Learning from Indian Peers: Rural and Urban Digital Inclusion Meeting, Chile

Filed under: March 2010 |

March-2010

 

Angélica Rojas Munoz

General Coordinator
Chile telecentre.org Academy

Introduction

The meeting on ‘Rural and Urban Digital Inclusion: ICT access points as strategic spaces for the implementation of public policies for development and innovation’ was held at Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) building on 29th and 30st October, 2009, in Santiago de Chile. It was organised by Asociación de Telecentros Activos de Chile (ATACH), Academia de Telecentros, ECLAC and @LIS. Other strategic partners included telecentre.org, Biblioredes and Universidad de la Frontera. It was sponsored by  the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (India), Secretaría Ejecutiva Estrategia Digital, Microsoft, Chilenter, Fundación para la Innovación Agraria –FIA- and Universidad de Concepción.

Spread over two days, approximately 175 people attended the meeting; 46 of them were telecentre operators and personnel from Public Libraries, 23 foreign guests from El Salvador, Brazil, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, Canada and India, and the rest were representatives from the Government and Universities, Civil Society and other organisations linked to the national telecentres movement.

The meeting was graced by the presence of  MS Swaminathan, described by the UN as the father of ecological economy. He visited Chile as part of the commitment made by the Foundation and the Agriculture Department during the  visit of Her Excellency President Michelle Bachelet to India. The main purpose of his participation in this meeting was sharing the experience of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, both in designing and implementing telecentres for rural development as well as  training telecentre operators.

The plenary addressed by him had a massive attendance and his presence imprinted a stamp of quality and importance, both national and Latin American, to the meeting and the launch of the Academia de Chile, because of the recognition accorded to the distinguished and world-famous guest. It also led to perceiving ATACH and its partners as key factors in the Chilean telecentre movement.

The activities worth taking note of during the workshop were the plenary address of Swaminathan, the launching of the Academia de Chile and the presentation made by Florencio Ceballos from telecentre.org. The panels focused on two topics- ‘Design of Public Policies aimed at decreasing the digital gap in Latin America’ and ‘The role of telecentre operators in the implementation of public policies aimed at decreasing the digital gap’. The second day of the meeting witnessed presentations by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation representatives (India),  José Avando (ATN, Brazil), Julián Casasbuenas (COLNODO, Colombia) and Maicú Alvarado (CEPES, Perú). The panels were organised around the following ICT themes: ‘Experiences and good practices of telecentre networks in rural digital inclusion fields’ and ‘Experiences and good practices of the telecentre Academies’. These were followed by a very important activity for the regional telecentres movement: the launching of the Regional Telecentre Network.

Objectives of the meeting

The main aim of the meeting was acknowledging the importance of telecentres as strategic spaces that promote the implementation of public policies aimed at dealing with and overcoming social issues, specifically those regarding digital inclusion of vulnerable people in both rural and urban areas. Within this context, the objective of the meeting was to understand experiences related to the importance of a telecentre in implementing public policies aimed at the development of communities where these telecentres are placed and understanding the importance of constant learning as a tool for development and digital inclusion.

Issues discussed at the meeting

The presence of the Telecommunications Secretariat, represented by the Head of Fund Management Division of Telecommunications Development, Raúl Arrieta, helped in understanding the narrow connection between public organisations responsible for giving access to the citizens to new means of communication and organisations interested in giving a social value to that access, as an efficient mechanism for social inclusion. Arrieta said, “For us as Government, this is a very valuable activity, not only because of the eight years of ATACH, but also because digital inclusion is also one of the main worries that our Government has had in the way of reducing inequalities….” The authority noticed the importance of ATACH for the national telecentres movement, thus, the Government concern about digital inclusion of the citizens was established. Arrieta added, “… It’s not only about the ones that have access and those, who do not, but, the gap in Chile is much more than access; it is one of contents, of economic, geographical and educational ability… Because of that, this enormous task of reducing them is linked  directly to the telecentre work.”

The Adviser of Electronic Government, Studies and Policies Area, of the Executive Secretary of Digital Strategy of the Economics Department, Patricio Astorga Veloso, says regarding the next challenges, “We have to be prepared to face new challenges in the overcrowding policy of ICT access and ask ourselves how to access a mobile phone. The public policies will have to offer appropriate conditions for developing new abilities in the access points or telecentres.” Erika Silva, professional and member of the implementing team of Project Quiero Mi Barrio of Chile Telecommunications Secretariat, SUBTEL, says, “Telecentres are the bridges for the citizens to be heard, for seeing the invisible, for sharing what we know, for learning with others and from others, and for empowering  those, who do not have power.”

In the interventions of the Government representatives, there was a concern regarding what telecentres are and what they should be in the future, nevertheless, it’s important to continue the discussion and collaboration between the State, Civil Society and citizens. It’s evident that the State understands the importance of telecentres, because they contribute in an effective way to the inclusion of citizens in the current social context and also, set out concrete challenges for the telecentre movement. One of them is the necessity of developing abilities both in telecentre operators and users.

MS Swaminathan shared during the meeting how they were implementing the Government policies aimed at giving access to rural zones of India, through a model that connects both the telecenters and the Virtual Academy, in a kind of symbiosis where the former is the space that allows access and the latter is the institution that capacitates the operators to use the new technology correctly. MS Swaminathan said that the capacity building of the operator through such Academies is fundamental for the achievement of telecentres movement objectives; an institution that could lead the operator towards obtaining a professional degree.

