training coordinator, Ildefonso da Silva, Joao has brought amazing energy to the Center to make it a hive of activity. Its utilization rate has averaged 40-45%, reaching 74% in March 2006—not an easy task under difficult circumstances.

Here, information and communication technology has brought hope through invaluable training programs. The DDLC was established in March 2002 with funding from the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Government of Portugal. 90% of its activities focus on training programs, 5% on operational support, and the remainder on experience sharing and communications. The DDLC has succeeded in working with bi-lateral and multi-lateral agencies, governments, civil society and church groups. Specifically, João has initiated collaborative activities with JICA, Japan’s International Cooperation Agency, and looks forward to taking the relationship to a new level.

With goals of raising the effectiveness of development programs and capacity building,  a vital function of the DDLC has been to strengthen public administration institutions through targeted training courses for civil servants.

Two GDLN programs have been particularly successful. A 6-month training course on legal drafting for Timorese officials, part of a UNDP supported project “Strengthening the Justice System in Timor-Leste” will run until July 2006, following up on the first series which ran from May to November 2005. Its content was developed by the Portuguese National Administration Institute and combines videoconferencing as well as local classroom training sessions facilitated by a UNDP legal expert.

Another series underway is a 200 hour course on performance management of public sector organizations which will conclude in June 2006. Funded by the Portuguese Cooperation Agency, 25 officials from Timor-Leste’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries will participate, taking advantage of distance learning technologies to acquire knowledge and expertise from experts in Portugal.

Looking to other projects, João pins his hopes on JICA, as he believes that JICA’s experience gives it the potential to provide contents relevant to Timor-Leste. João has worked with the JICA-Net Center in Kuala Lumpur to facilitate the launch of a Research Report on the Security Sector in Timor-Leste by a Timorese expert in Malaysia for the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs.

Significantly, the DDLC has given extensive support to JICA’s operational meetings, totaling 12.5 hours, 25 hours, and 16 hours for fiscal years 2004, 2005 and 2006 respectively. João feels that JICA and the DDLC/GDLN could also cooperate on developing knowledge sharing activities to support the implementation of JICA projects on the ground. The DDLC has also hosted JICA-Net Seminars in an effort to advance collaboration in the future.

Compared to GDLN centers in the more established countries of Asia, the DDLC faces unique challenges. “We face different realities, different issues” notes João. Because of the special needs of a fledgling nation, tailor-made programs are crucial for Timor-Leste. João has identified tourism and infrastructure, especially roads and water supply, as areas which demand work. Finding the right partners to develop appropriate contents takes time, but João insists on quality. Recognizing the importance of interpretation and translation skills in a country where multiple languages are in use, João hosts a course once a year to train interpreters and facilitators.

These efforts have paid off. Attention to local needs and working in a consultative manner with local organizations has given the DDLC credibility with the government of Timor-Leste. This has led to enthusiastic support from donors, resulting in a steady flow of funded programs for the near future. João believes that these achievements have laid the foundation to make the DDLC a sustainable and highly effective institution.

Still, there are many issues that must be addressed in the long term. Strengthening local management capabilities and the perception of DDLC as a Timorese institution, supported by the World Bank and other institutions, is imperative.

With so much happening at the DDLC, “Our main problem has been promoting what we do”. This, says João, is important to acquire resources to maintain the level of activity that the Timorese have come to expect from their Center.


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