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Home / Stories from the field

Interviews with eRiders

2003-09-11 13:56:39

Tomasz Rusiecki
Social Information and Communication Project in Lower Silesia

Q: Is technology helpful in the work of non-governmental organizations?

A: While people familiar with NGOs know that it is, in Poland the answer wasn't always so obvious. That's why in July of 2001 we started the first eRiding project, the Social Information and Communication (SIC).

The main goal of the project was to provide free technical consultations to NGOs that provide social services. A second goal of the project was to work toward consolidating the Polish NGO sector.

Q: Was the project successful?

A: The SIC project measured the success of its work by counting the number of e-mail accounts that were set up and the number of people that were trained. However, the most important outcome was less quantifiable: the growing cooperation among organizations at the end of the project. With a little help from their new technology resources, all of the participating organizations are building an online database of common issues that they face, best practices, and resources (both human and material) that they can share with each other.

Q: What does it take to be a good eRider?

A: An effective eRider in Poland must be more than just a good techie. While technical knowledge is important, it is only one aspect of an eRider's work. An eRider also needs an understanding of the organizations' fundraising, program development, and relationship management. Someone who is only a techie would have a hard time helping an organization with its financial systems or with project management, for example.

Maria Metodieva
Roma Information Project

Q: Why are information technology tools useful for the organizations with whom you work?

A: The emancipation of our community will not occur simply by helping Roma women become better daughters, wives, and mothers. We need to enable them to become better people who contribute to the betterment of our society. This will happen by supporting one another, communicating, collaborating, and sharing experiences. IT tools are perfect for enabling this collaboration.

Ewa Kobus
Social Information and Communication Project in Lower Silesia

Q: Has this project help organizations work together?

A: Well, the organizations and centers working to help alcoholics and drug addicts- who in the past had only sporadic contact or did not know about each other at all-had a chance to come together. They drew up a map of related problems and agreed to work together on certain issues that affect both groups. Thanks to the new mailing list, the organization received regular news updates on relevant events, funds, and other information. They learned first hand that electronic mail is the most inexpensive and efficient way to exchange documents, agree upon schedules, and pass along information.

Gabriel Hrabanova
Roma Information Project
Czech Republic

Q: What is your primary role as an eRider?

A: Thanks to the fact that fewer and fewer donors accept handwritten project proposals, my role as an eRider is defined very simply. I am someone who wants to help teach them how to use computers to apply for grants. However, as soon as I start teach the basic skills, they also learn how to use the Internet, and that's the point -- opening the gate for communication. Then it doesn’t matter if I am only half-Roma or if I am too young. Their needs are being met, and in the long run, the needs of our community are being met.

Natalia Drozynska
Wroclaw Information Hotline

Q: The NGOs involved in your project really used the mailing lists— what do you think caused this readiness?

A: I’ve noticed that a lot more goes on, and to better effect, during the longer meeting to which we travel. After such meetings, there is more momentum on the mailing lists. People usually approach a mailing list with some hesitation because they don’t know how their comments will be received. The better people know each other, the easier it is for them to overcome this unwillingness. So, meeting one in another in person is very important for the success of online communication.

Miroslav Olah
Roma Information Project

Q: You are one of the few eRiders who began as a “techie.” How does this background fit into your work?

A: I am part of a seven-member eRider team. I am the most technologically oriented of these eRiders and have a degree in engineering. Even with all my technical knowledge, I am learning that it takes all kinds of skills -- not just technical -- to be a good eRider. My role in our team is to support the other eRiders so that they gain a better understanding of technology, and to learn from them about how to approach and support the organizations with which I work.

Q: Is it difficult to help NGOs feel comfortable with technology?

A: Cooperation with small, ill-equipped organization begins with discussing the advantages of using IT and how it can aid them in their work. It's useful to discuss in detail how they can use information technology in their projects. eRiders have to recognize what the organizations really need, and they should choose the appropriate technology. We can't forget that the aim is not so much to build technologically competent organizations, as to build organizations that have effective methods of doing their work.

Gyula Vamosi
Roma Information Project

Q: Will you tell us about the Roma campaign project?

A: Achieving political power is important goal of the Roma community. With a voice in the government, Roma can influence policy in a way that can improve their communities. To this end, Roma Community Centers (RCCs) wanted to establish their own political party and win important positions among the elite decision makers.

The directors of the RCCs are often traditional Roma men for whom using technology is a mystery. The eRider taught RCC members about e-mail discussion groups, or eGroups. By using these groups, the national association of RCCs was able to strengthen its network, recruit new members, and find a forum for discussing its work.

After getting their feet wet with the eGroup, the RCC directors began to use Instant Messenger. They discovered the value of being able to see when their partners were online, and being able to share information without calling each other or traveling.

Members of the organization learned how to use search engines, which gave them access to samples of campaign strategies, campaign ideas, and slogans on the Web.

They were also able to prepare their campaign strategy online well in advance of community visits. They identified the most important issues for that community before they arrived, and they developed their platform and wrote their speeches by tailoring them to the community's needs.

The RCC leaders worked together to raise money for a portable computer so that the leader of the campaign could keep in contact while he was on the road. He used e-mail and the Internet to send updates to everyone in the network.

Web tools helped them save money and helped them communicate smoothly and timely. After three months of campaigning, they won the national elections of the Roma Minority Self-Government, a body that provides for cultural autonomy for Roma in Hungary.


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