Sunday, March 12, 2006

Digital Democracy Mentoring

Last week, Beth of Beth's Blog wrote an interesting post on a virtual mentoring program that pairs experienced bloggers from around the world with would-be bloggers in Africa. Beth also posted some other articles about virtual mentoring (reproduced with additions at the end of this post).

Having the one-track-mind that I do, I immediately thought of the implications for democracy-building. I have started my own digital democracy program, Digital Democracy Mentors, aimed at linking democracy practioners with would-be activists around the world. However, the project never got off the ground.

I think it is because I don't know how to contact democracy practioners or would-be activists en masse. Unlike the Africa Blog Project, which targeted bloggers, democracy activists and practioners are not necessarily already online and may not be particularly comfortable with the internet.

Also, it is not quite clear who the participants would be or what skills would be transferred. What is a "democracy practioner"? Someone who works for an official democracy-building NGO like The National Democratic Institute, The International Republican Institute, or USAID? Maybe is just a civil society volunteer who may work at some unrelated job but in his or her free time works on political projects.

Also, what democracy skills would I be spreading and what is a "democracy skill" anyway? Organizing a political rally? Filling out a grant application to fund a civil society project? Organizing a public forum on a political issue? Probably these examples and others as well would qualify. This lack of clarity probably also prevented the program from successfully recruiting activists and practitioners.

Nevertheless, digitial democracy mentoring continues to appeal to me. It is a way to connect practitioners and activists from around the world, thus relaying an experience from Canada to the Ukraine or from Bolivia to Guatemala. Most importantly, this communication could be achieved at very low cost. Because low-cost is essential to the sustainability of a democracy project, the bottom line is key. In addition, the rather impersonal e-mails that have been the tissue of most virtual mentoring (or "telementoring") programs can be supplemented with instant messaging and voice chat, thus allowing a more personal connection to be made. I also like the idea of mentoring because it is decentralized and person-to-person rather than being institutionally-based. I am convinced that virtual mentoring can be used to spread democracy, I just need to figure out how.

Resources on Virtual Mentoring:
Digital Democracy Mentors (2006)
The Africa Mentoring Project (2006)
Young Caucasus Women Project (2006)
Virtual Mentoring: A Real-World Case Study from the University of Saskatchewan (2000)
American Pharmaceutical Association Academy of Students of Pharmacy Virtual Mentoring Program
The Internet Telementor Program (2002)

categories: redefining democratization_

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