My participation at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society (day 2)

My second day at the Women’s Forum for the Economy and Society was somehow more dedicated to ICT & telecentre-europe issues than to the gender issues that had been at the centre of my first day at the forum.

Social entrepreneurship
In the morning, I followed the session "Assessing the impact of social entrepreneurship", and was enchanted by Vera Cordeiro from Saúde Criança Renascer, a Brasilian doctor that guides mothers with sick children to improve their living conditions and find a way to generate income and become self-sustainable (watch the video). The impact of her program is astonishing, as 60% of the children that leave the hospital are cured now, while before they had to be re-admitted to the hospital and often died...

Another impressive panel member was Selma Demirelli, a social entrepreneur from Turkey. In Turkey, many women are restricted from accessing housing rights, such as property ownership. She started a food and catering service (primarily serving weddings and other ceremonies) through which women gained entrepreneurial skills and generated some independent income for the first time in their lives. Selma has since begun building upon her model and initiating the core of her strategy: a women’s housing cooperative.

The panel also counted with the participation of Françoise Gri, head of Manpower France. The issues that were raised at the session were: a female management style, corporate social responsability, public versus private sponsoring, and social entrepreneurs versus NGO's.

"Entrepreneurial women", Françoise Gri stated, "are motivated by 'social' power instead of the 'personal, hierarchical power' that men are motivated by. For a woman it is not rewarding to have impact on another individual through power. The fact that someone they have been leading tells them 'I learned this from you' is often the reward they are looking for.".

But what makes a social entrepreneur different from an entrepreneur tout court and what is it that social entrepreneurs do different than NGO's and the government? Vera Cordeiro: "Social entrepreneurs are restless people that want a different world. They don't want to learn the people how to fish, but change the whole fishing industry. They are creating businesses to tackle social problems, in a spirit of 'riching the poor'. NGO's are often too far from the people and become very quick very bureaucratic. Social entrepreneurs live amidst the problem and know how to bring innovative solutions."

Françoise Gri: "Social entrepreneurs seem to inspire companies to take up their Corporate Social Responsability. If they want to convince young people that are very required on the labour market today, they need to take this serious. At Manpower, we made a survey and 60% of our young applicants are active in an NGO. Young people today are not only driven by the money they can earn and the skills they can learn, but want to contribute to society. They look at the values of a company and how they can contribute in making a change happen." A session attendee from Colombia estimated her company was given an opportunity to about 250.000 women in South America, as they have set up a system of microcredit and house-to-house direct sales of lingerie: "We haven't exposed this a lot in the press though, as we were afraid of being accused of performing a "maquillage" operation of Corporate Social Responsability." The panel members concluded it is ofcourse of no good to show more than what you precisely do, but communicating about the reality of your contribution is necessary, to show other companies they should do the same!

Empowering women through IT
In the afternoon it was our turn - Māra Jākobsone, Widad El Hanafi, Abeer Ali Al-Mukhaini, Salwa Abdullah Nasser Al-Jabri and myself - to perform as panel speakers at the session entitled "ICT and the Unlimited Potential of Women in Europe and the Middle East", organized by Una O'Sullivan and moderated by Sylvie Laffarge, Director of Community Affairs, Microsoft Europe.

We first had the change to briefly introduce ourselves, our organization and the impact of our project.
As for me, I explained that Fundación Esplai is a non-profit consortium that is committed to strengthen and involve social agents and associations of the Spanish third sector in the fight against social exclusion: "We have set off projects in whole Spain and one of our main projects deals with e-inclusion. Conecta Now - as our project is called - is a digital literacy program for groups at most risk of social exclusion: women, young people, ethnic minorities and the unemployed. Throughout Spain, we have set up 94 computer learning centres - telecentres as we call them. The project started in 2001 and to date we have trained about 157.000 people. Last year alone, we've trained 30.000 people."

