Expanding Educational Opportunities for Palestinian Children: Netketabi

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Site: West Bank
Sector: Technology, education

Challenge: Investing in education is a challenge in the West Bank, where access to credit is limited and many families lack the resources to purchase computers, which are becoming a standard part of education in the 21st Century.

Solution: OPIC provided a $10 million loan to fund microfinance loans for families to purchase “netbook” computers stocked with Arab-language books and other educational materials.

Impact: To date (mid-2012), about 7,500 computers have been purchased through the program, which is expected to distribute between 100,000 and 280,000 computers to children over the next ten years.

The building blocks of a 21st century education
Access to education is widely understood to be a key path out of poverty and a foundation of strong, stable communities.  But some of the basic building blocks of a strong education can be costly, and difficult to introduce into remote regions and those plagued by political conflict.

In 2009, two private foundations based in the U.S. – Global Catalyst Foundation and the Skoll Foundation – formed Partners for Sustainable Development (PSD) to support access to education throughout the developing world, and identified the Palestinian Territories as one region that stood to benefit from improved access to education. Global Catalyst identified two models of Intel Corp.’s lightweight, low-cost and energy-efficient “netbook” computers that would be suitable for primary and secondary school programs. The group secured a $10 million loan from OPIC that would support microfinance loans to families buying the computers.

OPIC loan supports microfinance lending
“When you give things free of charge, people do not value them,” said Two men and a boy sitting at a desk with paperworkZohre Elahian, managing director of Redwood Shores, Calif.-based Global Catalyst. Rather than using the OPIC loan to purchase the computers and distribute them at no cost, Global Catalyst worked with a local microfinance institution, Alrafah Microfinance Bank, to structure a deal in which families could buy the computers at a discounted price, and could finance the purchase with flexible terms so that the monthly cost was as little as $10.

The Netketabi project (Arabic for my netbook) also involved other partners who embedded the computers with more than 100 Arabic-language books and other educational materials, to ensure that they would be useful even in communities that lacked regular Internet access. PSD is working with local community centers to provide two months of after-school training for each netbook recipient and serve as hubs for the netbook-based learning. It also enlisted local teachers to contribute to content development.

OPIC’s role extends beyond lending
“OPIC did what we could not do,” said Elahian, whose stressed that in addition to providing financial backing, OPIC “opened many contacts” needed to raise additional funding for other operational costs and helped it obtain Israeli security permission to ship the computers. After fine-tuning the distribution and other logistics of the deal, Global Catalyst is confident that the Netketabi project will meet its goal for distributing 280,000 computers over ten years, she said.

Elahian, who has visited several of the villages where the netbooks are in use, says the project is a success from both an educational and a financial standpoint. Students regularly use the netbooks for classes in community centers, and the majority of families that have borrowed through the program to purchase a computer are honoring their loans.

This project was profiled in 2012