II. Bridging the Global Digital Divide
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Canada Making a Difference in the Americas
At the Summit of the Americas in Québec City (2001), the leaders of the western hemisphere democracies issued a statement, Connecting the Americas. In addition to leading the discussion on ICTs and development in the Americas, Canada made a commitment to establish the Institute for Connectivity in the Americas (ICA).
Incubated at IDRC, the ICA has been given seed funding to build on the success and experience of the Connecting Canadians initiative and Canada's international and ICT programs. By promoting ICTs for development in Latin America and the Caribbean, the ICA strives to connect the Americas through knowledge creation and capacity building. The Institute helps forge partnerships and co-funds projects. By connecting the people of the Americas, the ICA hopes to strengthen democracy, create prosperity and help realize the region's human potential.
The Institute supports projects in three core areas:
- e-strategies — case studies, profiles of successful projects and policy studies;
- knowledge network — virtual collaboration networks, awards, and seminars and events; and
- innovation and demonstration — strategic regional projects and small grants.
The ICA is helping to open high-speed university networks and to provide wireless fidelity (WiFi) links to connect computer centres in the favelas (slums) near Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. E-Link Americas, an ambitious effort to give universal Internet access to remote and marginalized communities through wireless is now under development. ICA partners include the Government of Canada, IDRC, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States and the World Bank.
The ICA works closely with IDRC's Pan Americas corporate project, which supports research on the social uses and impact of ICTs for development in Latin America and the Caribbean. The project strengthens the capacity of civil society organizations to understand the implications of ICTs for development, and to participate more effectively and influence policy making in the region. Pan Americas fosters collaborative approaches to research and learning, and promotes sensitivity to gender issues.
Canada has also spearheaded a process at the Organization of American States to help with implementation and to bring together the major funding agencies (www.citel.oas.org/Connectivity%20Agenda.asp).
Institute for Connectivity in the Americas — Laptop Warrior Against Human Rights Abuse
In Colombia, the Institute for Connectivity in the Americas (ICA) is supporting the work of Vilma Almendra, a 23-year-old Paez Indian, who uses ICTs as an antidote to violence against indigenous peoples. Almendra coordinates the community information service, or telecentre, in the town of Santander de Quilichao in southwest Colombia.
The telecentre lists and denounces human rights abuses, and brings them to national and international attention. Many Paez have used the Internet to circulate pictures of friends and relatives who have gone missing after armed attacks on towns and villages. "We have succeeded in reaching international audiences," says Ms. Almendra, "something we weren't able to do before we set up the telecentre. We can now communicate with the media, donor agencies, and human rights and environmental organizations."
ICTs are also helping Paez and other indigenous communities to push ahead with their own social and economic development, including education, health, land management, legal protection and monitoring legislation.
Pan Americas — An Internet Home for NGOs
In Brazil, the ICA is supporting Rede de informaçãoes para o terceiro setor (RITS) in its work to help civil society organizations use ICTs on such issues as human rights, education, the environment and health.
RITS disseminates a weekly e-zine of news from NGOs and its Web site hosts a virtual research centre on Brazilian civil society. RITS also provides Web site hosting, e-mail access and intranet services for hundreds of organizations.
RITS believes that, if NGOs invest in the Internet, they will be better equipped to address the needs of their clients, often among the poorest of the population.