Foundation reps carry data everywhere in PDAs

Foundation reps carry data everywhere in PDAs


It has been a slow transition from notebook computers to personal digital assistants, but the Inter-American Foundation is counting the benefits.

The independent agency in Arlington, Va., works with nongovernmental organizations and civic groups to promote grassroots development in Latin America and the Caribbean. Between 1972 and 1999, it approved more than 4,000 grants totaling $450 million to support 3,500 organizations.

For nine foundation representatives, the work involves extensive travel and carrying huge amounts of information.

'In the past, our representatives would fill their bags with reports and faxes,' said Carlo Dade, the foundation's representative for Haiti and the Dominican Republic. 'Now, with the Palm IIIx, it's so much easier to handle all the information.'

Notebook problems

The agency used its first Palm IIIx from Palm Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., last year.

IAF staff members give a show of handhelds. From left are Wilbur Wright, Pat Breslin, Kevin Healy, David Valenzuela, Bob Sogge, Emilia Rodriguez Stein, Kaye Pyle and Carlo Dade.
Representatives were using notebook PCs such as the Satellite 110CS from Toshiba America Information Systems, Compaq Contura 4/25 and Z-Star 433VL from Zenith Data Systems Corp. of Herndon, Va. But the notebooks were too heavy and bulky, Dade said, adding that one of them was stolen.

'When I work in Haiti, I am three days away from a plug,' he said. 'You just cannot take laptops to the swamps and the jungles.'

Dade, who brought his own Palm IIIx to work when he joined the foundation in 1999, was on a trip to the Dominican Republic when the foundation president, who was accompanying Dade, asked him a question about a grant.

'In the old way of stuffing papers, I would not have been able to provide him with the information,' Dade said. 'But here, I just pulled up my Palm and answered the query. The president had to admit that he saw the light.'

Now the agency has 16 PDAs; four were bought by staff members on their own.

Mixed reaction

Though the reaction to PDAs at the agency has been mixed, the staff finds keeping track of appointments and maintaining the contact list particularly helpful.

The agency's work also depends on the telecommunications infrastructure in other countries. For instance, grantees have Internet access in the Dominican Republic, but not in Nicaragua.

Despite such problems, more people are getting access to the Internet in these countries, Dade said.

'Just compare the cost of sending an e-mail with an attachment and sending a FedEx package across the country,' he said. 'In lots of countries, you can mail and just cross your fingers that it gets here.'


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