An increase in digital inclusion and literacy in Brazil is giving a voice to people in marginalised communities and creating a new raft of citizen journalists.
During the tenure of the Brazil’s former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the country experienced a drastic reduction in poverty, something that helped lead to easy availability of new technologies throughout the country and across socio-economic barriers.
According to a 2013 report from the World Economic Forum, Brazil currently ranks 62nd globally on the list of improved ICT infrastructure and 44th for ICT uptake, both of which represent significant jumps in overall digital access in the country. "In the past year, the country has more than doubled its international internet bandwidth capacity per user. As a result, ICT uptake by individuals has sharply increased in virtually all dimensions analysed."
According to an eyewitness account published on our German platform of what this transition is doing for Brazil's favelas, the change can be seen through the decreasing visits to cyber cafes, local bars or kiosks where a number of computers are set up. Nowadays, these cafes are a rare sight on the narrow streets of the favelas as almost everyone has personal access to the internet via a PC or a smartphone.
In Rio de Janeiro, the favela population makes up 20 percent of the total city population. These illegal settlement areas are often controlled by or rife with gangs of armed drug traffickers and lack access to rudimentary basics such as regular electricity or clean water as the people living there do not not pay for public utilities but are made to pay fees to criminal organisation controlling the favela.
In 2010, half of the households in Cidade de Deus, also know as the City of God, in Rio's west had their own computer, mostly with internet access. According to Buzzing Cities, 90 percent of teenagers now have access to the internet, due to availability of cheaper mobile phones. Despite irregular access to a power outlet, ownership of a PC or smartphone among these communities is no longer a rarity.
Despite all this uptake, 60 percent of all residences total still lack internet access.
Organisations that Are Helping Bridge the Digital Divide
Brazil's urban areas may be populated with PCs and smartphones however, gaining access to the internet and ICTs in rural areas can be a different story, with internet penetration outside of urban areas estimated to be around 10 percent. The Brazilian arm of Telecentre.org, Telecentros.org, is helping combat this, establishing community centres with web-enabled computers in key rural areas.
And with good reason, too. A 2011 co-authored study on the effect of telecentres in rural Brazil found that residents "use ICTs for entertainment, to engage in civic participation, and to practice professional skills. The findings suggest that digital inclusion impacts these isolated communities by creating opportunities that may foster human development."
Providing access and infrastructure to ICTs is key to building digital literacy but a number of organisations go one step further, implementing educational programmes designed to engage people. The Centre for Digital Inclusion (CDI) is one of those organisations. Founded in 2005 by Rodrigo Baggio, CDI's primary goal to leap over the social and economic divide that technology can create by providing pathways for everyone to become computer literate by implementing tailored, up-to-date courses that help people navigate the web, programming, digital language and much more. What started as a group of volunteers with a bunch of secondhand computers has grown into a multi-national organisation that has built 780 digital inclusion spaces in 13 countries; produced more than 87,000 graduates in information and communication technology; and has empowered 250,000 users of ICT-based services including within e-government, e-health, e-learning and Internet access.
Brazil's Budding Citizen Journalists
Providing access to technology and open media platforms has sparked a movement towards citizen journalism in some parts of Brazil. Triggered by a general sense of unease with the monopolised mainstream media as well as dissatisfaction with social issues, the movement aims to proliferate independent reporting (Brazil was recently ranked 108 out of 179 countries for press freedom) and is being led, in part, by the group Midia Ninja (an acronym which translates to independent reports, journalism and action in English) who take to the streets to record their stories from a grassroots perspective and report on issues that are normally overlooked, sharing their reports primarily via social media.
Social media is also allowing us to hear more voice from the favelas. Residents not only want to talk about the issues they face but above all help improve their community's public image. One of them is 18 year old Rene da Silva who has over 60,000 followers on Twitter and blogs at Voz de Communidade about life in the Complexo do Alemão, a group of favelas in north Rio. In a time when journalists did not dare to enter the favelas, he brought out his own newspaper about life in the favelas (at the age of 11, no less) an has since switched to social media reporting.
From Roncinha, the biggest favela with more than 70,000 inhabitants, resident Zezinho reports on life through his blog and his video in an effort to break down prejudices held against the people living in favelas.
The project Viva Favela also helps ensure professionalism by providing training in grassroots journalism. Around a decade back, when Rio de Janeiro was struggling with violence and reporting from the favelas was virtually impossible for journalists, residents were trained as journalists received guidance in areas such as writing, photography, filming from a team of professionals so that their articles could be published online.
Check here for more stats about digital inclusion in Brazil.
This story was based, in part, on a piece published on betterplace-lab.org that was republished on our German platform here with permission.
With all eyes turned towards Brazil for the 2014 FIFA World Cup, we're going beyond the stadium and putting the spotlight on local people, organisations and movements that incorporate and implement smart approaches to sustainability and social justice. Find other articles in the series here.