After the presentation round Sylvie asked some specific questions to each one of us. I was asked to explain how Fundación Esplai had accomplished its scale and how it had ensured the long term sustainability of their e-inclusion programs in Spain. I explained: "We are able to make an impact and to be sustainable because we do not do this alone. First of all, Fundación Esplai has set up a network of more than 60 partner associations and local NGO's to implement the Conecta Now project and open a telecentre in their existing community centre. These are the people who know which people of their community need training, they know how to reach them and how to convince them to take up such a training. Fundación Esplai is contracting with all these local entities, and they commit themselves to carry out the project for 3 years. We equip the centre with the adequate infrastructure and we pay the salary of the trainers - motivators as we call them - for the first year. The partner association pays for all the centre expenses (electricity, internet, cleaning,...), recruits the motivators and pays their salary during the second and third year. From the very beginning the model makes clear that nothing is for granted and commitment and efforts are needed to succeed. The model also forces them to look for additional funding at local or regional level.

Secondly, Fundación Esplai holds a cross-sector approach and promotes a cooperation between the third sector, the private sector and the government. We appeal to the Corporate Social Responsability of companies like Microsoft, which gives us the recognition and necessary cofinance to apply for governments funds at national and often also regional and local level.

Thirdly, Fundación Esplai generates income from our online and peer-to-peer training program for telecentre motivators in Spain and Latin America. More than 7300 motivators have been trained by these 'train the trainers' services. The courses deal both with technology and a psycho-social methodology, that enable motivators to better tailor their training efforts to different target groups of telecentre learners. An example of such a methodology is our gender training, that must avoid reproducing of stereotypes around women and IT. Also, Fundación Esplai developed specific training material for women as a target group. The guide 'Internet and computers. Us too, of course!' explains in simple words what the internet, ICT, and the information society is about and gives some practical examples of how you can improve the quality of your life through IT.


In the absence of our chair Gabi Barna, Sylvie Laffarge asked me to explain the spirit of 'The whole should be greater than the sum of the parts' that telecentre-europe stands for. I explained: "telecentre-europe is a network of mostly European NGO's that are all committed in overcoming the digital gap. For the moment it is an informal organization in which take part 66 organizations from 32 nations: 15 are EU member states, 6 are other European nations and 11 are other nations from the world. We run a community website for which to date subscribed 115 members that want to share best and worse practices with their NGO colleagues from Europe and abroad. So the first aim of telecentre-europe is knowledge sharing (of training materials, of management practices, of funding opporturnities,...) to increase the effectiveness of our projects. The second aim is more ambitious: we want to create an organization that can become the reference organization for EU policy makers and funders. We want to present ourselves as a common voice, as a single entity to talk to. The formalization of this organization has not yet finished. For the moment we have a minimal organizational structure. We first want to create a clear value for our members and gain more credibility. One of our first activities is the launch of a staff exchange program and our participation at the e-inclusion ministerial conference in Vienna, at the end of november. In Vienna, we will organize an official launch and run an official membership campaign."

Then it was time for questions from the audience. People asked how we tackle the problem of the lack of time low income groups face to follow a course, and wanted to know more about the challenges of scaling up. They also asked if we had some different course content for young people. We answered that all programs take care of installing the telecentre in the proximity of the target groups. Challenges were that projects that reach a certain scale are often confronted with a rapid need to grow their organization and staff, and often lack the time and funding to fulfill these needs. We also answered that young learners are often adressed with different accents of the existing training material or - like the Conecta Young project of Fundación Esplai - become trainers themselves and receive more methodological than technical training.

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Comment by Una O'Sullivan on October 22, 2008 at 14:34
Microsoft Community Affairs team was delighted that Fundacion Esplai Spain, LIKTA Latvia, EOS Romania and Women in Technology program www.witmena.org from Oman and Morocco accepted our invitation to attend the Women’s Forum in France as our guests Oct 16-18th. It's one thing to hear big companies at these events talk the talk – it is far more inspiring to hear from NGOs directly about their experience, challenges and successes in driving real change on the ground. All NGO panel participants did an excellent job in articulating the issues which varied widely from the Baltic sea in the north to the Arabian peninsula in the south, taking on tough challenges, through their e-inclusion programs, relating to gender equality, promoting economic opportunity for women as well as changing traditional and cultural attitudes. The Telecentre-Europe network also featured during the discussion when talking about partnership approaches in Europe which met with an interesting question from an audience member on the challenges of running such a network..
Big thanks to Mara, Lize, Widad, Abeer and Salwa for attending and to Gabi for waiting so long at the airport before her flight was cancelled .

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