There are so many organizations and non-profits that have a desire to improve the world. I have deep admiration for those groups. Whether it is the current deplorable situations in Burma or Darfur, or issues of world hunger or Global Warming, many people are finding ways to create change. One of the challenges I often see amongst these groups is the duplication of efforts. If these passionate groups could find ways to communicate and collaborate with each other, we could combine resources, save time, and accomplish a great deal more. Besides, there is power in numbers. The internet is flush with stories that exemplify that power of mass and its ability to create a viral effect. We should be looking at these new models of success for guidance.
You might have heard of the organization "Laptop for Every Child." This group was started by Nicholas Negroponte, co-founder and director of the MIT Media Laboratory, and the Jerome B. Wiesner Professor of Media Technology. Negroponte says "It's an education project, not a laptop project". Their goal is to provide children around the world with new opportunities to explore, experiment, and express themselves.
I first found out about this non-profit from FACEBOOK. When it came across my screen, my first thoughts were of disappointment. After spending some of the summer in rural Zimbabwe, I thought, "Here is another example of well-meaning people defining another country's needs without talking to locals that are on the ground in those countries". Zimbabwe is one of many African countries struggling to move past the first rung of Maslow's "Hierarchy of Needs" theory.
These people are starving and are fleeing to other countries for safety. Computers do not make sense for those who have little or no access to stable electricity; this makes up most of Zimbabwe.
However, when I looked a little closer at the materials and at their committed purpose and goals, I better understood the need for computers in more developed countries. A computer in countries that are more stable and have moved past needing basic life necessities can be a great asset. Access to these computers can open up a wide expanse of opportunities and education.
It is critical for organizations that want to help countries to talk to people who are currently living in those areas. Or, they need to go and experience those countries first hand. There are many stories of failed water programs in third world countries because of poor planning or poor execution. I have heard of villages that have abandoned newly built and costly wells because they did not have access to the $2.00 screw for repair work. Many countries get stuck with items and equipment that are not compatible with their way of life. And, sometimes our naiveté and desire to help can cause serious harm. Negative stories like these can avert much needed funding from people who may want to donate to a cause. It makes people think twice about whether certain organizations' can legitimately impact the designated area.
I recently heard a true story that came to me from an on-the-ground humanitarian in South Africa. Celebrities like Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, and Madonna have recently adopted children from various parts of Africa. This was world-wide news and fragments of this traveled the grapevine to rural parts of Africa.
Since these celebrity adoptions, men are going into rural villages and telling mothers that a wealthy celebrity family from America is willing to adopt their girl child for $100. One hundred American dollars could support a family for months and to these people who have little else, the decision is obvious. In fact it is the first ray of hope these families have experienced in a long time. The tribes actually throw parties to thank these men for helping them. However, the young girl's first experience with these "Saviors" is a violent rape. There is no celebrity family, no new home; instead, the child is put into sexual slavery. There is no information in these villages to warn people of this current scheme. Would a laptop help? Maybe, but I don't think so; not in a place without electricity...and without the proper training, no way. However, a radio could help disseminate programming that could warn them of the situation in advance.
Enter Freeplay Foundation. This is a non-profit providing hand-wound, solar-powered Freeplay Lifeline Radios, lighting solutions, and portable generators to rural Africa. The technology is created by Freeplay Energy, a European company. Recipients of these radios live in areas where electricity is non-existent and the high cost of batteries make them unafforadable to the poor. Important educational radio programs often do not reach the groups they are meant to benefit. The Freeplay Lifeline Radios, in particular, solve the problem of this access to information. Started by Kristine Pearson, Freeplay Foundation is committed to providing innovative and practical energy solutions and to ensuring sustained access to information and education via radio. Celebrities like Tom Hanks have quietly supported their efforts. In fact, Time Magazine just named Kristine Pearson an Eco Hero along with her husband, Rory Stear, who just happens to be the founder of Freeplay Energy.
There is a third organization that I have been introduced to that is doing incredible work on a much larger scale. This non-profit, Equal Access International creates positive social change for millions of underserved people in the developing world by providing critically needed information, education and leadership training. In rural and underserved regions across Afghanistan, Nepal, India, Cambodia and Laos, they overcome obstacles of poor infrastructure, poverty, illiteracy and lack of connectivity to empower communities on issues such as women's rights, HIV/AIDS prevention, anti-trafficking, peacebuilding, and livelihoods training. Combining FM/AM, satellite radio, wireless multimedia and solar power, Equal Access has established a broadcast reach across Asia of 40 million. Combining the power of innovative radio and multimedia programming with direct mobilization activities they engage communities in genuine dialogue, fostering human development and local solutions. Their vision is firmly rooted in the belief that people everywhere are entitled to "Equal Access" to information and education and should have the opportunity to join the dialogue as both recipients and contributors of content. Indeed, EA views access to information and education as a basic human need. I agree.
Ronni Goldfarb is the Founder, President, and Executive Director of Equal Access. According to their website, she has worked closely with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), UN Foundation and UNFIP to create the Equal Access/UNDP Digital Broadcast Initiative (DBI). The DBI launched Equal Access' approach to social change with the Asia Pacific Information and Education Network which reaches millions of underserved people across Asia with vital local language radio and multimedia development programming and thousands of communities with complimentary leadership training.
Besides these three groups, there are many other additional organizations that are actively helping to create differences globally. I mention these three groups as an example of people that are operating along parallel paths with different technologies. Some of these technologies are far more reaching then others. Here is my thought: Get together, join forces, and identify one specific project to collaborate on. Select an area and combine your technologies to target specific areas of the globe and analyze the needs of that country. Then, do your magic.
I can see it already. These three focused, passionate groups sitting down at the table to evaluate the best approach: Satellite for this rural area, radios to these villages, and laptops to every child in more developed arenas. Of course, programming issues addressed in all could tackle these issues effectively, faster, and with a wider reach.
Think of the lives these non-profits could save and the educations we could foster...and yeah...the next time the scam artists come into isolated villages attempting to recruit for child trafficking, satellites will be broadcasting local programming on radios or computers and we will save another child from forced prostitution. The villagers could run these criminals out of the villages with a bonk on the head from the laptop or radio. We might even give them a concussion. Oh, to be so lucky. The tribal chief could still have a party and be thankful for the NGO's that helped them save their children.