Rodrigo Baggio's White Paper
All the 2006 Principal Voices are submitting a White Paper to the Web site, explaining their views at length.
Rodrigo Baggio, founder of the Committee for Democracy in Information Technology, discusses the way his network of computer schools has helped many thousands of disadvantaged young Brazilians gain skills and jobs -- as well as self-respect.
Some time around the turn of the millennium, Marcos Antonio Nascimento da Silva's life took a bad turn. Out of work and out of luck, he drifted into the world of petty crime on the streets of Sao Paulo.
He was just 17 years old when he was locked away in a home for juvenile offenders. Several hundred kilometers away, in Rio de Janeiro, Altamiro Serra and Ronaldo Monteiro - both in their late 20s and going nowhere fast - also ended up behind bars. The tales of these three men are sad but only too familiar.
And it's not just Brazil. By reinventing modernity, globalization undeniably left a trail of contradictions.
No one doubts that we have been blessed with fabulous new technologies, but often these innovations come tainted by frustrations and dreams gone sour. On the one hand, we have seen soaring productivity, breathtaking instantaneousness, and the advantages of living in a world without borders.
On the other hand there is ruthless competition, frantic consumerism, greater waste and a predatory scramble for resources. Worse, social inequality has grown, and so has crime.
The Committee for Democracy of Information Technology (CDI), a Brazilian NGO dedicated to those with low incomes or special needs, was born at this exact moment. This was in the mid 90s, the beginnings of the "knowledge society," when specialized skills were the order of the day.
Technology and communications - globalization's key tools - became the guide and measure of virtually all sectors of the economy and human activity. It was also the beginning of a brand new kind of exclusion: digital exclusion. It's not hard to guess on which side of the digital divide the Marcoses, the Altamiros, and the Ronaldos of the world fell.
CDI decided to turn the tables by pioneering a new educational model anchored in the notion that computer technology skills are essential to creating fully enfranchised citizens.
Digital inclusion means much more than access to computers and the Internet. In 965 CDI schools operating in 19 Brazilian states and eight other countries, students are taught how to use information technology to enhance their abilities to think critically and creatively, to analyze political and social reality, and to generate jobs and business opportunities.
Above all, CDI offers students and teachers alike the opportunity to work together to become protagonists in the collective effort of building a more just and egalitarian society.
Recent studies show how difficult digital inclusion will be. In Brazil alone, fewer than 16% of households own computers and a mere 12.2% of them have access to the Internet. The vast majority of computer technology is concentrated in just three regions (the federal capital, the south, and southeast) according to a 2004 study of 183 nations by the International Telecommunications Union.
Brazil placed a lowly 65th in Internet connectivity, trailing Chile, Uruguay, Argentina, Costa Rica and Mexico. The high cost of personal computers, poor computer training in the classroom and inconsistent public policies are the main reasons why middle and lower income Brazilians are still outsiders in the modern information society.
Since being formed, CDI has honed its commitment to helping the least favored. And this is where the story of Marcos, Altamiro and Ronaldo picks up again.
While still serving time, all three of them signed up for classes at CDI's schools behind bars and never looked back. When they were finally released they had mastered much more than the secrets of computers:they had come to appreciate the meaning of self esteem and self determination.
Today, Marcos works for a major company in Brazil. Altamiro coordinates a CDI school, while Ronaldo runs social projects aimed at turning underprivileged residents of the neglected outskirts of Rio into full-fledged democratic citizens.
CDI has trained more than half a million people in everything from community education to protecting the environment to organizing cooperatives. Each one of these small gestures is rooted in something much larger: the realization that technology can be harnessed as a powerful tool for social change and serve as a bridge between the real and virtual worlds. These worlds may not be so distant after all.
What do you think?
A very penetrating analysis. I would attribute the growth of extremist nationalism in India to the growing divide between the rich and the poor as a result of the booming economic opportunities. However, those that acquire riches by illegal means like politicians and unscrupulous public servants will bear the brunt of growing disenchantment from the poor. The heat is already being felt.
I read about the work you are doing and would be interested in hearing more about you.
I wish we had something like this in Honduras.
This is a good example of a leap toward the knowledge economy. Getting an information infrastructure built is only half of what is needed. It is the relevant application and skills training in ICT that can be even more important, in all areas of social development using technology- education, health, business, policy-making, etc. Taking advantage of opportunities like these is important to individual, national, and global success and the development of technology.
How can volunteers become involved with projects like those happening at CDI?
It's heart-warming to know we still have God-fearing people on earth. This is an excellent program. We could do with some help in an economically "devastated" Nigeria.
Isn't it alsp neccessary to have the work made available in the country? We are able to train so many people in the Philippines but once they get trained, the first thought is to leave the country and be a part of the brain drain we are experiencing.
