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From the Amazonian jungle, to the Andean region, to African rural communities, Carlos Rey-Moreno has observed and been involved in many processes where local communities realised that they could benefit immensely from access to information and communications technology (ICT). But this was the first step; the next step was building the local conditions to use it for their own benefit, in underserved and disadvantaged contexts. Carlos joined APC's Communications and Information Policy Programme (CIPP) in August as coordinator of the project "Local Access Networks: Can the unconnected connect themselves?", implemented in partnership with Rhizomática from Mexico and with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC). APCNews interviewed him to know more about his history and why he joined the community of people and organisations working to connect the unconnected.
APCNews: What is your background?
Carlos Rey-Moreno: I got interested in the potential of telecommunications to connect the unconnected when I attended a talk about the EHAS Foundation as an undergraduate in Telecommunications Engineering in 2002. That motivated me to finish my studies and continue on to a Master’s in Development and International Relations. I did my internship and master’s thesis within EHAS itself, and I ended up working there for five years, while also completing a Master’s in Telecommunication Networks for Developing Countries. The experience gained during this period, participating in the interconnection of remote clinics with their reference hospitals in the Andean mountain range and the Amazonian jungle, led me to appreciate the potential of the combination of using open source and wireless technologies over the unlicensed spectrum. This experience left me wondering, if the technology existed, what was preventing people in rural areas from using it for their benefit? The opportunity to answer this question came from Prof. Tucker, at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), who offered me the opportunity to explore a partnership to deploy, maintain and operate a bottom-up network with a community in one of the most disadvantaged rural areas of South Africa. This has been the focus of my work over the last six years, which led to my PhD, and resulted in Zenzeleni Networks, and in turn to my engagement with many other community networks in the world, and in particular in Africa.
APCNews: How does your experience with an APC member organisation influence your expectations and provide insights in terms of the project you are coordinating?
CRM: Well, Zenzeleni has been a member only since November 2016, so my biggest interaction with members was at the last APC member meeting, where I realised their heterogeneity. Every member is different. But what is obvious in the all APC member organisations is that they are driven by the passion of their own staff to create a world with more social justice, and there is considerable interest, and in some cases extraordinary experiences, in the topic. I think that provides a very strong starting point from where to grow.
APCNews: What excites you most about the new project you are leading?
CRM: We are going to enable many communities in the global South to provide connectivity to themselves to cover their own communication needs. That's my passion and obviously excites me. The team of people I will be directly working with is amazing and exciting. As it is to be working with the different partners and collaborators. It will be challenging too, but that's also exciting.
APCNews: What are you going to bring to the APC staff team and the network?
CRM: I am bringing more than 12 years of experience working on access in remote and underserved areas, both through getting my hands in there and doing it, as well as analysing the problem with more academic lenses. Enabling the unconnected to connect themselves is a multidimensional challenge and so it needs to be tackled this way. It also needs to consider the global trends and the reality of the unconnected. I think my background and experience bring the right balance to embrace all these aspects.
APCNews: How would you describe your job in just a few words?
CRM: Enabling people to connect themselves.
APCNews: Can the unconnected connect themselves?
CRM: I wouldn't have taken up this challenge if I wasn't fully convinced of it. I've seen with my own eyes not only that they can, but also that it can positively transform the lives of the "unconnected" even beyond what affordable access to Information can bring into their lives.