Riecken Community Libraries: Using GPS Technology to Map Girls’ Futures

Riecken Community Libraries: Using GPS Technology to Map Girls’ Futures

Emerald Hills, United StatesRiecken Community Libraries works in several locations within Guatemala and Honduras, Guatemala
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$500,000 - $1 million
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Riecken Community Libraries provides the technology tools and training to let communities in Central America map their futures.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Access to technology remains a vital problem for women and girls across the developing world, inhibiting their capacity for educational and economic success and impacting every area of their lives. For girls in rural & indigenous Guatemalan and Honduran communities, this rings true with damaging consequences for themselves and their families. Most families' monthly income is between US$40-65, usually generated through multiple activities. These communities, isolated because of discrimination and poverty, lack the funds and infrastructure necessary to provide access to technology and training. Even though women have demonstrated that they are great enablers for change and progress, this can only be accomplished when they are given the tools they need to realize their vision.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Riecken Community Libraries fervently believes that technology is a tool that communities can leverage along with knowledge to promote dramatic social advancements. Riecken is equally passionate about investing in women and girls for a region’s long term development. By equipping local libraries with the training and equipment needed to provide their communities with access to technology, we know that girls will benefit. Riecken libraries are trusted institutions in their communities, offering girls a haven in areas where violence means that there are few safe places. We partner with local leaders to ensure that all of our programming and services reflect the needs of our communities. Through these relationships, our libraries are able to offer technology programming that is unique and relevant to their communities. This results in several different projects that have engaged girls and connected them to economic opportunities, and in turn bringing prosperity back to their communities.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Because Riecken libraries operate through the support and volunteer efforts of members of their communities, each community library has developed a unique solution to the problem of access to technology. Programming reflects the priorities and values of each community, meaning that technology is not promoted at the expense of culture. A GPS mapping project, supported by the InHerit and Helveta organizations, allowed multiple Riecken libraries to create digital maps of natural, historical, and sacred sites within their communities. One community library in San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala has a strong presence of women-run weaving cooperatives. Weaving, a traditional craft for women and girls in the area, produces beautiful, handmade goods and textiles that are sold for a profit. Thanks to mobile GPS technology, these cooperatives are now marketing their products with location and artist specific information so that buyers can locate where their products are from and even browse items in advance for preferred styles. This also allows the weavers to anticipate which items are gaining popularity. Using CI World and SVG software, these cooperatives have uploaded coordinate data to generate maps, and use Photoshop and Google Earth to enhance their appearance. Because of GPS mapping technology, women and girls in these cooperatives are getting recognition for their individual style, which promotes creativity and increases income

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

Few organizations working in Guatemala or Honduras involved in mapping projects also engage & train local communities. Many of these projects concentrate on environmentalism. Green Map led a mapping project focused on green tourism sites in Antigua, Guatemala. This project is no longer active & it’s difficult to find evidence of its success. The Aboriginal Mapping Network has done work in Honduras specifically working with indigenous populations. The AMN sought to defend indigenous land use claims against encroaching corporations. AMN did seek the involvement of the Honduran indigenous community, but the level of training is hard to determine. Riecken’s mapping project is truly participatory, training community members with mapping technology and letting them select sites.

Founding Story

Susan Riecken and Allen Andersson always had a passionate interest in Central America due to Allen’s days in the Peace Corps. Seeing the social injustice in rural villages first hand, they decided to devote their time to lessening the inequalities that plague the area. Of all of the disparities, information was the one thing that each community lacked access to. Accessible information is central for many social institutions, like transparent government and schools. Susan and Allen’s idea to create community-owned libraries spawned Riecken Community Libraries, giving people in Guatemala and Honduras access to books and internet so that they could develop their communities in ways they saw fit. Empowerment has always been central to Riecken’s mission, and many of the individual initiatives of our organization start as ideas suggested by members of our community libraries. The weavers who wanted to map their individual locations, started earlier this year, is just one of these projects.
About You
Riecken Community Libraries
About You
First Name


Last Name


About Your Organization
Organization Name

Riecken Community Libraries

Organization Country

, CA, Emerald Hills, San Mateo County

Country where this project is creating social impact

, XX, Riecken Community Libraries works in several locations within Guatemala and Honduras

Age of Innovator

Over 34

Gender of Innovator


How long has your organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Has the organization received awards or honors? Please tell us about them

This year, Riecken Community Libraries has been honored with the American Library Association's Presidential Citation for Innovative International Library Project, and also a prestigious grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to support our other community libraries in Guatemala and Honduras. Riecken Community Libraries has also been invited by international library organizations to present lectures and participate in round tables relating to topics in international libraries, sustainability, and libraries as agents of development. We have participated in events hosted by the American Library Association, the Public Library Network of Bogota, and the International Federation of Library Associations.

