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Sajda Qureshi
photo by Tim Fitzgerald

This article written by Dr. Qureshi originally ran on the editorial pages of the Omaha World-Herald last month. An Omaha World-Herald editorial in support of her piece follows.

January 10, 2008

Technology is crucial to spurring growth

by Sajda Qureshi

Omaha World-Herald

The writer is an associate professor in the College of Information Science and Technology at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

"Omaha is known far and wide as the home of Warren Buffett, one of the wealthiest men on the planet. It boasts the headquarters of five Fortune 500 companies, the most for any U.S. city its size.

"But the Omaha metropolitan area also has another economic distinction: home to one of the poorest black communities you'll find anywhere in America. Among America's 100 largest metro areas, Omaha has the third-highest black poverty rate."

With these sentences, an April 15, 2007, front-page article in The World-Herald detailed shockingly widespread, endemic poverty within Omaha's African-American community. Correcting these inequities and revitalizing Omaha's impoverished communities will require a metro-wide effort on many fronts, but a key component must be economic development.

Critical for the economic development of Nebraska is the development of microenterprises. These businesses, according to Gov. Dave Heineman, are the base of Nebraska's economy, as 87 percent of the businesses in Nebraska are microenterprises.

The Association of Enterprise Opportunity estimates that microenterprise businesses have an average job creation rate of 1.7 employees per business. In addition, numerous studies of low-income microenterprises generally find that each business generates about 1.5 jobs.

In Nebraska alone, a total of 3,895 microbusiness trainees (including those involved in classroom training and business counseling) resulted in 6,702 jobs created from July 2005 through June 2006. Yet many microenterprises are hindered from growing and functioning efficiently by an inability to use information technology effectively.

During the fall of 2006 and 2007, colleague Peter Wolcott and I conducted a service learning course on Information Technology for Development at the University of Nebraska at Omaha as a means of improving microenterprises and training students to develop appropriate, creative and innovative approaches to solving problems of development with IT.

This course came about as a result of participation in UNO's Service Learning Academy, which brought us in touch with our community partner, New Community Development Corp. (NCDC). The NCDC had received a grant from the eBay Foundation to provide computers and training to a selected set of microenterprises. The NCDC is in its second year as a community recipient of the eBay Foundation Techquity Program and a partner with UNO.

The partnership was developed in 2006 and continues under the direction of Ken Lyons, the NCDC's president and CEO, Terrie Jackson Miller, director of economic and community development, Wolcott and myself at UNO. We are collaborating with the NCDC on a Center for Technology Community Cyberspace Cafe that we hope will provide the community with entrepreneurship and IT skills needed to grow businesses.

The NCDC refers us to microenterprises that have received computers and some training through their program. Our students partner with these microenterprise entrepreneurs. In class, our students learn IT and business development skills that they apply in the community.

In taking this course, our students learn about poverty reduction and economic development through the creation of IT solutions tailored to microenterprise needs in Omaha. These skills go beyond training and technical support. Students help the microenterprise owners think about how to develop their business using IT skills.

For example, the students enable microenterprise owners to develop and update their Web sites to access new customers. With student help, a massage therapist who initially had reservations about using technology began providing information on her services through a Web site, and then started a new line of business selling health care products through an ecommerce site that she herself maintains. Another microenterprise owner who had never used a computer learned how to use email for communicating with customers and suppliers to make his business more efficient.

These efforts have assisted microenterprises in using IT to access new markets, run their businesses more efficiently and increase income. At the same time, we are teaching our students to be able to apply IT in innovative ways to bring about more effective entrepreneurship.

While in some cases students may help alleviate poverty, the broader impact is in the entrepreneurship, through IT-related skills and awareness gained by both students and microenterprise owners. In this way, economic development is stimulated within inner-city communities in Nebraska.

January 10, 2008

Seeds of innovation

Opinion

Omaha World-Herald

What an encouraging development a University of Nebraska at Omaha professor describes in a Midlands Voices essay today. UNO, she explains, is working with small-business owners in north Omaha to improve their computer and telecommunications skills.

As noted by Sajda Qureshi, an associate professor in UNO's College of Information Science and Technology, the project has benefited a variety of "microenterprises" in north Omaha. Among the different types of businesses helped: a delicatessen, tutoring services, a massage therapist, a cake decorator, a pet groomer, a modeling agency and a house for inmates reentering society.

Qureshi has a sophisticated understanding of how new-media technologies open up economic opportunities crucial to alleviating poverty. The UNO professor intensively studies technology/economic development projects in both developed nations as well as in low-income countries.

Her work here in the Midlands and overseas reinforces her central thesis about the high value of the links between telecommunications skills and economic development.

This north Omaha initiative reflects well on the University of Nebraska as a whole and illustrates the type of innovative, forward-looking approaches Omaha needs in addressing its poverty challenges.

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