It was followed by the telecentre representatives captivating the audience by sharing their tasks and achievements, strengths and weaknesses that contributed to a deeper understanding of the gaps and challenges faced by the national and regional telecentre movements. Enzo Abbagliati, Director of Biblioredes, said, “When we talk about digital inclusion through public policies, which is the case of a public institution like Biblioredes, we bet to change faces, people, personal history of the inclusion processes… public library is a meeting place, a communitarian space opened to the necessities… and on that library, technological infrastructure is injected… we seek to generate impact, from  access, from competences, from promotion of digital local content generation and from turning the public library into a social interaction place.” The Director of COLNODO, Colombia, Julián Casasbuenas, shared the thematic lines of the institution he manages and how they understand the telecentre from his perspective, “We aim to enable easy telecommunication through low cost electronic networks on subjects, like human rights, women, governance, democracy and citizen participation, strategic use of ICT for development… Telecentres are, for us, meeting, learning and communication spaces, where ICT use is offered as a means for improving the life conditions of  the people.”

We can find in both presentations, similarities in the understanding of telecentre as a social space, where access is made easy, but also a place where changes happen and learning is achieved. We stress the important  role of Academies, as institutions that facilitates the promotion of and access to continuous capacity building and professionalisation of the operator and his contribution to the community where the telecentre is located.

Regarding the second specific aim, “Spreading and strengthening the role of Latin American Telecentre Academies and its impact on capacity building as a strategic tool for the urban and rural digital inclusion of the citizens”, the fundamental landmark that made it possible to reach this aims was the launching of the Academia de Telecentros de Chile, where emphasis was on the necessity of building an Academy according to the telecentre operator needs, “… the Academia de Chile is at the service of operators, and you are the ones who have to tell us what communities need… we design a basic curriculum plan, but you have the opportunity to dream and ask the Academy what you need.”

The model of the Academy  implemented by the Foundation in India impressed the audience because of its achievements, quantity, coverage and  connection with community needs where telecentres are set up, and responding to them in a specific way through its capacity building programmes. Through the presentations of S Senthilkumaran, Director, IEC, Jamsetji Tata National Virtual Academy and Training School, MSSRF, and Nancy J Anabel, Principal Scientist, MSSRF, the audience was able to understand its rural telecentre implementation model, closely connected to the policies of the Indian Government, and the operators’ capacity building model executed by the Virtual Academy. Swaminathan stressed the importance of education to turn the operator into a change agent, professionalising him in a continuous way.

The Latin American Academy representatives also stressed the importance of Academies for strengthening the telecentre movement in each of their countries. The experience shared by  José Avando stood out; he said, “The Academy is one of the training model we have in ATN; we have other institutions that also give training… We have a curriculum that meets different needs with innovative learning and teaching methodologies. What is important is that operators could access learning…” Likewise, Maicú Alvarado said that “The Academy of Peru starts its training in November; it is at an incipient stage. Nevertheless, we have achieved, with the support of the Academy of Colombia, the project execution, which means that there was a transfer from one Academy to another, and that’s very important…” It’s important to stress on, as mentioned by  Alvarado, the collaboration between national Academies, because the COLNODO advised the CEPES of Peru in designing and developing its Academy. In the coming months after the meeting, Guatemala (Technology and Science National Secretariat) and Argentina (FLACSO) have shown an interest in understanding the experiences of Latin American Academies, which demonstrates an interest at the regional level for strengthening the role of the telecentre operator through a continuous and specialised capacity building process.


The State should work towards designing public policies that strengthen the telecentre movement.


The third specific aim, ‘Exchanging knowledges, ideas and good practices between Chile Telecentre Networks and MS Swaminathan Foundation,  India leaders, for the search of new job opportunities that could benefit both rural innovation and development fields with the correct use of It’s', was met after understanding the Foundation’s telecentre and Academy model. Nevertheless, it is necessary to promote new rapprochements that allow to go into those aspects in depth. Thanks to this first exchange, a connection with the Foundation could be established, and it progressed to the second stage in December 2009, when a member of ATACH was invited to India for participating in a study trip with the purpose to understand the Indian model.

Towards a better future for telecentres

The meeting was a combination of South South Exchange and peer to peer learning that kicked off a series of developments in this regard. A fundamental achievement of the meeting was the active participation of operators, who shared their vision, expectations and frustrations associated with their role as facilitators of digital inclusion. María Ávalos, an operator’s presentation, was a landmark for her ability to transform her specific weakness as a visually disabled person into strength at the time of helping telecentre users. She shared, “Computing has opened a great door for disabled people and allows a real integration… This is a vivid example of what telecentres can do for people.” Another operator’s presentation, Fabiola Torres, allowed seeing the operators aspirations, the value they add to their job and its profile, not only as the ones who manage the telecentre, but also as intermediary between the user and knowledge, with a strong commitment for services given to the community.

To make this place last in time, be strengthened and move on to a new development stage, it’s necessary to establish effective strategies that ensure its economic, social and administrative subsistence. It’s in this perspective that the State, Civil Society and citizens play a fundamental role. The State should work towards designing public policies that strengthen the telecentre movement. Civil Society must be in a position to contribute to telecentres’ future and at the moment when technologies are widely adopted and telecentres are not anymore a privileged place for technology access, it can play a significant role within the communities. It’s task is to look forward and identify new social requirements. Citizens are the reason for telecentres’ existence, so, their voices must be always heard, their needs and requirements must continue to influence the designing and implementing of public policies, projects and strategies for the development of these social spaces. Likewise, academies must turn into strategic tools for the world telecentres movement, because education and learning are the fundamental conditions for people’s social development and thus, an effective instrument for countries’ development.


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