Association for Progressive Communications -strengthening NGO electronic networking-

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Association for Progressive Communications -strengthening NGO electronic networking-

Amalia Souza

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APC-Association for Progressive Communications

Keywords: NGO networking, global communications, international, UN, women networking, social change, environment, human rights, progressiveINDEXI SummaryII History of the APC

APC and the UN

III Organizational Structure of APC

The APC Coordinating Council

Current APC Council of Directors

Member Networks Profiles

IV APC: A Network Dedicated to Enhancing NGO Communications

Supporting Civil Society’s Communication Capacity

Examples of APC’s Partnership with the NGO Community:

Alternex

Chasque

APC Women’s Networking Support Program

V Overcoming Boundaries to Reach People

I. Summary

While publicity about, and the use of, the Internet continues to skyrocket, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) keeps busy trying to ensure that NGOs in both Southern and Northern countries develop the capacity to fully use the many tools offered by the ever increasing world of electronic communications. APC must not only be updated about technological developments but must go beyond to ensure that its members and partners in areas of the world where the Internet is not available continue to be full participants in this new technological era.

APC is a worldwide partnership of 20 member computer networks in all 5 continents that links NGOs working for peace, environmental sustainability, conflict resolution, social and economic justice and universal human rights. APC provides communications and information-sharing tools to over 40,000 activists, educators, nonprofits and NGOs in over 133 countries. Tt is the largest computer communications network in the world dedicated specifically to NGOs and to enhancing their effectiveness, organisational ability and capacity.

Below we will be describing briefly APC’s history, development and organizational structure, as well as giving some good examples of how the NGO community worldwide has been making use of what APC has to offer.

II. History of the APC

Between 1982 and 1987 several independent, national, nonprofit computer networks emerged as viable information and communication resources. In 1987, GreenNet in England began collaborating with the Institute for Global Communications (IGC), which operates PeaceNet, EcoNet, ConflictNet, LaborNet and WomensNet in the United States. These two networks started sharing their electronic conference material and demonstrated that trans-national electronic communications could serve international, as well as domestic, communities working for peace, human rights and the environment.

This innovation proved so successful that by late 1989, networks in Sweden (NordNet), Canada (Web), Brazil (AlterNex), Nicaragua (Nicarao), and Australia (Pegasus) were exchanging information with each other and with IGC and GreenNet. In the spring of 1990, the Association for Progressive Communications (APC) was founded to coordinate the operation and development of this emerging global network. As of April 1996, the APC has twenty member networks, serving over 40,000 activists, educators, nonprofits and NGOs in over 135 countries. The APC also exchanges e-mail and selected conferences with over 50 partner networks worldwide, many of whom are expected to become full APC members in the future.

The APC member networks pay a percentage of their income to the APC Secretariat to diversify the growth of the Association. APC member networks are:

AlterNex, Brasil

Chasque, Uruguay

ComLink, Germany

Colnodo, Colombia

Econnect, Czeck Republic

Ecuanex, Ecuador

GlasNet, Russia

GlasNet-Ukraine, Ukraine

GreenNet, England

Histria, Slovenija

IGC: EcoNet/PeaceNet/ConflictNet/LaborNet/WomensNet, USA

Knooppunt, Belgium

LaNeta, Mexico

Nicarao, Nicaragua

NordNet, Sweden

Pegasus, Australia

PlaNet, New Zealand

SangoNet, South Africa

Wamani, Argentina

Web, Canada

APC and the UN

In 1992, APC took on its first large scale international project. Serving as the primary provider of telecommunications for NGOs at the 1992 Earth Summit in Brazil, APC established the use of computer networking as a successful mechanism for better integrating NGOs into the preparations, duration, and follow-up of a large-scale United Nations conference.

APC has continued to work closely with several United Nations agencies to help make their documentation more accessible to NGOs. Similar to the arrangement at the Earth Summit in:

* 1993 United Nations Conference on Human Rights in Vienna, Austria

* 1994 International Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt

* 1995 World Summit on Social Development in Copenhagen, Denmark

* 1995 Climate Conference of the Parties to the Climate Convention in Berlin, Germany

* 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China

* APC is currently coordinating its form of participation in the next UN conference, Habitat II.

