Living cut off from the world with no schools, functioning businesses, or public services is the premise of many post-apocalyptic films and TV programs. Isolation is a natural incubator for drama. A minor injury might become infected and prove fatal. With no access to information, you are vulnerable to unanticipated dangers, such as natural disasters or crime. But this isn't a fictional storyline. It is, of course, daily reality for much of the world.
Isolation has a lot to do with poverty. While rural communities in Africa and Asia have historically struggled against economic and social isolation, things are changing for the better. The spread of mobile technologies and the internet seem to be driving a positive change. Students whose families cannot afford textbooks can now access a wealth of learning materials online. Small businesses can research new opportunities. Local communities can hold government officials accountable. While a more connected world does not automatically end wars or injustice, it appears to be a step in the right direction.
That being said, not all access is created equal. We recognize, for example, internet access metered by the minute or restricted to a single website is a bad deal. Even from a business perspective, 1990's style portals are regarded as penny wise and pound foolish. Nonetheless, it is this antiquated reasoning which is constraining Africa's burgeoning internet. That's why Project Hello World, a non-profit bringing open source community-based internet hubs to Africa, is especially timely.
Project Hello World works with local communities to design and build rugged, internet-enabled computer kiosks for education, connectivity, community journalism, business and play. Their guiding principle is that development must be led, defined by, and serve the community. Because every aspect of the internet solution is developed in conjunction with the community members, the hubs are unusually well maintained and even expanded in some of the poorest places on the planet. Considering how difficult it has been for even a wealthy country like the US to bring internet access to its own schools, the accomplishments of Project Hello World cannot be understated.
Initiatives like Project Hello World work by leveraging global, open source resources for local benefit. This means broad support is important. To attract more contributors, Project Hello World began working with Good Mind Hunting’s Collaboration Quest. A social network designed to facilitate improvement projects around the world, Good Mind Hunting’s Collaboration Quest is helping to bring the expertise of universities, students, subject matter experts, public and private sector professionals together. Although Project Hello World already has brilliant minds involved, connecting to a global community allows their model to be grow. Project Hello World's seeks to develop open solutions which can be adaptable to other improvement projects in unanticipated ways. Anyone can contribute. An internet kiosk from Nigeria might pop up in Haiti with new features; or even a cafe in the US.
For myself, I founded my own fair trade coffee company (Laughing Man Coffee & Tea) after getting to know a single Ethiopian farmer. Initially I attempted to find distribution for him and other farmers in his community. I soon realized, however, that working together allowed for more individualized support. This made all the difference. Understanding the specific challenges faced by a family farm was an essential to knowing how a model could be generalized to benefit more farmers. For this reason, I am excited how Project Hello World's community-focus guides its larger vision. As a model for internet access it strikes me as both practical and equitable.
Perhaps, you are now tempted to build a Hello Hub of your own too. The good news is you can. For giving Tuesday Laughing Man, Project Hello World, and Good Mind Hunting’s Collaboration Quest are teaming up. On Giving Tuesday, and throughout the month of December, Laughing Man will offer 30% off all purchase at its cafes and 20% online. Just signup here. Additionally, Good Mind Hunting will automatically donate $5 for every person who signs up to Project Hello World. Be sure to support us and other businesses that are participating in Giving Tuesday by tweeting #givingtuesday. The kids at Hello Hubs in Nigeria will be participating too! Watch for their photos to be tweeted with #givingtuesday.