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Global Libraries

Access to Learning Award (ATLA)




Given each year by the foundation's Global Libraries initiative, the Access to Learning Award (ATLA) recognizes the innovative efforts of public libraries or similar organizations outside the United States to connect people to information through free access to computers and the Internet.

Acessa Sao Paolo, winner of the 2013 Access to Learning Award, is a groundbreaking program that brings high-tech tools, information, and knowledge to millions of people in Brazil’s most populous state. Designed to serve those who have no other access to computers and the Internet, Acessa gives people the opportunity to transform their lives.

Check out images from this year's winner. 

Past Award Recipients

2012: Community Technology Centers, Dominican Republic 
The Dominican Republic has created a comprehensive network of Community Technology Centers designed to provide free access to high-tech tools and training so people have the knowledge and skills they need to find employment, start and run their own businesses, improve their health, and better their lives. 
Watch the Slideshow

2011: Arid Lands Information Network, Eastern Africa
The Arid Lands Information Network (ALIN) has created 12 Maarifa—or Knowledge—Centers in the most hard-to-reach regions of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania so that these people have the tools they need to improve their health, increase their incomes, and better their lives. 
Watch the Slideshow 

2010: Veria Central Public Library, Greece
Making creative use of information and technology services, Veria offers a range of programs that meet the economic, educational, and cultural needs of more than 180,000 people.
Watch the Slideshow 

2009: Fundación Empresas Públicas de Medellín, Colombia
In a city once fractured by violence, libraries are bringing people together as a community with access to information and technology, educational programs, cultural offerings—and of course, books—in every corner of the city.
Watch the Slideshow 

2008: Vasconcelos Program 
Vasconcelos, an innovative mobile technology program, provides computer access and training to remote, indigenous communities in Mexico's Veracruz state. 

2007: Northern Territory Library, Australia
In extremely remote, underprivileged communities, an innovative technological solution that helps preserve culture is drawing Indigenous Australians into local libraries. 

2006: Rural Education and Development (READ), Nepal
READ Nepal works with villages to build self-supporting libraries (funded through community projects) that provide free access to computers and the Internet, books, multimedia tools, and more. 

2005: Bangladesh's Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha
Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha converts indigenous boats into mobile libraries that provide free computer and Internet stations and training to agricultural communities in a northern watershed.

2004: Denmark's Aarhus Public Libraries
2004: China Evergreen Rural Library Service Center

Two organizations were honored in 2004 for providing free computer and Internet services to immigrants and refugees in Denmark and to townspeople in remote areas of China. 

2003: Smart Cape Access Project
Smart Cape Access Project installed computers and Internet access in public libraries in disadvantaged areas of Cape Town to give residents free access for the first time in South Africa. 

2002: BibloRed
BibloRed is a network of 19 public libraries in Bogotá, Colombia that offers free access to computers and the Internet in some of the city's poorest neighborhoods. 

2001: Proyecto Bibliotecas Guatemala (Probigua) and Argentina's Biblioteca del Congreso
Two organizations were honored in 2001 for providing free computer and Internet services to rural communities in Guatemala and to millions of urban dwellers in Buenos Aires. 

2000: Helsinki City Library
Helsinki City Library in Finland was among the world's first libraries to offer Internet access to the public, which includes many low-income residents and refugees.

How to Apply

To submit an application, please go here

If you are interested in receiving information about future ATLA opportunities, please sign up for the ATLA listserv.

Please do not hesitate to contact the administrator if you have any questions at atla@gatesfoundation.org

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What is the philosophy behind the award?
Computers and the Internet are powerful tools that provide opportunities for people to improve their social and economic well-being. They can help individuals, regardless of age, race, income or geography, pursue education and employment, access government services, learn about valuable health information, conduct business online, and exchange information and ideas.

The foundation’s Global Libraries initiative is dedicated to opening a world of knowledge and opportunity by partnering with public libraries to provide free access to computers and the Internet. Previous Access to Learning Award (ATLA) recipients are helping people in some of the world’s most remote and poverty-stricken areas live healthier, more productive lives. ATLA highlights the innovative ways libraries and similar organizations are providing services to people in need and aims to promote development and replication of new ways to increase public access to information technology around the world.

