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Dominican Republic Wins International Library Award | Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Community Technology Center program will use Gates Foundation $1 million Access to Learning Award to expand its already vast network of community centers

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Phone: +1.206.709.3400

SEATTLE, August 13 - The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation today presented its 2012 Access to Learning Award of $1 million to the Dominican Republic's Community Technology Centers (CTCs). The program is a groundbreaking network of facilities that provide all residents free access to high-tech tools, training courses, and a wide variety of other services to help them improve their lives.

The problems confronting the Dominican Republic include high poverty rates, unemployment, and lack of health education that leads to the spread of diseases. The CTCs address these issues by giving people the knowledge and skills they need to find employment, start and run their own businesses, improve their health, and strengthen their communities. Microsoft, a foundation partner, will donate approximately $18 million in software to the CTCs as part of its global Citizenship commitment to bring the benefits of relevant and accessible technology to communities.

The foundation's annual Access to Learning Award, now in its thirteenth year, recognizes the innovative efforts of libraries and similar organizations outside the United States in providing free access to computers and the Internet. It is awarded by the foundation's Global Libraries initiative, which works to open the world of knowledge, information, and opportunity to help improve the lives of millions of people.

"The CTCs create a legacy fostering the individual and collective development of the community residents and neighborhoods. They utilize technology as a tool to overcome poverty, and help people become more productive, innovative, and competitive individuals,” said Dr. Margarita Cedeño de Fernández, who has championed the program throughout her tenure as first lady and will continue to expand it during her upcoming term as vice president. "Through the CTC's, we hope to create a knowledge-seeking culture within these communities. One that will make them more active, engaged, and more empowered to influence their own futures. A behavior of entrepreneurial and innovative spirit is what we believe is needed to be successful in the 21st century."

Besides offering access to technology, the CTCs also serve as community hubs, where people meet for cultural events and celebrations. The centers work closely with the country's innovative social and economic development program, Progresando, which provides people with a wide variety of assistance, including employment training, childcare, and microloans to start businesses.

"The leaders of the Dominican Republic are committed to ensuring every resident has free access to technology," said Deborah Jacobs, director of the Global Libraries initiative for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, at an event in Helsinki, Finland, where the award was announced. “They understand that achieving a long-term, sustainable solution to the problems they face depends on giving their people the tools they need to make real, lasting, profound change."

The CTCs are designed to meet the needs of the traditionally underserved and most marginalized members of the community. For example, the Women on the Net program provides advanced training in programming, multimedia, and telecommunications to young women to help them secure jobs in the field of technology. The Partnership in Opportunities for Employment through Technology in the Americas (POETA) program offers people with disabilities specialized training so they can enter the job market and become more active members of the community. CTCs that are located near the Haitian border conduct special outreach to immigrants, including those who are not legal residents.

Julien Joseph-Josue, a Haitian immigrant, found training to develop his work as an interpreter at his CTC, and people who made him feel welcome in his adopted home. "In my country, we don't have anything even close to this," said Julien."I learned French in Haiti, but the cost was very high, so I had to sweat a lot. Here you come and it's free of charge." "Now my life has changed-given a 180-degree turn-because I feel like I'm part of a family."

The CTCs receive government financing, and collaborate closely with private-sector companies including CISCO Systems; NGOs such as Trust for the Americas; as well as schools, municipalities, and grassroots organizations to strengthen the services they deliver.

The CTC program will use its award to expand its network, and increase training and education for community members and staff, through the new vice president elect’s office.

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