Throughout the year, APC works closely with several United Nations agencies to make them and their information more accessible to NGOs.

APC has recently been granted Consultative Status, Category 1, to the United Nations Economic and Social Council – ECOSOC.

III. Organizational Structure of APC

The APC Coordinating Council

APC is composed of 20 member networks and is governed by the APC Coordinating Council — a Board of Directors composed of one representative, usually the Executive Director, from each of the member networks.

The Charter and ByLaws mandate that the Council formulate policy, monitor an implementation plan for each decision, strategize on how to lessen the information gap between the North and South, and between the genders, analyze the impact of Internet on NGOs, determine member fees, approve new members, adopt network connectivity standards, coordinate administration, report on financial and fundraising status, analyze joint technical and development support, and oversee the APC Secretariat staff.

The Council works together on a daily basis in a series of online conferences to maintain regular operations and to exchange news pertinent to the international activities of the networks. Each quarter, an online Council meeting is held which lasts from 2-3 weeks. Decisions, policy setting and voting occur in these online meetings.

Council members are required to attend one face-to-face meeting per year to discuss in depth issues that cannot be satisfactorily finalized online, to set the framework for the upcoming year, to set long-term development goals, and to determine how best to respond to NGOs’ changing communications needs.

Decision-making is done by consensus, with a fall-back majority vote should consensus be unattainable. To date, consensus has been the standard. The majority vote fall-back has not been needed.

The decision-making processes and power structures of the APC have remained flexible and inclusive to the needs of member networks which has helped enable the development of new member networks. The APC’s structures have encouraged stakeholder interest and participation in larger APC organizational processes and have contributed to its expansion to diverse countries.

A key element in the success of these networks has been the coordination of internal organizational structures. Equally important to the success of the APC is the member networks’ close working relationships with each other despite the geographical distance between them. The feeling of belonging to the “APC Family” is an important component in the success of the APC’s ability to respond to NGOs’ communication and information needs.

Current APC Council of Directors

Carlos Afonso, AlterNex, Brasil

Carlos Alvarez, Wamani, Argentina

Orestes Papi, Nicarao, Nicaragua

Roberto Bissio, Chasque, Uruguay

Julian Casasbuenas, ColNodo, Colombia

Karin Delgadillo, Ecuanex, Ecuador

Andriy Demydenko, GLUK, Ukraine

Adolfo Dunayevich, LaNeta, Mexico

Bo Engborg, NordNet, Sweden

Anriette Esterhuysen, SangoNet, South Africa

Stefan Hackenthal, ComLink, Germany

Boris Horvat, Histria, Slovenija

Robert Hunt, PlaNet, New Zealand

Karen Banks, GreenNet, England

Kirk Roberts, Web, Canada

Geoff Sears, IGC, United States

Anatoly Voronov, GlasNet, Russia

Paul Wilson, Pegasus, Australia

Vaclav Klinkera, Econnect, Czeck Republic

Daniel Verkhoen, Knooppunt, Belgium

Member Networks Profiles

APC members represent a wide range of administrative structures, respecting each member’s complete autonomy, historical, socia, cultural and political background. In order to maintain members’ autonomy, it has been established in its Charter and Bylaws that APC will have one member per country, and that new applying members will be sponsored by the member geographically closest to the applicant, once a political partnership has been under way for some time.

An APC member can be institutionally conformed in many different ways, from one locally registered network/NGO, to several networks confederated.

Some examples:

IGC, USA – Institute for Global Communications, is a NGO network with non-profit status in the US obtained through the Tides Foundation. IGC, althought administratively independent, has the foundation as its fiscal sponsor.

Alternex, Brazil – is an electronic network project of IBASE-Instituto Brasileiro de Analises Sociais e Economicas (Brazilian Institute of Social and Economic Analysis), a 15 year old umbrella NGO.

Wamani, Argentina – is an independent NGO network constituted in Argentina

Colnodo, Colombia and Ecuanex, Ecuador – these have similar structures. They are networks coordinated by a pool of Colombian and Ecuatorian NGOs respectively.

ComLink, Germany – is a pool of small hosts distributed throughout Germany, providing local access to APC materials.

