In the beginning
No telecentre can be an island. Experience and common sense tell us that telecentre sustainability, defined as social, cultural, political, technological, and financial can not be achieved without networking and knowledge sharing among telecentres. To make the work of telecentres more effective and to reach their aims they need to organise themselves by overlapping national, regional and international networks.
Somos@telecentros is important for three reasons: first, it allows telecentres to share insight and experience, increasing their effectiveness and chances of success. Secondly, it allows them to share resources, and to get access to resources more easily. Finally, these networks need to engage actively in public policy debates and organisation is a key step towards this.
This is the story of the evolution so far of somos@telecentros (www.tele-centros.org) the regional network of telecentres in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC).
In 1999, the TELELAC project (www.chasquinet.org/telelac) was established for a two-year period to investigate telecentres’ current status, dimensions and needs, collect their stories, produce a number of online resources and initiate a network of telecentres in the region. The TELELAC project was managed by ChasquiNet Foundation from Quito, Ecuador, and funding was provided by Canada’s International Development Research Centre (IDRC).
Out of the TELELAC project, the somos@telecentros (S@T) network developed and grew in strength and relevance in response to practical problems that were diagnosed among telecentres.
Development of the network
The network developed and grew through:
- Sharing experience and resources
- Expanding current activities and negotiating new alliances
- Undertaking collective evaluation and learning
- Consolidating effective business models for telecentres
- Collaborating on the production of appropriate tools and information resources
- Developing training material and support for telecentre operators and users
- Advocating for a strong telecentre role in local, national, and international policy and decision-making.
The key results of the first phase of the project, which went far beyond the initial objectives and expectations, included among others the:
- Creation of a regional network of telecentres, S@T, with over 600 active participants, 1500 registered telecentres, and a growing presence and influence in the region
- Creation of a virtual library and resources centre of telecentre-related materials
- Moderation of several online discussion lists for information exchange between telecentre practitioners and researchers in the region
- Organisation of eight national and one regional meeting of telecentre practitioners
- Participation in numerous ICT related meetings and workshops in the region and internationally
- Compilation and publication of telecentre stories
- Creation and distribution of specialised toolkits for training and operation of telecentres
- Creation and distribution of Open Source (Linux) software for telecentre operation
- Design and test of telecentre impact assessment methodology
- Publication of ‘State of the Art of Telecentres in LAC’.
The next step forward: TELELAC II
Since its inception, S@T network had quickly become the place for activism, information, education, networking, resources, lobbying efforts and communication for telecentre issues in LAC. S@T has placed the complex issues surrounding telecentres on the regional public policy agenda. The network also began working globally, linking with a variety of international organisations to promote and support the work of telecentres around the world.
But the network still faced major challenges that had to be addressed. In this order, S@T proposed a second phase for the project called TELELAC II which was financially supported by IDRC and ICA from Canada. ChasquiNet was charged with the execution of the TELELAC II project.
The general aims of the TELELAC II project were to strengthen the LAC network of telecentres that was created in the first phase of the project, and to expand, strengthen, and consolidate digital inclusion initiatives, with a specific focus on telecentre activities in the LAC region.
A key project premise is the idea that social transformation is, among other things, a product of the self transformation of the agents involved. Community based telecentres see themselves as agents of social transformation, but one of the key lessons learned in the first phase of TELELAC was that no social transformation can take place if it is not based on personal transformation of community telecentre leadership and staff. Experiences made by the S@T community suggest that those telecentres committed to collective and self development in their overall strategy tend to be the projects with the most lasting social impacts.
Key topics of TELELAC II: Network and telecentre sustainability
Community-based telecentres are vitally linked to the socio-political, cultural and economic resources of their communities. Planning the sustainability of their work in the community must provide for the growth of these links for them to maintain their relevance and legitimacy