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CEN assists communities in rural areas of developing countries acquire the skills, attitudes, technology and resources to better manage their development process more autonomously and to be able to actively participate in the information society of the 21st century.
The cycle of dependency which exists among poor rural communities in Brazil is a major obstacle to their self-sustained development. Due to conditions such as poor communications, lack of resources, and poor education, residents have largely relied upon others for their well-being for generations, whether it be a Patron land-owner, the government or NGOs. Regardless of how well intended these agents might be, they have different agendas then the communities and communities are at their mercy. Dependency has reinforced a feeling of helplessness where members feel that they have little or no control over their destiny. This mentality is self-sustaining and is a major obstacle for economic and social development. Communications and information technology (ICT) can be important tools to break this cycle of dependency by empowering users and communities in which they live to make well-informed decisions and take effective action. ICT access alone is not enough, though. Communities also need to develop the skills and conditions that help them put the information to use and execute initiatives in an effective manner. This feeling of empowerment and having an impact can also change the attitude from "I can't" to " I can" , thus breaking down a major obstacle to development. The methodology the Community Development Network has developed combines 3 primary components to help communities acquire skills they need to become more independent. Mentoring and Learning by Doing - A range of skills and attitudes are also critical for communities to determine and then successfully achieve their own objectives. Some key success factors include: ability to effectively interpret and manage information, community and individual leadership, negotiation skills, ability to communicate effectively with outsiders, organization skills, effective business networking, and project management. A critical mass of leaders and other members of the community also have to truly believe that they are capable of managing change and realizing their goals. In order to help communities develop these skills, the staff of Community Empowerment Network acts as mentors to communities on community-led projects so that they can learn as they do . Communities learn as they undertake projects of their own design, which are relevant and meaningful to their everyday lives. As a mentor, we help them develop methods of inquiry to explore the questions they truly care about and to encourage them to develop a sense of ownership about the project. Our role is also to help learners not only achieve their project objective, but also develop the wide range of skills which are critical for communities to effectively initiate and execute future initiatives on their own. In the process communities adopt a stronger "I can do" attitude as they witness the concrete results of their efforts. InfoCentro Comunitario Information Portal - Due to the isolation of many rural communities, they often have limited access to the data, news and other information needed to compete for resources. Internet and Computer resource access can become important tools to provide communities with information; however the generally low levels of education in the communities, inexperience with many types of information - especially in written form, are obstacles for its effective use. CEN has developed an information portal called the InfoCentro Comunitario for Amazonian project which contains information that is closely tailored with the specific health, education, civics and entrepreneurial needs and skills of the community. Please visit http://www.communityempowernet.org/infocentro/ to view the InfoCentro. Solution and idea sharing between communities with the Rede Amazonia -Many remote communities, particularly those within a region, face many similar challenges. Some communities have met considerable success addressing specific problems but due to their isolation, these solutions have not been effectively shared with others. By sharing ideas and experiences, communities have an option to relying exclusively on outside "experts" , who often bring their own agenda. Chat, on-line forums and e-mail access can help tremendously to facilitate the sharing of remote communities. We have discovered however that while electronic communication can be very effective where personal relationships already exist, it can be very challenging for people who are not accustomed to using the telephone - much less written electronic forums - to engage with strangers from communities they have never visited. By organizing periodic workshops and exchanges between leaders in communities, we have found it very effective to help communities begin a dialog with each other, which can then be maintained and broadened by electronic communications.