Madison, WI—On February 6, the community of Guayllabamba in the rural mountains of Ecuador celebrated the opening of Coportunet, the first of 10 telecenters slated to open this year in Ecuador. The telecenters will use the newly-formed credit union telecommunications network to connect isolated communities to the rest of the country and indeed to the world.
RedCoop, the shared branching network World Council of Credit Unions (WOCCU) established among 11 credit unions in Ecuador with funds from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Quito, serves as a platform for the telecenters' communications network. USAID's Last Mile Intiative, which seeks to improve access to telecommunications in rural communities, recognized RedCoop's potential to increase connectivity not only among credit unions but for local businesses and individuals as well. Last Mile Initiative is funding the telecenters together with local credit unions.
At Coportunet, the Guayllabamba community can receive computer training and use personal computers with Internet access, printers, low- cost public telephones, a fax machine, a scanner, a photocopy machine, digital photo download equipment and wireless communications. All the equipment is accessible to persons with disabilities. Computer equipment is also for sale, and local households can subscribe to Internet service through the telecenter. Cooprogreso Credit Union, which owns the telecenter, even provides loans for members to purchase personal computers and get connected.
After her musical welcome from a local girls' elementary school band at the grand opening Tuesday, United States Ambassador to Ecuador Linda Jewell expressed her hope for the telecenter in the Guayllabamba community.
"Here live brilliant people that seek to improve the economy, who want more work and better salaries so they can construct a better future for their children. This center is a key part of that plan and a fundamental piece of this future goal we share," commented Jewell. "This new, modern and efficient Internet center seeks to bridge the digital information divide."
Given the credit unions' position to promote telecenters within their communities, the possibilities for growth are endless. The access created by the telecenters will lead to greater community development. Micro and small business owners will be able to create webpages and get information on new products and market pricing; health professionals will have access to information on the latest practices and be able to video conference with experts from around the world. The telecenters operate on a fee-for- service basis but offer free public access during designated hours to encourage use among low income clients and to encourage community development.
The slogan under the Coportunet logo displayed outside the new telecenter reads: "Tu Ventana al Futuro [Your Window to the Future]." The Guayllabamba community had a view through this window at the grand opening when World Council staff in Madison, Wisconsin, streamed into the grand opening celebration via live web cast.
"Growth with development, that's what we always strive to promote, seeking to provide our community with access to information," said Iván Tobar, Cooprogreso CEO. "An informed town, an educated community, spawns free people. And this freedom upholds democracy."
With support from USAID, World Council and local credit unions are providing initial technical and financial support to the telecenters. The credit unions involved in building telecenters receive dividends from their operations and commit to fully financing at least one additional telecenter without further financial assistance.
WOCCU-Ecuador technical developer Jaime Maestre is spearheading the telecenter project. Led by project director Oswaldo Oliva, who started the current WOCCU program in 2002, World Council will continue its work with the credit unions on other fronts while developing the remaining telecenters and helping them devise business plans for future telecenters.
World Council of Credit Unions is the global trade association and development agency for credit unions. World Council promotes the sustainable development of credit unions and other financial cooperatives around the world to empower people through access to high quality and affordable financial services. World Council advocates on behalf of the global credit union system before international organizations and works with national governments to improve legislation and regulation. Its technical assistance programs introduce new tools and technologies to strengthen credit unions' financial performance and increase their outreach.
World Council has implemented more than 290 technical assistance programs in 71 countries. Worldwide, 56,000 credit unions in 101 countries serve 200 million people. Learn more about World Council's impact around the world at www.woccu.org.