Jim Fleming: So, you’re pretty plugged in, right? If you’re traveling somewhere, and you need to find a restaurant, you’ve got a Smartphone to help you navigate your way to dinner. If you need to make a career move, you can browse job sites to see what’s out there. If you want to write your representative, you can search out her email address and send out a message in no time. But, for approximately 70% of people on the planet, that is not the case. No Smartphone means no dinner directions. No web connection means no job search. No idea how to use a computer means less political empowerment. One project in Mexico is trying to help the people jump that digital divide by giving them access to computers, and training. Aleph Molinari told Anne Strainchamps about his organization, Fundacion Proacceso.
Anne Strainchamps: Can you start by telling me where you are?
Aleph Molinari: We are currently in our offices, in Mexico City. We are surrounded by designers who are creating educational content and educational programs.
Strainchamps: I can kind of hear tapping in the background. So, what is it that you do there?
Molinari: We have a project called the learning and innovation network. This learning network is a group of centers that are throughout the state of Mexico. We are currently in 34 very marginal municipalities, and the idea is to provide a space where people can access technologies of information, and thereby have access to educational content.
Strainchamps: Who is it who’s coming to your centers?
Molinari: Most of our users have never touched a computer. Sixty-eight percent have never used the internet or a computer. Out of these, most have an income of approximately 320 dollars per family of four, monthly. The idea is to provide the best possible education to the people that can pay the least.
Strainchamps: Do these tend to be kids? Grandparents? Parents? Is there a particular age group?
Molinari: Well, our youngest user has three years old, and our oldest user has 86 years old. So, out of the 230,000 users that we have, the idea is to provide educational content for all profiles and all educational levels, as well as all academic levels. Our users can learn how to use a computer, how to open an email account, how to chat or use Skype, and then it goes on to use basic office software.
Strainchamps: You know, it just strikes me that here in the developing world, we’re so busy talking about how we’re dealing with an overload of information that we forget that that is not the reality for most of the people on the planet right now.
Molinari: Yes. Actually, if you look at hard numbers, approximately 70% of the world population, which is close to 5 billion people, do not have access to a computer or the internet. So this is the digital divide are talking about. The important part here is that if we don’t include the population that doesn’t have access, as the world becomes increasingly digital, they will not be able to participate in liberal markets of the future. It’s really a new illiteracy that will impede people from participating in this global internet community, and from getting higher paying jobs.
Strainchamps: The consequences of this digital illiteracy must be pretty severe, because I imagine the problem isn’t just people not having access to computers or not knowing how to use them. It’s the educational and informational impoverishment that results.
Molinari: Exactly, and I think through the use of technology and the use of the internet we can provide opportunities for people that are not able to participate today, and we can train people to have the necessary abilities to be able to get a job.
Strainchamps: I know that you’ve written that access to the internet should be a right in the 21st century. What do you mean by that?
Molinari: It should be a right because it is a tool that helps us communicate, and if you want more citizen participation then you need to connect the population so they can be part of those government services, so they can be part of a global network.
Strainchamps: You know, that’s such an interesting concept that you’re bringing up about our digital rights. Would you say, for instance, that every government should be responsible for making sure their citizens know how to use computers, know how to access the digital world, the internet, and can connect?
Molinari: Yes, I think that it’s a large part of responsibility of the government, so I think standardizing education, the use of these technologies, is a very important element. But, very importantly, they can also help fostering the private companies and to offer cheaper connectivity, to make the cities much more interconnected. A digital citizen becomes empowered when he uses technology, when he has a voice on the internet, when he can create community groups on Facebook, and when he can have some sort of incidence in public policy.
Fleming: Aleph Molinari is an economist who started Fundacion Proacceso. He talked to Anne Strainchamps from his offices in Mexico City.