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How are APC members improving their communities' lives? In this column we're highlighting stories of impact and change by our members, supported by APC subgranting. Colnodo made meaningful contributions to the community networks movement by supporting three such initiatives in Colombia while strengthening its own strategy. 

Colnodo is a non-profit organisation that aims to facilitate and improve communications and the exchange of information between Colombian organisations and communities. The programmes and projects they develop have free and open source software, gender and sustainable development as cross-cutting focuses. Colnodo is also committed to the promotion and appropriation of low-cost, community communication networks that can be maintained and operated by organised communities.

To that end, between October 2020 and April 2021, Colnodo accompanied three community networks, offering support for their technical, organisational and financial components through its help desk. With this approach, Colnodo was able to follow issues directly related to the operation and sustainability of the community networks after they were in place while honing its own strategy in that field.

One of the initiatives supported during this period was the Silvia and Caldono network, or Jxa´h Wejxia Casil in the Nasa Yuwe language, which means "wind network". This is a community network with intranet and internet access reaching six communities located in the east and northeast of the department of Cauca. 

The community network process is based on a communication strategy built jointly with all the communities in November 2019, and responds to the conditions, problems and dreams within the territory. It was collectively built by Indigenous communities of the Nasa people, ex-combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the peasant community in a process that began in 2020 around their own communication media.

Photo: Colnodo
Photo: Colnodo

Colnodo also follow the operation of Red INC, a communication project developed since 2017 by a diverse group of communities with the support of Colnodo and various organisations and individuals . The project is being developed in the villages of El Porvenir and El Ceral, in the municipality of Buenos Aires, in the northern region of Cauca. With a population of approximately 32,000 inhabitants, this municipality is a multi-ethnic territory that gathers Afro-Colombian, peasant and Indigenous communities. Their process is beautifully documented in a website developed by Colnodo’s team. 

The third initiative supported was RedCoMani, a community network located in a rural area of the municipality of Maní, Casanare, and led by residents of the El Viso village with the support of Colnodo. This community network aims to provide access to local and global content for farms and the local school, which do not have cell phone coverage or internet service. In the deployment process, information and communications technologies (ICT) trainings have been carried out for the community. 

Photo: Colnodo
Photo: Colnodo

While these three initiatives were built with a participatory process and joint work to ensure access, technological appropriation and the right to communication considering the local needs and wishes, their operation brings new challenges and learnings that can be shared with the community network movement around the world. And that was precisely what Colnodo did. 

Sharing knowledge

By providing a help desk for all these initiatives, Colnodo also had an opportunity to strengthen its strategy in this field, by promoting alliances and consolidating methodologies based on their experiences accompanying community networks in Colombia. 

As a result, the organisation shared a wiki systematising information on useful methodologies to build community networks, considering three basic pillars: the territory where the network is located, the components and elements that are interrelated in this territory, and the path of building the community network, which is not linear or a short-term walk. “A community network is more than a project, it is a fabric that is made up of people, technologies, agreements, which are intertwined in relationships that constitute the network,” explains the organisation in the wiki, available in Spanish.

According to Colnodo, the opportunity to strengthen the area of community networks in the organisation through this follow-up project has allowed them to define a more adjusted methodology for the implementation of new networks, better structuring the process and reducing follow-up costs during implementation. “We hope that this strategy will facilitate the implementation of new experiences and ongoing proposals,” states Colnodo, nurturing seeds of community networks in Colombia and around the world.

This piece is a version of information highlighted by Colnodo as part of the project "Connecting the Unconnected: Supporting community networks and other community-based connectivity initiatives" for the Seeding Change column, which presents the experiences of APC members and partners who were recipients of funding through APC's community network learning grantcommunity network catalytic interventions grants, and of subgrants offered through other APC projects and staff working on subgranting in the organisation.

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