Phone apps that change lives
Brazilian digital inclusion project leads up to new and uncanny smart phone apps
In 1996, the Committee for Democracy in Information (CDI), a leading NGO working towards digital inclusion in Brazil, opened a new computer school in the Rio favela Morro dos Macacos (“Monkey Hill”). The NGO, which at that time had only been operating for a year, could never have imagined just how successful it would be and how it would transform the life of one of its new pupils, Alexandre Carlos, aka Leco.
Today, more than a decade later, CDI has become an international institution active in thirteen countries across three different continents. Leco, overcoming all the odds of growing up in a favela is now the coordinator of all of Rio’s educational centres. Last June, he attended the graduation ceremony of a new phase in the NGO’s story: London.“In mid-2007, we opened a CDI office in London, with the sole aim of raising funds and awareness of our work in Europe, however, over time, we realised that we could contribute socially to the city”, says Luisa Gockel, CDI Europe’s Director of Institutional Development. However, the first challenge was to understand what digital inclusion meant for Europe. “Access to technology is not a problem here, the issue was how to turn it into something socially useful”, explains Luisa. With this in mind, the NGO created Apps for Good, an eight-week course during which nine young people, divided into three different groups and with no previous experience, created three applications for smart phones running on the Android platform, the operating system used by some mobile devices.
“The idea of programming and actually producing an application for a mobile phone seems like an impossible task. At first, everything is rather vague, but we succeeded and now I feel I am capable of making an app by myself”, says Satwant Kent. His group created the app “Stop and Search”, a program that tells you what your rights are and what a police officer can do if you are stopped in the street. “Whether working in Brazil or Europe, CDI has always cared about social awareness and not just about digital inclusion. At the start of the course, we asked them to think of apps that would be relevant to the reality of the world they live in”, explains Luisa. Since they all come from the area of Brixton, one of the most violent parts of London, in which stop and search is common, it isn’t that strange that this idea came up. The other two applications deal with the process of choosing a university and finding a good music studio.
Leco and Luisa both believe that these nine young people, the first Apps for Good class, are starting a project that, a few years from now, could be done in Brazil too. The idea, according to Luisa, is to increasingly integrate the different countries in which CDI operates, as well as to expand its projects in Europe.
By André de Oliveira