Q. What kinds of institutions can apply?
We invite public libraries or similar organizations outside the United States to apply, if they currently provide free public access to information through the use of computers and the Internet. The foundation particularly encourages applications from institutions in developing countries or those working with disadvantaged communities. We will give preference to organizations that reach out to underserved groups, such as poor or disabled patrons, or those from minority communities, as long as the organization still provides services to all members of the community.

Please note that for the purposes of this award, no U.S. organizations are eligible to apply. That includes U.S. organizations that operate in locations outside of the U.S. If a U.S. organization works through a local organization outside of the U.S., the local organization would be encouraged to paply.

Q. Are there any restrictions on the institutions that may apply?
Yes – in addition to basic requirements, such as the current provision of free public access to computers and the Internet, please note the following restrictions on organizations considering an application for the Access to Learning Award:

  • No US organizations are eligible to apply. That includes US organizations that operate in locations outside of the US. If a US organization works through a local organization outside the US, the local organization would be encouraged to apply.
  • Organizations that are current or former grantees of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (including Global Health grantees) are not eligible to apply.
  • Only ONE (1) organization may apply per application. The Foundation does not accept joint applications for the ATLA program.
  • If the applicant organization operates multiple computer centers/access points, ALL access points must currently provide free public access to computers and the Internet. The foundation will not accept applications from organizations who charge fees at some, but not all, of their centers/access points.

Q. How is “free public access” defined?
A library or similar organization offers "free public access" to computers and the Internet if it allows all members of the public—without exception—to use these tools and its facilities free of charge. Organizations must show how they make technology services available to the public in a community space without charging any membership or access fees and must detail the types of technology training they offer to the public and their staff. Organizations that restrict services or charge fees to access the facilities or use the computers and the Internet are not eligible. Please note that, for the purposes of the ATLA, "access" is meant as the provision of computers with Internet connections in a physical space (i.e. projects focused primarily on the provision of digital content, online databases, or software, fall outside the scope of this award.) However, any specific questions regarding eligibility should be sent via email to the program administrator at atla@gatesfoundation.org.

Q: What is considered innovative?
Innovative programs provide access to information through technology and services that were previously not available to the community. Programs of any size or scope are considered. We will specifically look for ground-breaking Internet connectivity, training, and sustainable models and programs that creatively reach underserved communities.

Q: How will the foundation determine whether an organization is effective at providing free access to computers and the Internet?
A program is considered an effective provider of free technology services when it offers tools, training, and guidance that directly benefit individuals and their communities. Examples of this can include helping farmers use technology to learn about crop prices and improved practices, teaching job seekers how to increase their technology skills and find employment over the Internet, and showing students how to use web-based resources in their coursework. In addition to providing anecdotal evidence of these types of successes, the foundation encourages applicants to demonstrate measured impacts on individuals through quantitative data if possible.

Q: Is this award intended to fund a proposed project or activity?
No. The ATLA is a one-time recognition, or prize, for organizations that have created programs currently providing free access to computers and the Internet for the public. The award is to recognize services currently being provided.

Q: Are there any restrictions as to how the award funds are spent?
Yes. The award funds must be spent exclusively in furtherance of the charitable, educational, scientific, or literary purposes of the recipient organization. In addition, no portion of the award funds may be used to support efforts to influence legislation or participate in campaign activities in support of or against political candidates. The award recipient must agree to these restrictions on the use of the foundation's funds in order to accept the award. Upon selection, the ATLA recipient will be asked by the foundation to describe in greater detail how the award funds will be used. Award recipients are required to report to the foundation at regularly scheduled intervals on the use of the funding and to hold the funding in foundation-approved bank accounts.

Q: Can institutions that applied previously apply again this year?
Yes. Eligible libraries or similar organizations are invited to apply again. Previous award recipients may not reapply. Past applicants are encouraged to incorporate any reviewer feedback received from previous applications to the ATLA. The Foundation would also encourage previous applicants to provide updated/new information applicable to their organization’s technology access initiatives that has occurred since their previous submission.

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