Histria/Zamir Transnational Net, Post-Yugoslavian countries – these two networks are co-members. They are one node per country throughout the ex-Yugoslavian countries that together form one member of the APC Networks. This is due to very special circumstances during the recent wars, where several local anti-war organizations needed to communicated to the world and each other, and found electronic networking the most efficient means. Each country called Austria to leave and retrieve messages to/from each other, supporting the communicationg needs of the local relief workers and the NGO community and individuals.

IV. APC: A Network Dedicated to Enhancing NGO Communications

APC’s goal is to provide advanced, inexpensive communications technology and technical expertise in both developed and developing countries so that NGOs have an effective vehicle by which to coordinate and to distribute information. The APC networks serve as a communications infrastructure for NGOs worldwide. The two primary components of this infrastructure are 1) the information that flows through the system, and 2) the technical expertise that allows NGOs worldwide to easily access the system from their office or home.

In addition, APC is dedicated to lessening the gap between the information rich and the information poor. To that end, APC provides a technical and administrative backbone of 20 member networks who, in turn, have developed technical and collegial relationships with over fifty smaller networks in developing countries. These fifty partner networks are local host systems with whom APC exchanges information on a regular basis while also expanding progressive global networking. In many cases, these partner systems are the only access that NGOs have for computer networking for NGOs within their country.

Supporting Civil Society’s Communication Capacity

Borrowing the words of Susan Sallin, who chose APC as the subject of a Case Study she prepared for the Harvard-CIESIN Project on Global Environmental Change Information Policy entitled “The Association for Progressive Communications: A Cooperative Effort to Meet the Information Needs of Non-Governmental Organizations”:

“The accomplishments of the APC on different fronts provide a framework to understand the impact these services have on their user community and in international policy-making efforts. At least three distinguishing characteristics of the APC deserve study:

– the APC has a DIVERSE USER COMMUNITY with representation by academia, industry, government, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs);

– the SIZE OF THE ENTERPRISE is extensive geographically, with a strong northern and southern country representation; and

– the PRACTICAL USES of the system in policy-making fora are important to many users; the APC has helped to enable NGOs to participate in important policy-making arenas such as the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED).

The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) has distinguished itself from the myriad of other information service providers. The APC has proven to many within the environmental advocacy community, that telecommunications can promote the work of non-governmental organizations in policy-making efforts in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, the APC has attracted a diverse user base that encompasses players from many sectors involved in global environmental change policy. The APC has been chosen by more than 17 United Nations offices as an information provider and communications medium for collecting and disseminating information on global change issues. A few of these UN agencies include: the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Inter- Governmental Negotiating Committee on a Framework for Climate Change Convention (INC/FCCC), and the UN Center for Human Rights, among others.” (S.Sallin, Feb.94)

Examples of APC’s Partnership with the NGO Community

Alternex

The Brazilian APC member, Alternex, has taken upon itself the mission of ensuring to a broad range of representative organizations of Brazilian civil society had knowledge about and access to electronic communications.

Only in 1994 Alternex developed the following special partnerships:

– Environmental Journalism Network

– Gender Online Working Group – women’s organizations online

– Rede DIEESE – over 900 unions affiliated to the Inter-Union Department of Socio-Economic Studies are communicating through AX, besides making available to the Brazilian society through WWW and APC public conferences their ongoing analysis of the national socio-economic situation

– BancNet/CNBNet – partnership with the National Confederation of Bank-workers Unions

– CUTNet – Central Unica dos Trabalhadores – Workers Union

– Environmental Education Network- ECOAR Institute, connecting Environmental NGOs nationwide working on the subject, as well as primary schools

– ReBim Net – IBAM- Brazilian Institute of Support to Municipalities, interconnecting municipal government offices throughout the country to provide information on public policies.

– Rede Brasil – networking among Brazilian NGOs to disseminate information on multilateral loans, public policies, etc.

