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La Educación
Número: (132-133) I,II
Año: 1999

Information and Communication Technology in Latin America

Latin America is the fastest growing Net market in the world, according to a recently published Washington Post article. “The user rate in Latin America is almost doubling every year.”1 and "the demand for IT personnel far outstrips supply."2 Only a few of the most privileged and educated sectors of society, however, are prepared to take advantage of this shortage.  Most people have little opportunity to receive technology training.  Net Corps Americas3 (NCA) believes people must have a window into the developing IT market in Latin America at the inception of the IT revolution. Otherwise, they will continue to remain on the wrong side of the digital divide.

Net Corps Americas operates a high-tech volunteer corps and a powerful movement to bridge the digital divide. Net Corps Americas acknowledges that the new information and communication technologies (ICTs) are bringing about a social and economic revolution.  In order to maximize the positive aspects of this revolution and foster sustainable development, NCA believes ICT and the training to use it should be available to all people.  It should also minimize the negative effects on the environment and include equally all cultures and languages.

Net Corps Americas revolutionizes access to ICT by deploying high-tech volunteers from around the world to communities and organizations in OAS member states.  NCA responds to the growing demand from the field and engages volunteers as the most cost-effective method to achieve the NCA mission. The current metric for deployment is approximately $4,500 per volunteer for a 90-day deployment. For this relatively small amount, Net Corps Americas leverages more than $30,000 from the work of each volunteer.  This means that a ten-volunteer team will leverage more that $300,000.  Net Corps Americas has successfully developed projects in four main areas: education, small business, environment, and civil society.  The following are examples of those projects and their impact in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Computer Training: CISCO Networking Academies

Net Corps Americas played a crucial role as the catalyst and broker in the establishment of CISCO Systems’ Networking Academies in Central America. The Trust for the Americas assisted CISCO Systems in building a working partnership with the Salesian Mission Schools, an institution with a tradition of working in low-income communities.  The Networking Academies teach students to master the necessary skills for success in the Internet economy.  These skills include designing, building, and maintaining computer networks.  Increasingly, many businesses will rely on a highly trained and technology-literate workforce.  After the rigorous four-semester program, students are prepared to take the Cisco Certified Network Associate exam accredited worldwide.

The academies foster student development, train students to use information technology, and prepare students for the real world. Attending a CISCO Networking Academy has the potential to quadruple the wages of a graduating student from a low-income area in El Salvador. Three Networking Academies have been established in San Salvador and seven more are forthcoming in the Central American region.  Through this program, CISCO, the Salesians, and Net Corps Americas have shown their commitment to bridging the digital divide.

ICT: Employment for People with Disabilities

In Latin America, people with disabilities face many challenges to fully participate in society as equal economic, social, and political players.  In countries with high poverty rates, people with disabilities are often the last to receive services and support. Because many countries have significant unemployment and underemployment rates for the general population, people with disabilities face an even greater challenge finding meaningful employment.

Armed with ICT training, people with disabilities can have an edge over others competing in the job market. Furthermore, computers contain the unique ability to transform the lives of people with disabilities and unleash their powerful potential for productive and meaningful work. A person who is a quadriplegic can write by speaking into a computer, engendering a new route to communication with friends, family, and the world. With computers adapted to an individual’s disability, he/she can perform the same duties as a person without a disability rendering physical limitations irrelevant and disproving societal misperceptions. Buddy Callum, who has been blind for 20 years, received computer training through the Community Access Program (CAP) in Miami.

“…That connection with CAP changed his life.  When his computer was equipped with a voice synthesizer, he was ready to meet the world.  For a score of years he had written no letters, but with the Internet, he soon acquired a circle of correspondents with whom he exchanges e-mail.  Every evening he “listens” to the newspapers.  He has been liberated by the Internet.”4

NCA sends volunteers to train people with disabilities and their organizations to use ICT. One such organization is Transitions. Transitions is an independent living center for a group of young Guatemalans who are paraplegic or have another type of physical disability. As members of Transitions, they do community outreach for other people with disabilities. They have established a graphic printshop to help pay for their medical and living costs.

Since they could not afford traditional training programs, one of Transitions’ few options was to receive an NCA volunteer. Amy Kunz, a NCA volunteer, former Peace Corps volunteer, and master’s degree candidate in technology at Georgetown University, currently trains the Transitions’ staff. This training supports their graphics printshop business and also includes additional computer training. NCA, in collaboration with the Netherlands Management Cooperation Programme, will also send an experienced Dutch businessman and former director of a graphics printshop to assist the Transitions’ staff in the development of their business skills.

Members of Transitions with Trust staff working on a computer recently donated by the Trust.

INFRACNOVI, an Honduran NGO, serves blind adults and children and provides them with education and health services, job training, and placement.  They are one of the main associations for blind people in Honduras. The Trust for the Americas (The Trust) is sending a Spanish university professor with extensive experience in adaptive technology to train people who are blind.

Net Corps Americas will send additional groups of volunteers to disability groups through grants from the World Bank and the eBay foundation. The Trust recently won two awards from the Development Marketplace and infoDev of the World Bank to implement this program in Central America. The Trust was selected from among over 1,300 organizations for one of two prizes by infoDev and for one of forty-four such prizes awarded by the Development Marketplace.

Small Hoteliers in the Caribbean

Net Corps Americas has also had remarkable success in the Caribbean under the aegis of the Caribbean Tourism Competitiveness and Sustainability Project - Small Hotels Assistance Program. A needs assessment survey of small hotels in the Caribbean (75 rooms and under) revealed that the early adoption of technology represents a critical need for marketing and for a response to the rapid pace of the independent consumer booking on the internet.  Similarly, while the larger hotel properties of the Caribbean were able to afford traditional marketing methods such as trade shows and tour operators, the small hotel sector suffered tremendously from an inability to employ these methods to successfully compete in the marketplace. To this end, the Net Corps Americas’ program was able to provide volunteers to work with these small hoteliers to assist them with web development services, incorporating computers into their operations, and training in basic computer skills. To date, Net Corps Americas has deployed 24 volunteers to the Caribbean and, by the end of this summer, will have provided assistance to some 230 hoteliers in the Caribbean. The volunteers often provide group training to staff of the respective Tourism Ministries and small hoteliers at technology walk-in centers established by the project in each country. One hotelier in St. Vincent proudly acknowledged the Net Corps Americas program as “a giant step to progress.” Small hoteliers in the Caribbean transformed their businesses after training from NCA volunteers.

IT for Working Youth

The project, “Information Centers for Working Youth in Quito and Guayaquil” also received a grant from the eBay Foundation. In making these donations, eBay Foundation Manager Karin Stahl stated, “Net Corps Americas provides an innovative means to bridge the Digital Divide. The organization uses the skills and strengths of several non-profits to work together to help communities.” The Information Centers for Working Youth in Quito and Guayaquil project is an innovative component of “Construyendo Nuestro Futuro” (Building Our Future), which has a working relationship with the OAS, CICAD (Inter-American Drug Abuse Commission). This program has been designed in response to needs demonstrated by youth living in high-risk areas of Quito and Guayaquil, Ecuador.

Net Corps Americas will send volunteers to assist and train educators and youth participating in the program in information technology and Internet skills. Net Corps Americas volunteers will also provide models for employment in micro-enterprises. The volunteers will have direct teaching contact with 360 street kids and the 55 teachers and staff of the two centers. They will also assist an additional 100 street kids indirectly through informal training.