Sunday, July 23, 2006

INTERNET ACTIVISM IN CHILE…. Part 2: Activist Website Atina Chile

On Tuesday I had my first interview, a very interesting conversation with Jorge Dominguez, the Executive VP of Atina Chile, a website that is, according to its mission statement, "a community that explores and directs society in [today's technological] revolutions... an entrepreneurial nucleus that monitors opportunities in order to create new initiatives and personal and social projects." In short, Atina Chile is the clearinghouse for internet-based activism in Chile.

Since its recent birth in 2004, Atina Chile has pursued two goals, to transform grievance into action and to navigate the new wave of technology currently engulfing the country. The site has 25,000 visitors a day and 31,000 members, some of whom write the blogs which Atina Chile hosts. The site also publishes guides on how to blog, podcast, and use internet technologies like Flickr.com. It is also spearheading projects in the real world. The small town of Salamanca (population 24,000) is the first city of the 21st century. The entire town is covered by a WiFi network (free wireless internet) and both young people and adults are receive training in how to use the internet (digital literacy courses). There are also plans to make digital infrastructure available at low cost and to a provide a blog to every citizen. Atina Chile is also at the head of a nationwide campaign to guarantee ultra-fast broadband internet access for all citizens. All this for a cost of $8,000 a month.

What did I learn from Jorge? He was very excited about Web 2.0 technologies that allow users to create web content instead of simply viewing it. However, Jorge stressed that technology is the means not the end. The goal is the same as for any other form of activism: to encourage active citizenship. Atina Chile tries to get people thinking about what bothers them and then help them figure out what they can do to change it. As Jorge said, "It's not about Excel or Power Point, it's about social change." According to the site's mission statement:

By participating in Atina Chile we change the country and we transform ourselves. We bring to life the leadership potential and creativity in all of us. We transform ourselves into agents that create history, rather than passive experts. To participate in Atina Chile means to live the fullest life possible and to take advantage of life's most challenging and beautiful possibilities. It means to measure our own worth by leaving behind us a different world: more united and inclusive, more democratic and varied, more innovative, poetic, and entrepreneurial. To make a difference is not to settle for "that which is," for the available standards, for calm resignation. A member of Atina Chile is committed to excellent work for the community, to excellence in personal relations, to innovate and to cultivate excellence in others.

Because Atina Chile empowers its members to effect change, it make sense that the project works through a non-hierarchical ("non-military," in Jorge's words) "citizen structure" that encourages participation and the free flow of information. Because Atina Chile keeps a low budget, it cannot afford to pay all the people that contribute to the site. However, a reciprocity exists. People volunteer to manage projects, and in return they receive technical assistance from Atina Chile staff (five in total) and the national recognition of being affiliated with the organization. Jorge's excitement was contagious, as was his vision. I left the meeting thinking that every country should have (at least) one organization like Atina Chile.

[italics indicates translation]

categories: internet activism_, chile_, the "developing world"_

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