How long have you been in operation?

Operating for more than 5 years

Which of the following best describes the barrier(s) your innovation addresses? Choose up to two

Access, Cost.

Social Impact
What solution(s) does your initiative address to better the lives of girls and women by leveraging technology? (select all applicable)

Access to technology, Access to education/training, Access to economic opportunity.

What has been the impact of your solution to date?

Riecken Community Libraries is proud to say that our libraries have impacted their communities in profound ways by providing free access to technology and training. In Guatemala and Honduras combined, we have connected over 310,000 people to the internet and various technology workshops, with 34 of our 64 libraries offering access. Each of our libraries see 200 unique visitors a month, the overwhelming majority of whom are children adolescents who are brought in by their young mothers. Over half of our volunteers who work on local development are women from the communities. Our GPS mapping project has enabled communities to select sites relevant and important to them, resulting in the identification of more suitable area for farming and reforestation, activities which generate income. The maps generated from our GPS project have served marketing tools for weaving cooperatives; guides for tourists; additional marketing for the cooperatives’ hostels; & content for an upcoming website.

What is your projected impact over the next 1-3 years?

Within the next 1-3 years, we want to increase the impact of our GPS mapping project by replicating it other communities with Riecken libraries. Ultimately the community decides what to map, so while their focus may not be on weaving cooperatives, other local initiatives run by women will undoubtedly be helped. We want to increase technology training for girls in general throughout Guatemala and Honduras, including training with GPS mapping technology. We want to increase training for internet based marketing using blogging and social media for women-focused initiatives, so that they can expand on the success of the mapping project.

What barriers might hinder the success of your project? How do you plan to overcome them?

Sustained funding is the largest barrier to continuing our work increasing girls and women’s exposure to technology with our libraries. We need to have a reliable source of funding so that appropriate hardware and software can be acquired; so that a reliable internet connection is constant; and so that we can train librarians, who will in turn train their communities in the use of the technology. We plan on overcoming this barrier by aggressively applying for grants and funds from organizations that see the value of technology education for girls and women.

Winning entries present a strong plan for how they will achieve and track growth. Identify your six-month milestone for growing your impact

Community maps are fully complete with sites mapped for the weavers’ cooperatives, including individual weaver information.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your six-month milestone
Task 1

Community leaders will brainstorm with cooperative representatives for locations to be mapped.

Task 2

Girls and women from the cooperative, along with community members, will physicially map locations.

Task 3

Collected data will be uploaded to the maps.

Now think bigger! Identify your 12-month impact milestone

Maps are effectively spread, resulting in greater exposure for the weaving cooperatives.

Identify three major tasks you will have to complete to reach your 12-month milestone
Task 1

Maps are shared within the community for transparency.

Task 2

Maps are promoted throughout business and nearby tourist locations.

Task 3

Cooperative members start marketing online to increase exposure.

Tell us about your partnerships

Riecken Community Libraries have always championed community sourced projects, of which the GPS mapping project was an example. InHerit pledged their support to heritage location mapping projects in Guatemala. With their assistance, Riecken was able to collaborate with the Guatemalan communities, who had suggested mapping the women’s weaving cooperatives in informal meetings. Riecken also works with Rising Voices to offer workshops to train young girls how to use ICT for development. Riecken also partners with local governments & institutions, ensuring our libraries are community supported.

Please elaborate on any needs or offers you have mentioned above and/or suggest categories of support that aren't specified within the list

Like any NGO, Riecken continuously seeks to strengthen its board with individuals committed to the mission and prosperity for Central American communities. This means an ongoing search for strong board candidates who will rotate at the end of their term and be replaced by others. Riecken seeks to expand the number of individuals who want to serve by increasing its social media and PR presence.