Jan 28, 2010
Earlier this year Radio La Luna in Ecuador surprised us with the great documentary “Memorias de Quito”, a very interesti...
Earlier this year Radio La Luna in Ecuador surprised us with the great documentary “Memorias de Quito”, a very interesting proposal on recovering the collective memories marked by social and racial differences. La Luna is more than a radio station; it is a grassroots communication centre. In November, when I visited them, they were very enthusiastic to show me their computer lab, a 24-seat room based on thin client technology, NComputing. The seats are arranged in a “U” shape and in the centre a screen projector. Funds and knowledge were scarce, thus they had to use all the means available to make it happen.
Mauricio Velasco, project manager, told me they had to break down a wall between two offices to make a larger room. The furniture is simple, "we hired an electrician to set the cables, all the rest we do it by ourselves."
He said it was cheaper to buy the small black boxes (the clients) in US, so they imported them. The LCD screens, keyboards and mouse were bought locally. They couldn’t afford a real server thus they fed up a tower PC with extra RAM memory and powerful processors. Initially they had planned to run everything with open source software, the server as well as the clients. They couldn’t make the server work with Ubuntu, it seems they missed some drivers. So they switched to MS server. The clients do run Open Office, Gimp and Skype (is not open source but it is free).
Then they started the test period. Would so many seats work with the “server”? Could they Skype? Would the USB sticks work? Their approach was very empirical, they tested different scenarios and when they found problems they went to the online forums and tried to find similar problems other people had encounter and how they solved them.
This has been a whole learning experience, at the beginning they didn’t know much about thin client technology. But the whole process of selecting the equipment (choosing for the L-series that allows audio in/out and a USB port), designing the space u-shape in place of rows, installing the system and testing the performance, contacting the technicians from the national network (InfoDesarrollo) or searching in the web for answers. All this process, including the frustrations, generates ownership and embedding.
Not all is solved and a consultancy from the local NComputing provider will check on the setting and look at some bugs. But this is a minor thing.
Congratulations Radio La Luna!
Sep 04, 2009
Quito, is nestled in a long, narrow valley between Volcano Pichincha to the west and the precipitous canyon of the river Mach...
Quito, is nestled in a long, narrow valley between Volcano Pichincha to the west and the precipitous canyon of the river Machángara to the east. From this contrasting river ManchagaraSoft borrowed its name to create a technological park in the heart of the Andes.
MachangaraSoft (www.machangarasoft.com) is a technological park, created by the initiative of a small group of people some 7 years ago. Through their history they have counted an average of 10 enterprises each with 3 to 12 people, totaling 90. Some of them depart, and new ones come continuing with an organic flux. Where resides the success of this umbrella organization? It is hard to pin-point a single success factor but I can mention some attitudes that certainly are important. First of all their independence, they decided to go the hard way, and build up their prestige on the basis of their professional performance. In the long run this has become key to their sustainability. Another key element was its diversity; each company masters a different technology and all of these companies are certified in their field of expertise (Java, Oracle, Microsoft, Cisco, Red Hat, etc.). Their expertise goes hand to hand with their innovative spirit, MachangaraSoft came into being by de-facto in an incubator experience, where coaching was given horizontally, peer-to-peer. And last but not least, their solidarian spirit, on one hand by taking into account the economy of scales, saving by sharing. But it is not only a matter of economy; it is the ideal of being a real collective.
This combination of diversity and togetherness has many advantages; among them the possibility to cover with the help of their sister companies the whole production chain, from infrastructure to software development, project management and training. Togetherness, diversity AND commitment towards development are conscious components when they look for new partners.
Among their latest success we can mention rolling out the whole IT component of the National Assembly in Open Source. A new project is the digitalization of the payroll system for the whole Ecuadorian public administration. Since the government requested the use of the Open Source in the government agencies, they have develop a successfully approach on migrating, for example, to Open Office. At the present they are working with universities and the government in different fields. And their services are been exported to other countries. In order to improve their chances they are piloting certification in a new methodology of developing software. Traditional methodologies (like the Waterfall) are too heavy for the economy of developing countries. Beside all this, they have contributed with Libre Software products, mostly in document management and project management tools.
