HiperBarrio/Convergentes: A Virtual Community Evolves While Preserving Its Essence


Members of HiperBarrio/Convergentes during a get-together. Photo courtesy of the collective and used with permission.

A feature of any community, including a virtual one, is that over time it evolves. This can sometimes mean dramatic changes, but it can also be evidence of a more subtle transformation. Both community members and leaders come and go, as new opportunities and challenges present themselves. The HiperBarrio project in Colombia is no stranger to this phenomenon, but as its story demonstrates, the key to longevity is maintaining the essence of a community.  

HiperBarrio was established in 2007 in Medellin thanks to microfinancing from Rising Voices, and today it actively collaborates with Convergentes, its forerunner and sister organization. This funding has helped it realize its goal of providing digital and social media training to young people in the La Loma neighbourhood of Medellin. Over time, these young people have in turn taught new members of the immediate community, other parts of the city, and the greater Medellin area. 

To take the pulse of the project, we spoke to Gabriel Vanegas, coordinator of the San Javier-La Loma branch of the Pilot Public Library in Medellin, where HiperBarrio and Convergentes usually hold their meetings:

In the video, Gabriel discusses the three fundamental issues targeted by the collective: activating local cultural memory, documenting the community through citizen journalism, and maintaining a collaborative learning lab. Currently HiperBarrio/Convergentes is focusing on three specific projects: social and physical mapping of the area to make the community visible online, ensuring food safety and sovereignty through private and public gardens, and the network LaLoLib, an initiative to improve access to free and open source software.

On its blog, Convergentes defines itself as:

Somos una comunidad de práctica autónoma e independiente, caracterizada por el continuo aprendizaje y enseñanza colaborativos. […] Creemos en la resiliencia y buscamos empoderar a nuestra comunidad en el fortalecimiento de los tejidos sociales, en la participación ciudadana y en el dominio de herramientas que aporten a la construcción de posibles soluciones a las problemáticas locales, especialmente la autogestión comunitaria.

We are an independent and autonomous community, characterized by continuing collaborative learning and teaching. […] We believe in resilience, and our aim is to empower our community to strengthen the social fabric, foster civic participation, and master the tools needed to reach tangible solutions to local challenges, in particular self-management.  

In the following video, Gabriel tells us something about the history and evolution of the community and its membership:

Gabriel explains how Convergentes began, and how it merged with HiperBarrio in 2007. It all started with eager, inquisitive users who wanted to solve problems. The success of the collective lies in the fact that it has not allowed itself to become rigid and institutionalized, but a dynamic, open structure has enabled it to be more responsive to community needs.

More recently, the community struggled to attract the attention of mainstream media — that is, until it received the APC Chris Nicol FLOSS prize for its Our Network LaLoLib initiative, which put it back in the spotlight. According to the Convergentes website:

Nuestra red: LaLoLib es una Red mesh local en proceso de construcción, con software libre. Es una iniciativa basada en la sumatoria de voluntades de parches de amigos y colectivos, que apuestan por resolver el problema de conectividad, para difundir información y propiciar la comunicación con los habitantes de La Vereda La Loma, en el Corregimiento de San Cristóbal de la ciudad de Medellín.

En ella vamos a difundir los contenidos que hemos construido durante 11 años de ejercicios. A la vez que fortaleceremos nuestras tres líneas de trabajo: rescatar y dinamizar la memoria histórica y cultural, registrar y documentar la vida cotidiana por medio del periodismo ciudadano, y consolidar el Laboratorio social de aprendizajes colaborativos.

Our Network LaLoLib is a local mesh network currently under construction using open software. It is the fruit of the collaborative efforts of friends and like-minded collectives who are determined to resolve connectivity issues so that information can be shared and communication encouraged among the residents of La Vereda La Loma in the municipality of San Cristobal, Medellin.

We will use the mesh network to broadcast content created over the last 11 years. At the same time, it will give us the ability to reinforce our three-pronged mission: to save and reenergize our shared historical and cultural memory, document and record the daily life of our community through citizen journalism, and consolidate the social laboratory of collaborative learning.

A typical example of the way in which HiperBarrio/Convergentes has evolved is the case of Catalina Restrepo, one of its original members. Although she is no longer part of the project, focusing instead on her professional career, Catalina continues to collaborate as a Global Voices author. In the following video, she explains what HiperBarrio has meant to people who, like her, took part in the project as it was getting off the ground: 

Catalina talks about how Convergentes provides a space to talk and exchange ideas in a relaxed setting. It reinforces the human aspect of community.

Now with incoming members, the community is continuing its traditional activities at the same time as it embarks on new ones:

Luego de 10 años de trabajo, debemos reconocer que somos una sumatoria de voluntades, que lo que hemos logrado es gracias al esfuerzo de todos, a los amigos y a sus parches, a las instituciones como la biblioteca y a todos los que han venido a compartir su tiempo, su afecto y sus conocimientos con nosotros.

After 10 years of work, it is important to acknowledge that we are the culmination of the will of many people —what we have achieved is due to the efforts of our friends and those they brought with them, institutions such as the library, and all those who came and shared their time, spirit, and knowledge with us.

HiperBarrio, like many similar communities, is proof that change can be a positive force. It is a clear sign of the adaptability and diversity that are possible when a community, however virtual, is able to anchor itself in the daily interaction between its members. 

You can follow the project on its blogTwitter and Facebook.

Other posts about Hiperbarrio
Rising Voices Social Projects Kickstart
Medellín, Colombia: From Kidnap Capital to Reneaissanace City:
HiperBarrio: Local stories global audience
Medellín, Colombia: The Recipe
Catching up with Rising Voices outreach projects
HiperBarrio: Changing Perceptions with Creativity
HiperBarrio's Citizen Jounalists Bring Their Local Community Together
HiperBarrio Gets Its Groove Back
Hiperbarrio: Winner of the Prix Ars Electronica Award
Colombia: Catalina Restrepo Awarded “Miss Talent” Medellín Award
HiperBarrio Receives the Golden Nica 2009 in Linz, Austria
HiperBarrio: Leading with Crime and Searching for a Soul
Hiperbarrio: Balloon Festival of La Loma
Chatting with Cati Restrepo from Hiperbarrio
Featured Blogger: Nora Catalina Urquijo
HiperBarrio: Recording daily lives and sharing with the world
Hiperbarrio Expands to Three New Libraries in Medellín
Featured Blogger: Yesenia Corrales
HiperBarrio: Voices Expressing Fear, Outrage and Hope
The Hiperbarrio Experience Multiplies by Three
Colombia: HiperBarrio – Ituango Without Electricity
HiperBarrio: Campus Party Colombia and Pinhole Photography
Colombia: Bloggers on Violence in Medellín
Hiperbarrio: Podcast Workshops for New Groups
HiperBarrio Won First Prize in Community Journalism
Hiperbarrio: Celebrating International Women's Day
HiperBarrio: Balloon Mapping La Loma Neighborhood
HiperBarrio: Becoming Digitally Visible

Post originally published on the blog Globalizado.


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