After the conference in Krakow, I was off to the Nord-east of Poland, where Responsible Business Institute (RBI) runs its “Community Computer and Education Centers” in 7 centres spread among the region.

After several hours of watching the Polish landscape and sharing my limited knowledge of polish with the trainpassengers (nie rozumiem - I don’t understand...), I arrived to Białystok, the capital of the Podlasie region. Paweł Makowiecki came to pick me up and we headed to the National Park of the Narew river, where we would spend the weekend on a team building activity among the volunteer trainers (watch the video).

Although our previous contact had mainly happened through email and ning, it was great to meet again with Cezary Skiepko, Andrzej Surowiński, Konrad Karpieszuk and Katarzyna Winiecka, Pawel’s colleagues that I had already met at the Telecentre Leaders Forum in Riga 2 months ago.

I discovered that the volunteers of RBI are quite young, as most of them are university students or just finished their studies. Pawel explained me that they run different programs to recruit and motivate their volunteers and this weekend of camping and canoeing along the Narew river was just one of those activities that make people feel happy about being part of this telecentre family.

The canoeing trip was just fantastic. And the weather couldn’t have been better (32 degrees!!!). The speed of the river didn’t exactly turn the experience into a “wild water adventure”, but still we had a lot of fun chasing each other and making jokes about the rafting style of the competing canoe partners. Fifteen hours on a canoe were also ideal “to spend a large part of my time making personal contact with community members” as my workplan states :)

Paweł explained me about his background with AIESEC – an international student organisation mainly of economy students – where he met a lot of inspiring people and where he learned how important it is to create an organization based on a behaviour culture of creating standards for sharing and archiving knowledge, simply to avoid the costs of doing the job all over again when people change over time. Through AIESEC, he also became a tourguide and trainer in SriLanka where he spent the most beautiful months of his life among “nice people, nice weather, buddhism and good food”.

Andrzej was the executive producer of the trip and he knew every single corner of the 40 km length we “paddled”. He told me about how he was raised on a farm and became the strongest kid of the region, as his grandmother was feeding him pretty well:) Andrzej was also part of AIESEC and now runs his own web venture activity. At RBI, he is the right hand of Paweł and take cares of the execution of most of the operational tasks. Andrzej is also someone that is always looking around for business opportunities that could enhance the region, and make the life of the local population better. “Some basic investments in tourist facilities could for example attract some tourists to this beautiful region” Andrzej said.

At the campfire I talked with Katarzynaand we decided to speak in Italian, as we both love to speak that language on any ocasion we encounter. Katarzyna is a lecturer in Sociology of Deviant Behaviour at the University of Bialystok, and joined the local Community Centres project 1 year ago. She decided she wanted to do something useful with her free time and reacted upon an announcement RBI had placed in a local newspaper.

Her dedication and enthousiasm became very clear when we went to look for food in one of those villages where it’s very hard to find a shop. Some people were sitting outside a bar-annex-shop and she inmediately got inspired on opening a new telecentre in the abandoned firemen office next to the bar, “as it was strategically the best place in town to convince the people about following a ‘new technology’ training” – Katarzyna said.

Next to her work as a volunteer trainer Katarzyna is in charge of RBI’s Library program, a new project that wants to connect in a telecentre network the 118 libraries of the region where since 2003 Microsoft has set up 3 PC’s and a wifi router to create a Public Internet Access Point (ikonk@: watch the video). In february she organized RBI’s conference Library 2.0 - New role of librarians in the digital area - that called librarians to take up their role as the information brokers of the 21th century to guide the library visitors on the use of search engines and wikipedia.

Czarek – as Cezary Skiepko is called among friends - has just finished his studies in Economics and has been working for RBI since october 2007, first as a volunteer trainer and then as a project leader for RBI’s Personal Finance Education programme. “This programme not only wants to teach people how to manage their household administration, it’s also about awareness training: if you know how to handle money, you can become more free, more self confident.” Czarek says. “You should know that 1/3 of the people that in Poland can vote do not have their own bank account, that’s 9 million people! As they have no history, credit institutions make them pay a lot of intrests if they need a loan for some kind of emergency.”

