SITUATION BEFORE THE INITIATIVE BEGAN
In 2004, there were approximately 50 million people with disabilities in Latin America. People with disabilities suffer from historic discrimination and exclusion and their condition is universally linked to poverty through lack of access to rehabilitation, education, training, and employment. Women and the indigenous are affected more severely.
ESTABLISHMENT OF PRIORITIES
The priorities of the initiative are:
Train persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups in information and communication technologies, , using Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential curriculum.
Provide free access to information for users during off hours.
Partner with a local organization to establish and manage each training center. Provide these organizations with capacity building to help them run the program.
Create awareness among public and private sector of the importance of inclusion at the job marketplace level, taking advantage of the capabilities of the individuals over their disabilities.
These priorities were set by the Trust’s POETA Program Director, David Rojas, in conjunction with Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential program. Taking advantage of the Interamerican Convention against all kind of discrimination or People with Disabilities in the Americas, and leveraging ICT for development, David worked closely with different stakeholders from the private and public sector to design the program and determine the target population, namely people with disabilities, to achieve and promote social inclusion.
FORMULATION OF OBJECTIVES AND STRATEGIES
The program’s main objective is to train marginalized communities in the use of ICT and job readiness skills, especially persons with disabilities. The Trust identifies and selects local organizations with experience working with disadvantaged communities and in the field of social development, and trains them on how to run a technology center, providing them with financial and technical support. These centers are open to the community, as this creates inclusive spaces for interaction that lead to the social inclusion of people with disabilities.
The program also seeks to foster strategic alliances with public and private organizations to enhance and expand the program throughout the hemisphere, thus benefiting an even greater number of people with and without disabilities.
MOBILISATION OF RESOURCES
Resources for the POETA program were mobilized from various sources. POETA was established thanks to the support of Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Program. Microsoft provides cash and in-kind contributions, while also providing the Trust’s POETA management team with technical support. The OAS provides multilateral assistance to the Trust by leveraging local OAS offices and governments contacts throughout Latin America to provide onground assistance and support. The Trust’s relationship with Microsoft and the OAS has enabled the POETA program to gain publicity, create government support, identify worthy local partners and rapidly expand through the hemisphere.
Thanks to the program’s success, Microsoft continues to be POETA’s main donor, contributing with cash and in-kind support (Software). As previously mentioned, private and public sector organizations (Siemes, CIDA, IDRC) have partnered with us to improve and expand the program throughout the hemisphere.
Local partner organizations, which include not only NGOs but also educational institutions, community groups, and government organizations, provide the program with financial and human resources. The selected local partners manage the center and contribute with their existing resources, which are counted as their counterpart. This model, beside empowering local organizations, enables the Trust to expand and ensure the sustainability of the program. Additionally, in establishing a center, consultants are hired to provide technical assistance to “train the trainers” of the selected local partners, training them on how to use the UP curriculum and the Adaptive Technologies. POETA works with over 200 local public and private sector partners throughout the hemisphere.
One of the program’s biggest challenges/problems is the reinsertion rate. The unemployment rate in many countries in Latin America is high (sometimes up to 20 percent), and even skilled/college graduates find it hard to find jobs. The disabled, most of whom don’t have access to formal/informal education, are particularly affected by this phenomenon. Therefore, POETA graduates, even after they go through the program’s training, find it hard to find a job that enables them to earn a living and become independent. The Trust is working closely with private and public sector organizations, via public awareness campaigns, to promote the social and economic inclusion of people with disabilities throughout the Americas.
Community organizations play a crucial role in the development and expansion of POETA. The daily management, budgeting and operation of the centers is handled by the local partner. These organizations vary in size and nature and provide the program with human and financial capital. Additionally, POETA graduates (disabled or disadvantaged persons) often return the center to serve as volunteers. Also, there is an array of local organizations throughout the hemisphere, including government, educational and private, that support the POETA program.
Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential program provides the Trust with the tools and performance assessment benchmarks for POETA. Quarterly reports are submitted to Microsoft by the Trust every three months to summarize the achievements and current status of all centers for the donor. For these reports, each local submits a comprehensive program update to the POETA program staff at the Trust which is then compiled and submitted to Microsoft via a web portal. This information includes current statistics such as number of participants trained and number of graduates that obtained a job. These reports also describe other advances including promotional events hosted by the centers and new strategic partnerships formed. In addition to these formal reports, local partners are in constant contact/communication with POETA staff at the Trust, voicing any concerns or requesting any support they might need. This close relationship helps the Trust to keep local partners on track and continually assess their progress.
The Trust evaluates each POETA center based on several measurable outcomes. Please find below some of these factors:
The number of participants trained in ICT skills per year.
The number of participants trained in job-readiness skills and office technology per year.
The number of trainers from the local partner trained in ICT training methodology, use of adaptive technology, job-readiness/job-placement, reading and writing, as well as communication skills using ICT.
The number of trainers from our local partner educated in the use of information and communication technology for organizational purposes.