MachangaraSoft might join us in the Associated Trainer Program of Ecuador, I am very much optimistic that this partnership will be a rich experience.
Nov 12, 2007
As I am usually mostly working from the hotel or inner-city project headquarters when in Ecuador, paying a visit to a local s...
As I am usually mostly working from the hotel or inner-city project headquarters when in Ecuador, paying a visit to a local site of one of our project partners is both interesting and a pleasure… even if it means that you’d have to get up at 4:15 in the morning to be picked op by our partners who runs the IICD supported CAMARI project.
The original plan was a two-day up-country visit to two communities that the project partner is active in. Unfortunately, one of the sites turned out not to have any connection, as they apparently forgot to pay for their electricity and had to go and fix this on the day of our visit. At least it was good to hear that connectivity problems are not only related to thunderstorms, bad equipment or political turmoil…
The adjusted plan therefore included one site about 4,5 hours from Quito. One of the persons responsible for the project and I talked about pets, favourite music and sports and of course the project itself in order to keep awake. In the meantime, scenes familiar from many Ecuador coffee table books unfolded: a sunrise over huge snow-capped volcanoes, indigenous women dressed in bright purple ponchos and black skirts and lazily grazing alpacas on the side of the road.
We passed a village with a large statue covered in different colours of bathroom tiles. “Do you know what that is?”, the partner asked. As I did not want to insult anyone, I did not dare say that the thing looked like a huge popsicle to me. “It’s a popsicle!” he said, “people here really love their ice cream.”
We arrived at the partner organisation’s office in the late morning (the project partner we work with again works with local partners in different communities). This local partner is responsible for getting certain amounts of produce, all carefully planned out on large hand-written boards, from the communities’ farmers and handicraft (wo)men to the selling point in Quito. Additionally, the information centre gives information on prices for the local produce. All tested ways to increase income of local producers and improve their decision-making on where, when and what to sell.
This was the theory. Walking around the community and talking to users of the projects I not only found out that the theory seemed to work (also proved by the encouraging evaluation data that had been coming in from the projects’ users for the last two years now), but that there was much more to it. In the first place: I probably had never before seen such an industrious village in my life! In a 2,5 hour walk I met cheese makers, sausage makers, mushroom dryers, furniture builders, football producers, nougat makers, chocolate makers, workers from the thread-factory and a group of women that knit sweaters from the thread produced in the factory. All of these micro businesses use the same communications network originally installed for the info centre for a nominal fee, which in turn helps coving a part of the info centre’s cost. The cheese factory communicates with surrounding communities that produce part of the cheese that they distribute all over the country. The chocolate factory sends e-mails back and forth about orders and packaging with Italian buyers.
The sheer existence of the info centre has over time sparked many of these initiatives. They are currently preparing to set up a VOIP-telephone, to compete with commercial (expensive and low quality) telephone provider Porta. And a Virtual Aula has been set up to provide all community members with internet access in an internet café setting. Contrary to international trends, the activity and communication possibilities have actually resulted in people moving into the community, rather than out of it, towards the city.
Talking to one of the “community economy”-founders, an Italian priest who has been in the village for over 35 years, it became clear that the effect of the network goes much further even. When asked about the most substantial changes for the community, he became really enthusiastic. Instead of elaborating on economic success or export, he talked about how the project opened up surrounding communities, till recent almost completely shut from the outside world. How young people there were seeing new possibilities, talking online with their friends in other communities. That, claimed the priest, was what was amazing about the new technology.
Every day, behind my desk in The Hague, I’m busy with the impact of our programmes: the statistics, the percentages, the lessons learned. The real life impact as seen in the community will probably always be impossible to capture….