Konrad is probably the most eccentric figure among the team, as he introduced me to "Kurczak" a chicken that “goes where he goes”, especially to the telecentres of Rwanda, where he will go and work for 4 months as a volunteer trainer, webmaster and business plan consultant, on an exchange program sponsored by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. This exchange is a result of Pawel’s participation to the Telecentre Leaders Forum in Kuala Lumpur, where he met Paul Barera from Rwanda Telecentre Network.

Konrad has been a biology teacher for many years when he started to work as a reseller for www.allegro.pl, the most popular internet auction webservice in Poland. For RBI he is preparing a social entreprise businessplan that will turn out to be another awareness education programme about entrepreneurship and “being active”. Konrad is also the liaison between RBI and www.allegro.pl, that will become RBI's new partner for delivering trainings about internet auction.

After the canoetrip on sundayevening, Paweł showed me around in Bialystok. We made this beautiful walk along the castle, the parks and the zoo, that shows off with 2 exemplars of the buffaloes that live in the wildernis of Podlasie. I didn’t even know we had buffaloes in Europe!

Then on monday: back to work! Around 10h o’clock Andrzej, Paweł and me arrived at the telecentre of Bialystok where Czarek, Katarzyna, Konrad and Damian were waiting to assist the workshop we organized on the use and possibilities of web 2.0. The season of training sessions had just finished, so there were no students present (more about the training sessions you can read in RBI's flyer: page 1 - page 2). Paweł showed me the computer they usually dismantle during the first training session, so people can touch the pieces as a methodology to break the initial fear towards the machine.

Then I also discovered the Spoleczne Pracownie team has been using the ning tool for their internal coordination and social networking long before telecentre-europe, so I decided there was nothing I could teach the Polish telecentre-europe community members on this, so we inmediately started with the web 2.0 workshop.

First we made a round asking the team members about their view on what web 2.0 was all about. According to Andrezj the transition from the old internet to web 2.0 had something to do with “uploading” and “do-it-yourself”. So not just downloading & watching, but creating some added value yourself. Czarek and Katarzyna said they never heard about it before. Paweł knew quite a lot about it but found it difficult to screen the new web 2.0 applications on the different functionalities they offered.

I explained that web 2.0 is indeed about participation, about becoming an active producer and engaging into conversations, instead of being a passive consumer that visits a website just like he or she is watching TV. I showed a list of verbs that resume the behaviour of a web 2.0 user today: create, publish, comment, vote, tag, aggregate, syndicate, link, upload, collaborate and meet. I also pointed to the importance of webtop applications today: applications that use the browser as a platform - unlike desktop applications that need to be downloaded and installed on an operating system. I concluded with my definition of web 2.0: a series of (mostly) webtop tools and services that make it easy to communicate, publish, collaborate & share and organize & find information.

After this introduction we discovered different applications & services that I ordered into different categories: blogs, blog search engines, aggregators, wikis, content communities, social networks, virtual worlds and webtop office applications. We also briefly discussed the business models behind web 2.0 companies and the effects of web 2.0 on the traditional communication media and on the world of advertising.

Then we made another round and asked ourselves how this knowledge on web 2.0 could be applied to the Community Computer and Education program IRB runs at its telecentre network. Czarek thought the program should encourage students to participate in this new internet and not only teach them how to send emails or navigate and discover website adresses. He pointed that “Nasza-Klasa” – the most popular Polish social networksite used by over 14 million people – is a web 2.0 service they already implement in the training, but “we could do more and teach people how to express their opinion on certain blogs or forums by sending comments.”

Paweł agreed but finding volunteer trainers for these more advanced training skills will certainly not be an easy job to do. Andrzej said that if the project wants to take this direction, a solution would be to find the right new partners to collaborate in the project. Czarek agreed that this would certainly enhance the quality of the workshops. Paweł pointed that the job of “fighting the fear” and “building a desire or need” will have to be done again if the telecentre workshops start to implement web 2.0. applications in the training.

After this intensive brainstorm on mondaymorning-after-weekend the team was invited for a nice lunch at 7 Pokus where I tried the famous Zurek soup and "Pierogi", the local ravioli with cabbage and mushrooms. Very tasty! Then it was time to say goodbye to Andrzej, Katarzyna, Czarek & Konrad... Saying goodbye was so difficult that I proposed they would all come to Spain this summer so we could repeat this fantastic weekend we had together on the Catalan countryside! Then Paweł and me were off to Warsaw and made many plans during the 2,5 hours trip on the train :)

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