By APCNews Montevideo, 14 July 2008
What has it been like to work as a cooperative?
Working as a cooperative, and especially as a self-managed cooperative, has been very satisfying, but it has also meant we have faced significant challenges. We have been able to build a social enterprise using different references, basing our work on cooperation instead of competition. It’s a joy to be able to demonstrate in a practical way that it is possible for an enterprise to be socially as well as economically sustainable, and as such to inspire other groups to launch their own enterprises.
Some of the challenges have been related to the management of the business. Most parameters are designed for cooperatives that work with tangible things (they grow coffee, sell furniture, offer credit, etc) whereas our group offers knowledge products and services (methodologies, research) that are intangible.
How do you use ICTs in your daily work?
Our emphasis is on information, communication and knowledge, more than on technological platforms, because we believe that it is creative and reflexive interactions that create the general conditions for social change. That is why we use elements of oral tradition, popular education, different social science disciplines, and the newest applications of information and communication technologies.
For us the strategic use of ICT means searching for and using programs that allow people and communities the most independence and sense of ownership when using the application. This is why we promote and prefer the use of free software and tools that are freely available. We also favour the use of tools that allow for greater interactivity, such as those that are being called web 2.0.
Could you share with us an initiative that shows how ICTs can be used in innovative ways?
I think that one of the most innovative uses can be seen in how ICTs nurture citizen participation in a country’s political processes. Last year in Costa Rica we had, for the first time in our history, a referendum, regarding the approval or disapproval of the Free Trade Agreement between the United States, Central America and the Dominican Republic (CAFTA).
The opposition movement to the Free Trade Agreement (made up of universities, social movements, unions and cooperatives) based all of its communications strategy on the use of alternative and digital media, and the combination of old and new technologies, since the mainstream media were in the hands of companies favouring the agreement. The government, on its part, was disseminating profundly biased information.
Several web sites were set up [www.concostarica.com ; notlc.com ; www.comitespatrioticos.com] where we published documentation, political analysis, cartoons, stickers, short videos, radio spots, and a weekly calendar of actions. All of this helped to strengthen the identity of the social movement, improved the ability of many of the groups and organisations to use ICTs, and increased the proliferation of citizen journalism in the form of online radio, news blogs and reports distributed through YouTube.
We lost the referendum, but the movement did not end. It is still alive, addressing different development issues in the country. For example, a daily digital paper was launched (www.elpais.co.cr) that promotes an alternative perspective and publishes news that does not get covered in the country’s mainstream media.
It’s not always easy to make the connection between gender and ICT. How do you focus your work in this area? What type of initiatives have you carried out?
For us the connection between gender and ICT is a two-lane street. We are constantly searching for how the technologies can promote gender equity on different levels (economic, political, personal), and we also seek to raise awareness about the contributions that we – as women – make to the field of ICTs, which are not always well recognised or valued.
One of your areas of interest is the social economy (sometimes referred to as solidarity economy or third sector). What experience do you have with the potential of ICTs in this area?
As a cooperative we believe that the social economy has an essential role to play in the development of our countries, and in achieving an inclusive social model with greater distributive justice. As such, strengthening social economy enterprises is a way to strengthen sustainable development in the country. ICTs are an essential tool that can help consolidate these enterprises.
What is the current state of ICTs in Costa Rica and what is being done to improve it?
In general one of our main contributions is the development of participatory action research, which not only generates current data and points to issues, but also builds organising processes and proposals in a collective way.