Latin American social movements on the Internet: an innovative experience

Sally BURCH <>
Agencia Latinoamericana de Información

Osvaldo LEÓN <>
Agencia Latinoamericana de Información


This paper relates to the contribution of information and knowledge to development and democracy. It addresses the potential for broad based grass-roots movements in developing countries to increase their capacity for democratic participation in development, by taking advantage of Internet technology.

The paper will identify conditions, needs and obstacles such movements face to incorporate information activities and technology into their daily practice. It will also demonstrate from a concrete initiative in Latin America why collective intervention in the Internet is far more effective than isolated action for such groups.

As Internet technology is increasingly employed as a tool for development, greater understanding is needed as to how information flow can be appropriated as useful knowledge by grass-roots organizations in developing countries, as well as how they can contribute value added output from their own knowledge. This paper draws on years of work in this field by ALAI, and presents a concrete initiative designed as a response to this issue.

The paper will begin by arguing that one of the contradictions of the information age is the fact that, while distances are shortened, social and geographic inequalities continue to grow. Neither information, nor much less technology, can in and of themselves shorten development gaps, although they can be an important factor in a more integral solution; but they can also potentially generate new disparities. In this context, democratic participation in information processes is vital to more equitable development.

The less developed the knowledge base of a given society or social group, the less capacity there is to process information and absorb new knowledge. This is one of the reasons why marginalized social groups from developing countries face particular difficulties to be able to take advantage of ICTs. The paper will outline problems they face in areas ranging from infrastructure, resources and technical skills, to information management and communication skills and strategy.

Focusing on the case of national and continental networks of grass-roots organizations, (from the rural sector, women, human rights networks, indigenous and afro groups, among others), the paper will address the dual issues of Internet use for access to relevant information and for dissemination.

It will argue that, given the logic of convergence on which ICTs are based, and the almost infinite volume of information flow, the only way for such organizations to make an impact on the Internet is through collective initiatives.

Subsequently, it will present such an initiative being developed by ALAI jointly with grass-roots networks in Latin America, that is building a community web-site on social movements and issues, with support of IDRC-Canada.

It will present the web-site design, oriented to combine systematized information and news, with the autonomous spaces of the participant organizations. It will describe the training component, designed to provide the participants with the skills and knowledge they need to develop their own strategies for Internet intervention. And it will outline the research component to be developed over the next two years, which will study, evaluate and document the use of Internet tools and processes by social movements in Latin America, and identify their needs at this level. The paper will conclude by pointing out new challenges identified in this process.