by Digital Rights LAC on April 2, 2014


At the end of last year, I traveled to India to share my time with organizations working on issues related to the ones we work on at Karisma Foundation: human rights in digital environments, including issues of copyright, privacy and access to knowledge issues. This article summarizes some reflections and prospects resulting from the experience.

By, María del Pilar Sáenz.

To say that India is an exotic place, full of contrasts, ancient traditions, convergence of cultures and a long list of unmet needs and, hence, of opportunities, is an understatement. By far, India is one of the most interesting and complex countries that have had the fortune to visit. However, despite being kilometers away from home, I strangely felt very near to it. The reason: we are much closer than we think.

With India, generally speaking, we have many problems in common: government corruption, lack of public policy transparency, bad regulations built without prior consultation and debates, gender discrimination, and in the Internet-related world, a permanent human rights violation in digital environments, dearth of guarantees by the government to exercise some of these rights, issues related to citizen information management, mass surveillance by government agencies, etc. The problem list is so long and so similar to the one we can see in any Latin American countries that seems natural that the responses from civil society have followed the same course.

In the last decade, there has been consolidating civil society organizations that seek to address these issues from an “openness” paradigm. Subjects such as free software and open licenses are fairly common. In India, there are strong approaches in terms of the adoption of these alternative by the State, which is particularly true in the education area where there are already programs in place that are committed to the use of free software in state institutions and open licenses for educational resources. I also found interdisciplinary spaces between lawyers, engineers and designers, which are developing studies and proposals for innovative advocacy. Learning at first hand these practices was the main reason for my trip. Specifically, I spent some time with two organizations: IT for Change -ITC- with whom we have a joint project on uses of Open Educational Resources, and The Centre for Internet & Society -CIS- that we already know thanks to Creative Commons networks and encounters at events like the Global Congress on Intellectual Property and the Public Interest, RightsCon and the Internet Governance Forum, so we already shared both networks and interests.

The aim of this trip was to learn and have a firsthand experience on how these organizations are facing some of the problems we share. Obviously, this knowledge exchange is a two-way street, so the other natural objective was to share with them about Latin American organization and the type of work we have been building in the region to see what emerged from this approach.

With ITC we participated in a series of teacher workshops that are part of a National Training Plan. Every year, all teachers working in the country’s public schools must take trainings in their area of ​​expertise or in a crosscutting interest area such as the use of Information and Communication Technologies -ICTs. These trainings are conducted with the support of various government institutions, including NGOs and multilateral organizations. The series of ITC-led workshops in which we participated were focused on the use and creation of Open Educational Resources. During the workshop, teachers were introduced to ICTs, from an exercise of opening an email account, going through the use of several free programs on educational areas as GeoGebra, Kturtle and Step, to the introduction for using and editing the wiki where the whole process is documented.

In our case, the interaction with the ITC will continue under the ROER4D project, an international research seeking to explore different implementation scenarios around open educational resources in developing countries.

The CIS is developing several exciting projects. I spent three weeks with them, during which we managed to look at the various projects being developed and found at least two in which we will try to collaborate and another one born from our visit that we expect to develop in the course of this year.

The first of these projects has been developing with the Wikimedia Foundation. It aims to produce content that will enrich the encyclopedia, explore their use in educational contexts and strengthen communities in different Indian languages. One of the possibilities that we are now exploring relates to how Wikipedia could be used as an open educational resource and how teachers could use it in their teaching and learning processes. More importantly, we want to grasp which of the proposed community strategies may be applicable in our context.

Another project is related to a proposal of creating expert commissions from civil society to discuss bills as a way to explore paths between representative democracy and participatory democracy. While it is not something in which we can participate directly, the process and the proposal are of our interest, especially considering advocacy mechanisms that have brought us to participate in the discussions on the copyright law reform and our certainty that such discussions will be part of the legislative agenda this year. The experiences of creating expert commissions and how they interact with policy makers serve to study methodologies and propose ours. Thus, case exchanges are fundamental for the construction of new participatory models.

A final project emerges from the presentation we did at the CIS on the experiences that are being developed in Latin America on advocacy, activism, technology, and social movements from an “openness” paradigm. To the extent that networking is one of the ways to consolidate the work in our sector and gives us the ability to share experiences and propose joint actions and quick responses when required, it seems natural to support information sharing of ongoing projects and contacts. From this presentation we came up with the idea of developing an organization directory and, beyond that, of research and researchers. Something we definitely will be working on.

Finally, perhaps one of greatest learning experiences of this journey is having the certainty that we are many working on related subjects with ideas, experiences and ongoing projects that can be linked in many ways. Therefore, any effort we make to strengthen our communication channels and through networking will indeed provide interesting outcomes and will open new paths.

* Op-ed piece

** María del Pilar Sáenz is Physics by training, but activist by vocation. She is free software, open technologies and free culture enthusiast. She works at Karisma Foundation and is member of RedPaTodos and Hackbo. @mapisaro

Translate by, Amalia Toledo.