The number of local educational institutions recruited to provide volunteers as trainers, technicians or advisors.
The success of adaptation of modules and manuals to the specific needs and context of the center.
The strength and effectiveness publicity campaign promoting the center.
The sustainability of plan designed by the end of the program.
In addition to these measurable outcomes, we evaluate the program based on its impact on the lives of its participants and the effect on the community as a whole. The program gives graduates an increased independence and sense of renewed confidence in their own abilities that is not quantifiable.
Financial: The use and leveraging of resources, including cost recovery, indicating how loans, if any, are being paid back and their terms and conditions;
Social and Economic: Gender equity, equality and social inclusion, economic and social mobility;
Cultural: Respect for and consideration of attitudes, behaviour patterns and heritage;
Environmental: Reducing dependence on non-renewable resources (air, water, land, energy, etc.), and changing production and consumption patterns and technology. E.g. Composting, recycling etc.
Institutional: Legislation, regulatory frameworks, by-laws or standards formally addressing the issues and problems that have been dealt with by a practice; Social policies and/or sectoral strategies at the (sub) national level that have a potential for replication elsewhere; Institutional frameworks and decision-making processes that assign clear roles and responsibilities to various levels and groups of actors, such as central and local governmental organisations and community-based organisations; Efficient, transparent and accountable management systems that make more effective use of human, technical, financial and natural resources.
Sustainability is the key to the success of POETA. Great care is taken by the Trust in developing local partnerships before opening a POETA center. Our local partners in all countries bring substantial in-kind and other sources of funding to the project. They are well regarded, stable organizations which assist at-risk youth and persons with disabilities. In each new program country, the Trust performed a needs and project viability assessment. The main goal of these appraisals is to form partnerships with a specific number of local organizations in an effort to guarantee the continuity of the different activities offered by the project, as well as their ability to eventually assume the full financial responsibility for each POETA center. During the first year, a comprehensive sustainability plan for each center is developed jointly by The Trust and the local partners. This sustainability plan is prepared with the support of local private and public sector organizations, to promote activities that generate new financial resources and job opportunities to the program’s beneficiaries. Long term financial sustainability is guaranteed through local partner “ownership” of the program which requires them to be invested in the program. Local Partners assume "ownership" of the center after one year, and they must seek funds for the continuance of this project from other foundations and international institutions. In partnering with established local organizations, the POETA program has created a sustainable business model.
Social, economic, cultural and institutional sustainability are insured by the continued operations of each POETA center. Social equality for marginalized and disabled persons is promoted by the activities of each center in training these individuals to compete in the workforce and live more independent lives. Social inclusion is directly confronted by POETA as participants are given the tools to achieve upward economic mobility through employment.
Cultural sustainability is provided through the POETA program by promoting respect for cultural heritage. In some centers, training is provided to indigenous peoples promote opportunities for them as well as teaching them to preserve their cultural heritage.
The most important lessons learned through the POETA program include:
Any project which introduces ICT use should include basic training in ICT literacy. Training should not only be limited to the basic use of computers but, more importantly, instruct on how to integrate ICT into teaching and curriculum development. The Trust uses Microsoft’s UP Curriculum precisely because it is a simple module that enables anyone, regardless of academic background, to access and benefit from the training that the centers offer. More advanced/rigorous modules are now being offered for those POETA graduates who have the background knowledge and choose to enroll in the modules, enabling them to acquire additional skills to find and obtain a job.
Elements of advocacy and promotion should be included in ICT programs in order to encourage more participation and audience involvement. The POETA program, via its public awareness campaigns, promotes the inclusion of people with disabilities in society.
ICT training can and must be accompanied by training in additional skills to improve the the beneficiaries’ chances of employment. The Trust has partnered with many private and public sector organizations to include additional modules (e.g. English, Entrepreneurship) in the POETA program.
Several technical factors can have a negative impact on the interactivity in learning. Virtual education might not flourish as expected because of disparities in bandwidth, cost of network access, presence of dedicated facilities, and limits on learners' access to necessary equipment. These limiting factors include: hardware and software, lack of system support to fast learners and slow learners and limitations on the current system of course credits transfer among institutions.
POETA now serves as a best practice for Microsoft, implemented by their community affairs programs in other areas of the world. In addition, the Trust’s management team has participated in many conferences throughout the world to learn from similar initiatives and share best practices. For example, David Rojas, POETA Director, presented the POETA program at the OAS General Assembly that was held in Dominican Republic in 2006. This presentation prompted CIDA to contribute with funds for the expansion of POETA to the Eastern Caribbean. We are now seeking funds to work with other target populations and expand to other regions in the world, including North America. Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential Program allows for this expansion as the UP curriculum can be adapted to serve any disadvantaged community.
The program can also be replicated with donations from local organizations based on their priorities and needs. Our regional experts train the centers’ trainers in the UP curriculum and these trainers can in turn train other teachers, increasing the impact and replicability of the POETA program beyond Latin America.