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Morino Institute From Access to Outcomes: Digital Divide Report and Dialogue
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Creating a Digital Peace Corps




Jan 16, 2001


Mario Morino

Marsha, thanks for an insightful view on the make up and importance of leaders, the messenger, as you've stated it. I'd like to emphasize the importance of taking the time to find those people, the messengers, who have the respect within their respective communities and who can best advance the acceptance and use of technology within a neighborhood or community.

I'll share with you two stories -- one an experience and one a learning. In the mid-90s we partnered with a group in Nebraska, the Community Networking Institute, led by Steve Buttress. Steve was not an Internet or technical type, but had led economic development in Nebraska under Bob Kerrey, when Bob was governor. The project we partnered on with Steve was to establish technology access within rural communities, to advance economic opportunity for people who had previously held jobs in what was then a declining agricultural sector. And, it met with modest success, but more than most other similar initiatives. Steve knew that to have any impact at all, they had to penetrate each community in a way that would reach folks in a trusted way. That meant finding the person or persons that were the "community leaders." Steve's method was a pretty good one and pretty basic at that. He or a member of his team would visit the small town and simply "hang out" visiting towns several times, sometimes for 2-3 days at a time, observing and learning who people turned to for advice and help -- who they looked up to. In some cases it was a farmer, in others the person who ran the auto repair, and so on. There was no discernable pattern, e.g., title, role, etc., save the acknowledgement and the respect of the people for this person. And once Steve found this person then he tried to work with him or her to help them understand the importance of creating access to the Internet and what it could mean in economic terms to those living in their town. It was a long, subjective process, not easily converted into a formula or procedure, and not a process that everyone is adept at, for it requires patience, the ability to listen, to understand and see things through the value set of others, and, most of all, an ability to judge people and their innate talent. But such patience to find the "best messenger" and "leader" pays off in the end.

The second story parallels this and it was one I learned from a very wise man from Wharton who back in the 1960s was trying to reduce the tension and crime between the Wharton campus and the low-income area surrounding it. What they did was patiently put the word out to anyone who came to work on the campus from the surrounding community to find "the man" they could talk with. It took over a year and then one day this large, imposing person showed up and said "I hear you're looking for me, what do you want?" They conveyed to him the problem they wanted to solve, but said that before anything could be done they needed to win his respect and wanted the chance to prove it. Over the next year "the man" came to them with requests that they tried to help with and over time, gained his respect. It took a year before they were invited into the "community" and three years before they could go there unescorted. But they did demonstrate a sincere willingness to help. They took the time to find "the leader" and then earn that person's respect. "The man" turned out to be Herman Wrice that had his moment in fame when he personally led efforts to wipe out "crack houses" in his community -- and did!

In both of these examples, these individuals -- one rural and one urban -- both, as Marsha put it so well, had "the juice."

I suggest that one of the challenges facing efforts to help communities bring technology into their worlds is just that, we should help them do it, and not be the ones imposing it on them. And in the process, programs should be doing what they can to find those influencers, those leaders, who will be the best messengers within their communities to help make this happen.

Sorry for the rambling response, but Marsha's comments touched on what we believe is a very important issue related to the success of efforts to close the Digital Divide.


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