I've just seen Mr. Baggio's clip on CNN and reading through his white paper online, I feel inspired. Here in India, we are progressing in so many ways on the whole, but we still need to give proper tools to certain sections of society, so that they can uplift themselves. I take the Internet completely for granted -- I'm so grateful that I even understand what I.T. is.
The paper is immensely useful and inspiring, with enough energy for motivation.
I read a brief about you in a Shell advert in a June 2006 issue of Time magazine. I found the story very inspiring.
Interestingly, we have just started working something similar in rural Niger Delta of Nigeria. But we think we can leverage on what you have done to put the right skill sets in our people to make something out of their lives. How do I contact you?
I got this Web site address through a documentary shown on CNN. I was especially fascinated because we have similar difficulties here in Nigeria, and by extension all the underdeveloped nations.
I'd like to know if Principal Voices is involved in any West African countries, and if not how can I be a partner in expanding and implementing your goals and objectives to the advantage of my country and West Africa.
Mr.Rodrigo Baggio, I would like very much to contact you because I saw your report on CNN on the 30th of July.
The reason is that I think something similar would work in Mexico City. My family are the owners of a foundation called Fundacion Miguel Aleman. It is a philanthropic foundation and has various programs.
The name of the foundation is the name of a Mexican president (1947-1952), who was my grandfather.
I hope we can talk about this in the future. Maybe you can accept my invitation to visit Mexico so that we can talk further. Thank you very much.
This is a laudable project. We will like to partner with CDI in Nigeria to provide similar community information resource centres for those at the base of the pyramid. Nigerians are far behind ICT. How can I contact ICT?
How will your laudable programme extend to rural africa countries? I can also assist, even though i am still a student in economics.
We founded a community-based organization called Development Initiatives and Self Improvement Programe (DISIP) to empower our community so that together we work out positive approaches to community problems.
We believe that information technology is not a luxury but a vital tool in the war against poverty. Unfortunately, to the majority of Ugandans, this digital tool is still a distant dream. The challenge to all of us is how to empower our people so that they can tap into this important resource.
I do not want to blame anyone for the current situation in less developed countries but I personally think that things will only get better when donors from developed world put their focus on channelling their support through grassroot organisations like CDI, because at the end of the day it is these small organisations which do meaningful work on the ground.
Governments should be left with the task of formulating conducive policies and supervision. We all know that the millions of dollars pumped in Third World countries through government ministries does not reach the people who need it most. Until there is a change in channeling of development funds, efforts like that of CDI will take scores of years to make meaningful impact.
I really thank CDI for great work. Ethiopia is one of the countries way back in IT. Fewer than five cities have Internet connection. I would like to comunicate with Rodrigo so that if it is possible I can able to help the poor in Ethiopia also. Technology can be powerful tool for social change and serve as a bridge to cross to other worlds.
I think it is very interesting to help poor people. How do I get in touch with Rodrigo?
I saw you on CNN and I love what you are doing for your co-citizens. I have always dreamed of starting a project like this in my country where internet access is difficult for poor people. How can I get started?, What international institutions can I seek assistance from?
Your work inspires me!
Great idea and execution. Is there a CDI organization in Argentina that I could join ?
I have established a similar project though a community information resource centre in rural western Kenya serving the disadvantaged rural poor, especially the young and women.
We are just three months old, but so far so good. How can i contact CDI?
I can relate to CDI because we have similar problems in South Africa.
I believe that if governments in developing countries could make broadband free and develop the necessary infrastructure, this would solve both some urbanization problems and the dependency on oil.
I was pleased to read such a story of truth and self determination.
We are living in a knowledge-based society, in which the countries who have the funds to be connected by computer definitely exceed expectations.
Myself I spend a lot of time on the Internet for research purposes and have discovered it to be a necessary tool.
Hopefully in the future, young Brazilians will be allowed this same advantage. Once connected, the possibilities are endless and the country of Brazil will benefit economically and culturally, giving its people the confidence to face the future with stronger determination and purpose.
How do I make contact with CDI? I would be very interested in finding out more about their projects. We have a huge need in this country, good English skills and a government hell bent on keeping us stuck in the dark age.
Thanks for highlighting this subject. I think the problem is in the availability of infrastructure, especially in the countries which do not have democracy, despite the fact that we are in the 21st century.
I am working with a similar NGO in Tajikistan seeking to provide IT and basic English language training. The unemployment rate is 70%.
Any suggestions where funds for developing this work can be found? Tajikistan is not high on funders' radar.
I am a Nigerian living in Australia. I can relate to CDI because Nigeria has particular social problems like Brazil.
It would be good if CDI considers setting up a branch in Nigeria to help millions of frustrated but hopeful Nigerians. I can assist in this regard if needed.
I liked the way you spoke about these three tales and how you shed light on the overall, truly dismal, picture.
The problem is the dynamic aspect of the individual's catching up process, as compared to the moving knowledge and skill frontier of the richest rest of the world (both real and virtual).