From Colombia to social change: APC reviews our journey from 2004 – 2008

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By APC for APCNews

MONTEVIDEO, Uruguay, 20 August 2009

In late 2003 APC gathered in Colombia to define our strategic priorities for the following five years. It was the largest meeting in our history at the time. For Danilo it was his first APC strategic planning session and he recalls how intense and enriching the exercise was: to be forced to understand the network better, to overcome regional points of view and to identify global lines of action that were still rooted in issues that every region was confronting.

Like most good APC meetings, the Cartagena event mixed politics with capacity building. We were joined by numerous partners in bilingual policy and advocacy training and a workshop on mapping activism on the web. The policy workshop often erupted into fiery debate on, for example, the wrongs and rights of different approaches to intellectual property. The network mapping workshop did hands-on research to answer the question of whether APC was an issue network or a social one. We can remember thinking that the answer was so obviously “APC is both” that we couldn’t understand why such a research question was being asked!

Yet both workshops were invaluable and the inclusion of partners, experts, researchers and trainers gave us the sense of APC as a convenor and a catalyst and a network that generates networking and open, learning-oriented ways of working among all those that we come into contact with.

And there were celebrations: the tenth anniversaries of the APC women’s programme and our Colombian host member, who did an amazing job at hosting 70 people in beautiful Cartagena for two weeks.

In other words, APC’s 2004-2008 strategic action plan – the results of which you can read in our progress report – emerged from learning, debate, introspection, music, dancing and quite a bit of drinking Colombian aguardiente.

It was followed by five years of what has felt like very, very hard work with many challenges: financial resource mobilisation being the greatest, but also challenges emerging from the extremely high standards that we set ourselves; the very broad and constantly evolving nature of the internet; and challenges related to members’ involvement in all aspects of APC’s work, to maintaining trust, collaboration and also a sense of a community of people and organisations who are in solidarity with one another personally, politically and socially.

Looking back over this period in earnest is quite intimidating. This is what we try to do in this report. We hope that it gives you some idea of those challenges and gives us an opportunity to recognise why APC is what it is and does what we do – making the world a better place by helping people gain the access, the skills, and the rights they need to work together online.

Council meeting in Colombia 2003Council meeting in Colombia 2003

APC’s 2004 – 2008 strategic priorities were defined at a council meeting in late 2003 in Colombia. Members used their local knowledge of how civil society assessed the threats and opportunities. Photo by APC

APC’s strategic priorities for the period 2004 to 2008 :

  1. Strengthening the role and engagement of APC and CSOs in ICT policy processes

    To achieve this priority, APC conducted research and capacity building and engaged in advocacy and network building to achieve rights-based, people-centred ICT policies at regional, national and global levels. We focused on affordable internet access and making political processes more open and inclusive, particularly so that civil society organisations can participate in a more meaningful way.

  2. Promoting and facilitating strategic use of ICTs by CSOs

    APC prioritised exploring and building resources and skills to help communities to gain access to and use the internet. We focused on one particular user community – the women’s movement – and one particular technical community – people who could set up cheap, wireless internet connections in Latin America and Africa.

  3. Growing and strengthening the network of CSOs promoting the use of ICTs for social justice and development

    Strengthening networks is both a goal as well as a modus operandi for APC and as a consequence, network building and strengthening is a thread throughout this entire report.

The priorities were cross-cut by two additional themes: sustainable development and gender equality and women’s empowerment.

  • ICT policy makers internationally, regionally and nationally have stopped regarding ICT and internet policy as merely pertaining to technical and infrastructure issues. Increasingly they see ICT policy as essential to development, and in some cases, a rights issue.
  • We have contributed to putting internet access and “affordable or equitable access for all” as a key rights issue firmly onto the table in global policy dialogue spaces, regionally in East Africa and Latin America and in national spaces like Ecuador.
  • We have also contributed to the development of an approach to policy advocacy which engages all stakeholders in a consultative rather than an adversarial manner, which saw significant success in making policy change in at least three countries: Kenya, Pakistan and Ecuador.
  • APC played a significant role in the creation of an international forum to promote constructive dialogue and outcomes between adversarial opponents regarding the governance and future of the internet.
  • There has been an increase in the quality of civil society participation in global, regional and national policy arenas. It is not enough to occupy a space but at the very least, to contribute to ICT policy dialogue, and at best, to help influence the way other stakeholders think about what is at stake with the aim of reminding those in power that social justice with respect to internet rights is important for everyone.
  • As a consequence of our capacity-building work with hundreds of organisations and people from the women’s movement, we believe that we have helped to transform how the women’s movement thinks about technology and the internet, and that their confidence has been built to use technology more and more creatively to further women’s rights.

Representatives from almost 700 social change organisations have had their capacity built in ICT policy and the strategic use of technology. Hundreds of people living in Latin America and Africa are able to set up cheap, wireless internet connections to the internet thanks to training facilitated by APC and use materials freely available online in four languages.

This content has been adapted from the “APC Progress Report 2004-2008”:http://www.apc.org/en/node/9153/

(END/2009)

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