Monday, July 18, 2005

BRIDGES.ORG : Spanning the Divide to the Future

There is a lot of talk these days about the importance of ICT (Internet and Communications Technology) in fostering the work of NGO operating in developing countries. There is a lot of talk because there is a lot to be said on this subject. And some organizations are doing a lot more than just talking about it.

Bridges.Org states that it is "Spanning the international digital divide." The organization states "right up front" that it does not provide hardware or infrastructure. But they do work with "organizations and initiatives focused on socio-economic development to help them use ICT to improve what they do."

Bridges stated Mission is: "to promote the effective use of information and communications technology (ICT) in developing countries to improve people's lives." And they work at the policy level, promoting policies and laws that foster widespread use of ICT at the grassroots level. And by doing this, they help people understand ICT and its practical utility.

Some people involved in non-profit work may not think that Bridges is getting to the "nitty gritty" of helping folk improve their lives because their projects work with "intangibles," but it must be said that maximizing the utility of information and communications technology (ICT) [or of "information technology" (IT) as some people may call it] is becoming essential to being able to efficiently bringing health care and adequate resources like water, crops, transportation and the like to areas where they are not currently available.

Bridges Strategy is clear and straightforward and has several aspects. They state on their web site that in order to achieve their mission, they:

Focus attention on the policy issues that come hand-in-hand with technology use and promote policy-making that fosters technology use.

Bring people in developing countries and disadvantaged communities into technology policy discussions, by leading a local dialogue among stakeholders to foster understanding of the social, economic, and political implications of the widespread integration of technology in society, and helping them distribute and obtain information to coordinate their efforts both locally and internationally.

Assist in efforts to develop sound legal and regulatory frameworks to support technology use.

Support the local and global use of technology by people in developing nations and disadvantaged communities, in particular to support efforts that employ technology tools in areas such as health care, education, indigenous economic development, environmental protection, and managing resources for food, water and energy.

Provide liaison, legal and technical assistance to organizations and individuals working to put technology to use to address social and economic problems.

Gather a body of knowledge about digital divide issues through research, analysis, and recommendations, and help to spread the word about developments and activities in the field.

Serve as an information clearinghouse and use online access, papers, publications, conferences, and workshops, to foster the exchange of information about the effects of technology integration in developing nations and disadvantaged communities and the key factors in maximizing the opportunities offered by technology.

Study the effects of technology use on economic development, human rights and democracy, and the impact of national technology policies on these issues.
Provide public education about technology use focused on training, business practices, and social issues, so that people are better able to work in the information economy and to participate fully in the information society.

Sponsor workshops, training sessions and conferences about the local and global use of technology for economic and social development.

Promote technology solutions that empower global users to be effective in their technology use.

Design and implement programs to influence long-term planning for the use of technology in developing countries and disadvantaged communities.

Bring a global perspective to local problems and ground our work at the community level through partnerships with local groups.

Bridges also promotes best practice in ground-level technology implementation through research and evaluations. Some of the ways they do this is by: (1) providing information and resources related to the digital divide and technology use in developing countries; (2) advising decision-makers and the general public on key issues; and (3) supporting grassroots projects, local businesses and e-government efforts.

While most of the work done by Bridges is supported by grants and donations, they also do fee-based work.

There is a lot more that can be said about Bridges and the work that it is doing; just as there is a lot more that can be said about how ICT must and will play an important role in the improvement of the quality of life for Africans all over the world. If you are not up to date on what is going on in this part of the NGO world, go to Bridges' web site at:

and get a look at the Bridge to the Future.

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