MISSION – Earth Community works alongside grassroots communities (ethnic, tribal, other) that are seeking to empower themselves through the sharing of local information and resources online, including provision of free locally-run citizen news services.

Why are we helping build these online communities?
Within the next five to 15 years, internet coverage will expand to cover roughly 80 percent of the world’s population. Many communities will come online or are in the process of coming online through the spread of internet and mobile phone networks. Costs of access are coming down. Earth Community seeks to use local volunteers, experts, NGOs and a small editorial team to put “local knowledge and wisdom” online – in local and major languages – expanding the access communities will have to their local knowledge and to the wider world.

What do you mean by “grassroots community”?
Earth Community uses the term “grassroots community” to refer to the following categories of community:

Disadvantaged or poor communities
Communities threatened by the effects of climate change
Remote communities (currently out of reach of internet/mobile phone access)
Women’s support and empowerment groups
Transition communities
Communities grouped under a sustainable practice or rights group label

Why is this needed?
Many grassroots communities are being left out or sit on the edges of the information technology age. Even though there is a drive on to help the majority of people in the world get online within the next five to 15 years, many communities will just be recipients of existing online content. Earth Community seeks to encourage and help grassroots communities put their own useful material, wisdom and history online and give them to the simple tools to run their own communications or citizen news networks. This service will help local communities empower themselves, and give individuals within those communities more control and more of a say in the running of their communities.

Is there any special emphasis in this online community service?
Earth Community seeks to rely on the communities, NGOs and experts to ascertain what to include in these websites, hubs and wikis. However, it does encourage the inclusion of sustainable practices, preventative health knowledge, and inclusive local democratic and participatory processes. In that sense, if there is an emphasis it is on social justice and environmental issues.

What will an Earth Community online presence consist of?
We work alongside local volunteers to set up their own websites, online resources and local news services.

How will we build these communities?
Earth Community, which has a small editorial and training team, is seeking volunteers to receive online and workshop training in research, formatting of wiki or online library material, and citizen journalism. In addition, the program will tap the expertise of local and foreign specialists and existing online resources. A great deal of resources are already online but may need to be translated or adapted for easier access, and/or linked to.

Do you provide hardware support?
We are looking to partner with hardware providers, where possible. We will also look for the donation of second-hand smartphones and computers for some volunteers and the negotiation of cheap or free mobile and internet services, or the sponsorship thereof.

What are our hardware and service assumptions?
Hardware and service costs in communities may currently be prohibitively expensive. However, the trend is for costs to drop significantly over the medium term. Many people in grassroots communities around the world already own 2G phones and may be transitioning to 3G phones as prices go down. In time, 4G phones and further upgrades will become the norm, coupled with cheaper and more widespread internet access.

Where will this information and resources be hosted?
The information, resources and citizen news option will be hosted at EC-online.org and will include links to existing online resources, including university, educational and archive facilities. Initially, Earth Community seeks to remain light on storage, preferring to link to third-party websites when possible. In time, and given a significant increase in material uploaded, this balance could change.

How will communities gain access to their local information and resources?
Earth Community will engage local volunteers to provide training and help format and put local information and resources online to be accessed by mobile phones, mobile devices and PCs (as well as the possibility of DVDs for those offline). Once the material is up, all that is needed will be a connection to the internet.

What problems are we hoping to solve?
Many people in grassroots communities have limited access to their own community’s wealth of knowledge and local support mechanisms and organizations. While there are initial cost factors involved in purchase and use of mobile phones and the internet, the aim short and medium term is to put knowledge into the palm of a community member’s hand, and provide them with the opportunity to share news within their community – and with the wider world.

Does Earth Community have an agenda?
Earth Community is run as a non-profit, apolitical initiative that will be guided by the needs of the various communities. At a time when governments, foreign governments and multinational corporations are seeking to exploit resources in underdeveloped regions of the world, Earth Community seeks to help communities empower themselves with the knowledge, resources and methods of communications that will allow those said communities make rational, informed decisions.

Will this work for all communities?
It goes without saying that there will be some communities that will not be able to take part in this program, at least in the short to medium term, due to local political, security and cultural restrictions.

What about the needs of women’s groups?
Earth Community seeks to run a special program designed to allow women in remote and poor communities to collect, generate and formulate local wisdom and practical methods to protect and strengthen women’s role in society, following the successes of such campaigners as Vandana Shiva and the late Wangari Maathai. Earth Community seeks to encourage women’s groups to use the platform.

What about climate change-affected communities?
Earth Community hopes to help communities currently under threat from the negative effects of climate change empower themselves. These include poor communities living in coastal regions which face problems from frequent climatic disasters and rising sea levels, as well as those negatively affected by drought and desertification. Earth Community has already identified groups/communities in need.

Can I become a “member” of Earth Community?
Membership for grassroots communities will be free and we work directly with such groups. Supporters, sponsors and interested parties can join Earth Community simply by signing up with their name and email. In due course, we hope to provide a premium subscription that will offer a regular online magazine, newsletter and opportunities to attend events linked with the service. Earth Community is in its Pilot Phase and currently has no funding for this project. It is run on a volunteer basis. We therefore seek to encourage supporters and interested parties to donate to support the service. Further details to come.

Where will funding come from?
Earth Community consists of a small editorial team and trainers, and will seek volunteers and interns with the relevant skills/interests to run the program. All are and will initially be working for free. Income to support the small team and some selected community members going forward will be derived from paid membership, sponsorship and donations to the program, plus we will seek other ways to help monetize the service.

What about media training?
Earth Community seeks to train volunteers and train-the-trainers in order to help expand the program. This is an important part of our program. This training includes methods of research, media communications, citizen journalism, mobile and computer skills, and language studies. None of this guarantees work or income-earning opportunities for volunteers, but it is hoped that the gaining of this knowledge and skills will put volunteers in a better position to take advantage of job and income-earning opportunities in their communities.

How easy will the program be to use?
Earth Community aims to keep communications and access simple, to allow many members of a community the chance of access. Naturally, no community is perfect and barriers may be put up within the community to access (e.g. male members of the community seek to monopolize the introduction of mobile phones into the said community). The program will seek to provide equal access to the program, whatever the age or sex of the participant.

What about joining with others?
Earth Community recognizes the immense challenge posed by expanding a grassroots community communication service to thousands of communities around the world, a program that will have to expand step by step. It therefore seeks to partner with like-minded groups and individuals and to avoid “reinventing the wheel” or duplicating material that is already available online.

At what stage of development is the program at the moment?
Earth Community is in the process of starting the Pilot Phase of the project. This will provide the chance to carry out research and test the program. This will also be an opportunity to adjust the program and develop it to learn from mistakes. The program will seek to be transparent and publish a record of how the program develops and what adjustments need to be made.

What is the Pilot Phase?
Earth Community is working with a small selection of communities around the world to set up village and community hubs, plus partner with a hardware supplier.

Who is key to this program?
Earth Community is an ambitious program to put grassroots knowledge and resources online for communities around the world. It relies on volunteers, experts, NGOs and supporters for its development. The volunteers are the leaders of the program – Earth Community merely provides support.

Who runs Earth Community?
Earth Community is run by Earth Tribe Media, a UK-registered non-profit media NGO that runs environmental and social justice news services and media and journalism training programs. The main website can be found here – www.earthtribemedia.org