Thursday, May 22, 2008

Breaking the silence | Time to keep blogging

I am back to this blogging business after more than a month of inactivity in my publishing space. Many things have happened during the last six months; all interesting, all inspiring, all part of a very cool learning process. I just needed some time to reflect on these experiences and the learnings they brought with them and that will shape the ones to come.

This reflexivity moment also allowed me to deal with bureaucratic processes that I had just plainly ignored in the last months: getting my travel to Poland and Latvia reimbursed, dealing with my US working visa, and planning for the work for next year.

Back in action now! Glad it is over, but I must admit that I enjoyed having a bit of time to pause and digest everything I've learned in the last year.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Lessons from Riga | Networks are about personal relations and trust

There are so many interesting things that happened during these two days of the Telecenters Forum... many lessons and ways for the network to move forward. The most relevant learning I am taking with me back to Seattle is that networks are about people who care for each other personally, first and foremost.

It is difficult to convey in few words how relevant this lesson is. Networks, as a form of organization
, do not provide much value if personal relations, trust, and care for each other at a more deeper level is not present in a group. During these two days became very evident that we see value on a European network because the people who are part of it at this stage care for each other as individuals first, and community leaders and e-inclusion advocates second.

For networks to be valuable there needs to be a commitment to put that bit of extra effort, extra hours of work to share, learn, and take advantage of each other's experiences. All of that exist simply because we consider each other friends and care about each other's work. Competition is not a word that you will find in this group, and I am very happy to see that.

From Barcelona, to Riga, to wherever else this initiative takes us we must have this lesson very present: we are friends, we trust each other, and we want each other's project to succeed just as our own.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Telecenter Leaders Forum in Riga | building a network for collaboration in Europe

My work has brought me once again to this wonderful city for a gathering of Telecenter leaders representing almost every country in the European Union + some others. The effort to bring together organizations from around the EU working on e-inclusion programs started last year in Barcelona. In this second meeting of this nascent EU telecenters network these organizations will discuss ways to strengthen collaboration, establish venues to learn from each other, and find a common voice to promote this programs among governments and the private sector.

60 people, 43 organizations representing 23 countries from the European Union + 3 North American + 2 Mexicans. Old friends, new friends, all together discussing for two days the opportunities for collaboration and networking. With Riga as the setting... what else could we ask for!!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Building your trainers ICT skills | ECDL certificate as an alternative for train of trainer programs

Having qualified trainers is one of the most important elements of e-skills training programs, this is well known, not really rocket science. However, the way that NGOs approach train of trainer (TOT) programs really varies depending on the needs of the target population, the social mission of the organization, the availability of human capital (i.e. trainers willing to improve their skills if necessary), and the resources available to train them.

Some NGOs develop their own TOT programs combining a variety of skills (e-skills, teaching methodology for groups with special needs, cultural sensitivity, etc). Others, use readily available e-skills training programs that lead to official certification, and this is the case of
LIKTA and its NGO partners in Latvia. LIKTA provides resources to its NGO partners for train the trainer programs that require trainers to become ECDL (European Computer Driver LIcense) certified, ensuring not only the quality of the trainers that the partners recruit, but offering also an incentive for them to build ICT skills that are transferable to the broader labor market.

For many trainers, the income they receive for teaching e-skills to underserved populations is an additional income aside to their every day jobs. For others, working with NGOs as trainers is the main and sole source of income they bring home. In either case, improving trainers quality and ability to teach while providing an incentive such an ECDL certificate, which by the way is expensive and out of the reach to many,is definitely a very wise strategy:
  • It is a smart use of NGO resources: time and money | instead of channeling resources to develop the actual ICT skills component of TOT - no need to reinvent the wheel
  • NGOs end up with qualified trainers with transferable skills in the labor market (either currently employed outside the NGO, or building experience for future employment)
NGOs working with a variety of groups (disabled, elderly, etc.) can bring "expert" trainers that help these groups with "specialized" teaching approaches. LIKTA's partner in Ventpils, the Digital Center, provides training for deaf and blind or visually impaired people using this strategy and, as the NGO director reported, they think it is a successful approach.

Some food for thought...

