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São Paulo Vows to Increase Digital Inclusion

August 13, 2013

Brazil is a country of contrasts. Despite sustained economic growth over the past decade, recent protests highlighted deepening inequalities in everyday life.

 Much has also been made of Brazil’s rapid digital expansion, but a closer look there also reveals surprising disparities.

 Just under half of Brazil’s population accesses the Internet using their own resources, while access in the home is limited to those with higher incomes. This means that the majority of the country’s nearly 200 million people depend on public access points to get online, to find everything from jobs to medical information.

 Acessa São Paulo, an initiative of the state government of São Paulo and this year’s Access to Learning Award (ATLA) $1 million award winner, makes internet access easy for the more than 42 million residents of the state.

 When the government of São Paulo started Acessa in 2000, it knew it would only succeed if it created a network of partnerships with local governments throughout the state. Together, they’ve come up with inventive places to put their technology stations, places that are regularly frequented by the underserved.

 Many facilities are built right in train, bus, and subway stations—places with high foot traffic where thousands of people pass through every day.

 Other stations are located in libraries, hospitals, government service centers, and public housing projects. In this way, Acessa can reach out to the poorest and most vulnerable, those who would never have a way to access the great bounty of the Internet or learn the skills they need to create a better, more stable life for themselves.

Some of the most successful facilities are located in rural areas far from the city centers, like sugar cane farms where women can take computer courses during their breaks from the field.

This means that when a person visits a government-run Bom Prato restaurant to get a healthy meal for just $0.44, they can also visit one of Acessa São Paulo’s technology stations located right on the premises. They can apply for jobs, take computer literacy courses, and get personalized help from trained instructors. The hope is that one day, that person won’t need to get subsidized meals from the government—they’ll be standing on their own two feet.

 Sonia Takimoto, manager of Bom Prato perhaps put it best: “When we established the restaurant, we talked to the government because we wanted to take advantage of the space, to see if they could give us machines for an Acessa.” In addition to technology skills training, visitors to the Bom Prato can learn to read and write using a special computer program. “They learn faster with the machines,” she said. “I have an 83-year-old lady who learned how to read and write here. Now she’s in college.”

 The foundation has given this award for 14 years now. Every year I continue to be impressed by how more and more organizations and governments embrace the belief that digital inclusion is essential to give people the opportunity to lead a healthy and productive

View more photos of Acessa Sao Paulo in action.

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