Knowledge Management

A Dream of Ending Digital Apartheid in Brazil

After 18 years working to promote digital inclusion in the highly unequal Brazilian society, Rodrigo Baggio, founder of the non-profit organisation CDI, still fears a “potential digital apartheid” in the country.

“This is our biggest risk now, to have an elite that will access and use the most advanced forms of technology while part of the population won’t be able to do the same because this technology is, to them, expensive or unavailable,” Baggio says, highlighting that a broadband connection is not a real possibility for a significant part of Brazil’s population. “It is a reflection of the inequality that we live [with] in Brazil and this inequality has dangerous consequences in the long term.”

What started, literally, as a dream that Baggio had one night in his early twenties has become a non-governmental organisation present in 13 countries around the world and one that has impacted over 1.5 million lives.

“When I was 23 years old I realised that the path I was following would make me richer and richer. I had already my own successful company in the technology sector, but this path wouldn’t make me happy or fulfilled. And during this process of trying to find out what I wanted I had this dream one night. In this dream I saw young people in impoverished areas using different technologies to change their community, to change their environment.”

At that moment CDI, or the Center for Digital Inclusion, was born with its unique vision of youth and community empowerment that transcends technology.

“More and more we feel that we need to work for digital empowerment; it is more than to have access, it is to use the technology to generate knowledge and to use this knowledge to promote some changes in our society”, Baggio explains.

In his opinion, this digital empowerment movement has the potential of transforming Brazil by reshaping the way its citizens interact with the government and institutions.

Inspired by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire — who believed learning should be an active process — CDI follows a five-step methodology. Basically, the educator encourages the students to collectively identify a common challenge and prepare an action plan to overcome it, using at each step a range of technologies to complete the task.

“I knew just the really basics of a computer when I first started my course at CDI. For me then a computer was something that had a price, but not a value. I couldn’t see any value in it,” Wanderson da Silva explains. Wanderson lived with his mother and four sisters in Complexo do Alemão, one of the most violent favelas in Rio de Janeiro some years ago. By the time he was 14, he was already part of the local gang and was selling drugs when he was caught and sent to a juvenile detention center. While in this kind of prison, he got in contact with CDI’s work and his connection with the organization never came to an end.

From student to educator, to supervisor and so on, Wanderson has built a career in the organisation. When asked if he ever thought how his life would have been if he hadn’t discovered CDI’s work, he calmly replies that he wouldn’t be talking to me.

“I think I would be dead by now,” he says. “Not in the prison or something like that, but dead. All the opportunities I have had in my life until now are related to this first contact with CDI six years ago.”

Stories of transformation such as Wanderson’s story have attracted the attention of different organisations and potential partners and CDI has expanded its activities far beyond the Brazilian borders, with operations today in Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Portugal, Spain, the UK and the US. The social know-how developed by CDI in Brazil over almost two decades is now being exported and adapted to different realities, including richer and more equal societies, proving that to overcome the digital divide is a challenge that not only poor countries are facing nowadays.


Nathalia Fernandes is a London-based Brazilian journalist. She has worked for BBC World Service, Globo TV and Reuters.


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