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Field research in Latvia | e-inclusion projects in Preili and Ventspils

On Wednesday and Thursday during our visit to Latvia, we had the opportunity to travel to the southern and western provinces of this country. Since there are many commonalities between the two e-inclusion projects, I decided to write about them jointly and point in separate posts to unique features of the e-skills training programs of these organizations. First, a brief intro to Preili and Ventspils, as we all know locality matters.

On Wednesday, we traveled to Southern Latvia to visit one of LIKTA's partner the Society Preili NGO centre, in a beautiful town called Preili located in the Latgale region. This region was declared one of the poorest in the newly expanded European Union, and similar to what we witnessed in Bialystok, Poland, the lack of opportunities has caused a significant migration of the workforce to Ireland and the UK. The region main economic activity is agriculture and of the most important sources of jobs is a big dairy farm, located at the heart of the city. This region has a strong Russian population

On Thursday, field research took us to Western Latvia to Ventpils, a beautiful port city located in the Kurzeme region and in the only part of the Baltic Sea that doesn't freeze during the winter. The city is also known for its Universities which attract a large population of students from all over the country. We visited the Digital Center of Ventspils. The city's main economic activities revolve around the port, the Universities, a chemical plant, and some small and medium enterprises.

During these two days, we interviewed NGO staff, trainers, and trainees. We visited the training facilities, and another important ICT public access point: libraries

Cultural Note 4 Revisited: On women in Latvia

I must say, this is the first time that I visit a country were women are the center of any possible activity in society. I've heard about women in Latvia been much more active in different economic, social, and every day circles than men... this is an understatement. I've never been surrounded by so many motivated women eager to always improve themselves, find the next thing, and been completely outgoing and outspoken. I must be honest, I loved it!!

I shared with you
before how hard was for me to engage men in conversation while doing the interviews for the research. Well, with women I didn't have that problem and actually the problem became having enough time to capture their experiences and motivation with the e-skills training, enough time to capture their stories. I tried my best.

I asked during my interviews why women seem to be more active than men and more willing to learn new things and a I got a wide range of responses influenced, of course, by people's own stories and personal experiences. However, my interpreter Gatis, a very nice smart men by the way, explained to me that during Soviet times the collectivization of work brought women into spheres that were solely dominated by men (factories, farms, etc).

The Soviets even created an award called The Labor Hero to be granted to all those men and women whose hard work - work as in labor - had made a difference in their communities.The younger generation of women for whom the Soviet occupation is a historical memory are taken this full participation to heart too.

In the centers we visited during our research, almost all the trainees, trainers, and NGO workers were women of all ages. All of those demanding the NGOs to provide more e-skills training programs were women. There is something about labor heroes, I guess.
Once again, the advantage of having good interpreters and local friends for that cultural immersion!

(My thanks to Katya Fedotova for the correction on my note)

Understanding LIKTA's work on e-inclusion | The project Latvia@World

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet with Mara Jacobsone and her team at the LIKTA office in Riga. The Latvian Information and Communications Technology Association (LIKTA) is a professional NGO that encompasses the ICT industry and ICT professionals. Established in 1998, LIKTA works to promote the development of the information society, ICT education and e-skills, and to encourage the growth of the ICT industry. LITKA represents over 80 organizations from the ICT industry, research, and educational institutions.

Of particular relevance for our discussion on e-skills and employability is LIKTA's initiative Latvia@World. The goal of this initiative is to provide opportunities for different undeserved groups to acquire the basic skills needed for using computers and the Internet while strengthening social networks at the local and national level through participation and cooperation. Within this e-inclusion initiative, LIKTA partners with local social organizations in different regions of the country providing them with training materials and train-of-trainer programs to build the e-capacity of these organizations. During this field research, we will have the opportunity to visit LIKTA's social partners and learn more about their work in two locations: Preili, in southern Latvia and Ventspils, a port town in the west side of the country.

Something that is worth mentioning is that LIKTA is an special kind of NGO since through their work the organization is able to reach and bring together three different spheres that affect significantly e-inclusion initiatives: 1) The social organizations or NGOs sphere; 2) The private sector sphere; and 3) The government sphere. Finding ways in which these three spheres intersect is very unique of the work LIKTA does.

The details of these intersections will become more clear in the next pos