BERLIN, Germany, 06 March 2006
Bolivia is today associated with a president wearing a striped pullover while touring the world and shaking hands with shiny, manicured counterparts in suits. But since Evo Morales took office, many social movements and NGOs have not been distracted by media attention. Morales or not, they’re fighting the true struggles in villages, cities and valleys of the great landlocked Andean country.
One of these struggles has to do with access to information and communication technologies (ICTs) and the internet. Many social movements use ICTs daily to email, phone and work to advance social change. In the heart of Bolivia’s commercial capital, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, four organisations got together in February and unrolled their workshop on ICTs for development (ICTD).
What ICTs, and for what kind of development, you ask?
Surrounded by the tropical forests of Bolivia, about 18 organisations and institutions representing civil society, the private sector and the government gathered to develop proposals and action strategies for ICT policies. Most of the participants brought with them the lessons learned during their involvement in the Estrategia Boliviana de Tecnologías de Información y Comunicación para el Desarrollo (Bolivian ICTD strategy – ETIC) process.
The Red TICBolivia  network (Bolivian ICT multistakeholder coalition), in cooperation with APC’s ICT Policy Monitor for Latin America and the Caribbean (APC LAC, the Redes Foundation and the International Institute for Communication and Development (IICD), got the kept the agenda rolling between February 20 and 23 with a compact training session using a multi sector interaction methodology, also known as ‘open space technology’. The goal of the four-day capacity building workshop was to foster TICBolivia’s members’ participation in ICT for development public policy processes.
1 Red TICBolivia was created in 2002 by different actors wanting to adapt and adopt ICTs to their objectives of poverty reduction and struggle against social, economic and political inequalities.
The discussions varied from understanding the basics of public policy processes to identifying concrete ICTD policies developed at the national level in Bolivia. The participants were visibly enticed by the fact that the training in the formulation of policy and impact assessment were useful not only for ICT policy but also beyond, in other sectors in which they are also active.
The workshop “has served me well, I’ve learned plenty, it has helped me share experiences. I’m from the public sector, and therefore have a particular way to see things and here, there were people from the private sector, NGOs and grassroots organisations who have enabled me to see the problem [of ICTD] from a different angle” said Isabel Cajías, a member of the Bolivian regional development fund and candidate elected to become the coordinator of the TICBolivia network.
In one of the sessions, Giory Osinaga, another member of Red TICBolivia focused on civil society participation around the formulation of the ETIC, while Marcelo Saravia from the Ministry of education exposed where Bolivia is at in terms of ICT for educational purposes.
Ex-guerrilla member and Che Guevara biographer Carlos Soria talked about ICTs at the local level. Together with the Federation of municipal associations (FAM-Enlared) and the Municipal democracy support programme (PADEM) of which Soria is a member, he carried out a number of ICT and internet implementation projects. In front of an audience that included many government delegates, Soria voiced his vision: “I hope that the new authorities [referring to the new government in power in Bolivia] will adopt an attitude of openness that they will recognize the work accomplished earlier and give the ETIC a new encouragement.”
Expanding the Bolivian experience to the international level, Sergio Toro from the Agency for the development of the information society in Bolivia discussed the role of the country in Latin American and the Caribbean privacy forums. He discussed the eLAC2007 plan of action [http://www.cepal.org/socinfo/elac/] and the Forum on Internet Governance, which is the main outcome of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS).
Eduardo Trigo from CATELBO [Chamber of telecommunication enterprises of Bolivia] and Sergio Toro demonstrated the main parameters involved in the crafting of laws and regulations. Among many other factors, they elaborated what the state’s role is in balancing the technological and commercial focus of the internet with the question of the rights of users.
Belén Albornóz and Diana Andrade of Quito based Infodesarrollo.ec shared their practical experiences in identifying and working towards the advancement of ICTD policies at the national level, as well as exploring what similarities exist between Ecuador and Bolivia in this regard. Saúl Chávez, president of the Confederation of indigenous peoples of Bolivia, who participated in the workshop, drew parallels between both countries’ low connectivity levels in indigenous communities.
After facilitating several workshops, APC staff member Valeria Betancourt and GSD’s director Romel Jurado, had a go at initiating an agenda, which recoups priority themes for social participation and impact. This is where the ‘open space technology’ method kicked in and participants split up in small groups, where they then formulated public policy proposals and corresponding lobby tactics.
On the last day, proposals emerging from the smaller groups were discussed and evaluated in the larger group of participants. The first steps towards the establishment of a collective policy lobby platform under the umbrella of TICBolivia were the end result of the marathon of workshops.
“The perspectives of development are more favorable in these times, due to the political changes that have occurred in this country,” said Miriam Suárez, director of the Casa de la mujer (women’s centre), ending the workshop on a positive note.