– ABIA – Brazilian Interdiciplinary Association of AIDS – educate about the AIDs problem

– Amnesty International Brasil

– Psychoanalists Network

– and so on…

Chasque

Chasque is the electronic network project of ITEM-Instituto del Tercer Mundo, the APC member in Uruguay. Besides offering electronic communications possibilities for the Uruguayan NGO community, ITEM also makes wide use of Chasque through its other project NGONET. Roberto Bissio’s (ITEM’s diretor) description of NGONET in his article “Integrated Information and Development Communication Networks” gives a good example of how efficient NGO networking can become. He analyzes the disparity of information access possibilities of North and South and offers solutions:

(…)

This unfair distribution of data resources is not only a result of the lack of adequate “information pipelines” in the South, but also a consequence of the inadequacy of the information that flows through them. To contribute to the bridging of that gap, NGONET was created in 1991 as “an innovative global NGO environmental and development information- sharing networking process, with specific concern for the information needs of Southern groups, indigenous peoples, women and grassroot organizations.”

NGONETs basic goal is to “close the circle” from negotiation and lobbying processes at the international level to the actual development and environment protagonists at the grassroots level. NGONET’s role is to foster, hear and translate the visions of local communities, so that their visions become relevant and influential at the national and international levels. It works with regional partners, linked with each other and with the major international networks through electronic communication tools. The network’s “nodes” put the information out, on appropriate formats (from paper to radio), to local groups and individuals, in a form they can understand, relate to and respond to. They also feed the international networks with information originated locally, in an interactive process.

APC Women’s Networking Support Program

To redress the gender gap in the use of computer technology, APC initiated a Women’s Networking Support Program. This initiative focuses on increasing access to networking technologies and information sources for women and women’s NGOs.

Both the United Nations Secretariat for the Fourth World Conference on Women and the NGO Forum on Women have endorsed and are working closely with APC as a communications and information-sharing provider in preparation for and during the World Conference in Beijing, China, in September 1995.

The APC Women’s Program reports show how successful this initiative has been:

The APC Women’s Networking Support Program contributed to empowering organizations and networks through access to information and an effective channel for intercommunication. The fact that the Program focused more on women’s networking than on the technology itself, and adopted an outward orientation towards the women’s movement, meant that we were able to link program development to the specific needs of the organizations concerned.

The Program presented the women’s movement with a strategic vision (as distinct from an instrumental vision) of how computer networking can enhance the effectiveness of their work and what challenges they face to be able to do this. Work was developed to support on-going communications activities -in particular, the NGO Forum coordinating bodies, women’s media and women’s networks- in developing more effectively through computer networks.

When the program began in late 1993, relatively few women’s organizations were using computer networks and most of these made minimal usage. Most organizations only vaguely understood how this medium operates or expressed resistance to “male” technology.

Two years later, many women’s networks, including a number of the Beijing organizing bodies, are progressively incorporating computer communications for exchange with their counterparts, to disseminate their documents and viewpoints, and as a means for accessing information which is often unavailable, or only tardily, through other channels.

In Latin America for example, which has been the region in the South where most progress has been made in terms of women’s electronic networking, most of the national and regional Beijing NGO coordinating groups and many of the women’s networks (or at least their coordinators) are now using computer networks as an indispensible component of their communications policy.

Among its objectives, the Women’s Program included the promotion of women’s access to electronic networking, within a perspective of the democratization of communications. In this optic, APC intervened as an actor with its own proposals in the Beijing process. APC, in conjunction with other organizations, was able to make significant input on the theme of new technologies to the chapter on women and the media of the UN Platform for Action, adopted in Beijing. At the same time, there is growing awareness among women’s organizations of the importance of defending their rights in terms of access to communication, information and new technologies, elements which were previously virtually absent from the agenda of the women’s movement.

V. Overcoming Boundaries to Reach People

As it is easily observed, APC has reached an important level of international credibility, and has accomplished much in terms of support for NGO networking worldwide. However, as opposed to what one might think, APC is not a super-structure formed by wealthy networks. It is a small NGO operating on very limited resources. Its real strength lies on its goals, and the incredible commitment of its members to supporting civil society’s strengthening of its communications abilities. The commitment to the principles of APC by its members also plays a great role.

In summary, APC is a network dedicated to people and their struggle for a better, more just and clean world. While the means are challenging and difficult, the end justifies every effort.

APC is always open to new partnerships with the NGO community and with new emerging networks.

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