Sunday, March 12, 2006

Building a Global Village

Food doesn’t come out of computers. I’ve never seen a cell phone produce even a grain of rice. If you put a disk into your CD-Rom, your screen doesn’t spit out money to buy HIV/AIDS treatment. It would be nice, but you can’t use the Internet as a solution to extreme poverty. Or can you?

Perhaps we should reconsider our concept of wealth. Where does it come from? How is it achieved? How do communities become self-sustainable? What separates the 'haves' from the 'have-nots'? The answer is access to information. Now more than ever, developed countries need technology to make the leap into the Information Age. Without information we can overlook the value of the soil we stand on, or the water buried underneath. In a country where women typically spend the greater part of their day traveling to find water, it would be helpful to know that they didn’t need to travel at all. What if someone else in a similar community had the same problem and then they found that a simple pump worked? Information Communications Technologies (ICT’s) would save a lot of extra steps and transfer the required knowledge in less than a second.

At the 2000 United Nations Millennium Summit, world leaders got together to create a set of goals called the Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) which had specific targets to combat extreme hunger, poverty, infant mortality, HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases and provide primary education to every child. Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the UN realized that it would take a concerted effort on every front to achieve these goals. In response to this, the Centre for International Governance Innovation created the Millennium Development Villages Initiative. They chose 12 of the poorest countries to work towards the MDG’s by providing information communication technologies to link them, facilitating comprehensive, community-based, low-cost integrated rural development strategies. They have already seen great improvements in two of them: Kenya and Ethiopia, (click for more information) where the initiative has begun. Not even the most basic communication infrastructure existed before.

This is the premise behind the Millennium Research Village Initiative: use technology to integrate the world’s poorest areas surrounding the perimeter of Africa into a “knowledge network” to solve their most pressing problems. Working with the Earth Institute (EI), which comprises 800 of the world’s best scientists in interdisciplinary research at Columbia University, CIGI will help set up these channels of communication to achieve development. As a result, these countries will have access to the best source of information about agriculture, nutrition, health, energy, water and the environment and IT support. It will be ushered to them in multiple forms –from “old” ICT’s like radio and television which will speak to them in their own language and provide information on how to prevent diseases like HIV/AIDS to “new” ICT’s like wireless mobile technologies like Blackberries which can access IGLOO (an online research portal devoted to governance issues), regardless of their location. With these tools, the Millennium Development Villages can update each other on issues like farming techniques or implement low-cost interventions like bug nets, which prevent the spread of malaria. GIS systems can monitor illegal treatment of the environment or inform residents where the nearest water source is.

[Click here for a link to Millennium Villages Project]

Marshall McLuhan, one of my heroes and the man who coined the term “global village” before the Internet was even invented, foresaw media transforming the planet into a macrocosm of our bodies. If that’s true, then we need to connect the parts so that each one knows what the other is doing. After all, there is enough food to feed everyone in the world, but we have a problem with coordination. People in the poorest countries can’t afford to buy readily available food, and the infrastructure isn’t there for them to grow and supply it themselves. The same countries that are crippled by hunger are paralyzed by disease. So it’s obvious that you can’t solve one problem without solving them all. With ICT’s, you can create a network of virtual communities that have knowledge about the real world, allowing better efficiency and coordination to escape extreme poverty. In Kenya for example, they used better seeds, farming techniques and fertilizers to grow hybrid maize. The result was a 48% return on input costs and it had a dual purpose: 10% went to supplying food for the school meals program, which also worked as an incentive for education.

The reason this approach has been opted for is because information is power –if you hand out food aid today it will be gone tomorrow but if you build an infrastructure to provide knowledge on how to grow food, how to harvest water, how to prevent disease, what has worked and what hasn’t worked, that information can change people’s chances of surviving every day. If you are going to eradicate poverty, the first step is allowing people to survive. The idea is that knowledge will be retained in the system by people adding information as it becomes available. As a result, virtual intelligence will give birth to real development.

Filed under Opinions


Blogger Maddy said...

Read..."out of poverty and
into something more comfortable"
by MY hero - John Stackhouse.


8:26 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your stuff is always very well written. Do you write strictly for your blog or do you also write for school assignments or another purpose?

10:06 p.m.  
Blogger Cocaine Jesus said...

more power to you for writing this informative piece. more people should read and then act, in what ever little way they can, to make the changes that your words speak of.

5:52 a.m.  
Blogger opinionatedinjerzee said...

Hey, im tagging you!! check out my post about 8 points for the perfect partner... and lets see your list!!!

11:32 a.m.  
Blogger opinionatedinjerzee said...

by the way, yeah.. people can make change.. its just that everyone is waiting for the other person to do something...with this conception nothing gets done.

12:35 p.m.  
Blogger Jason said...

Are they still going ahead with making special $100 laptops for these regions? As long as corrupt "government" officials let this information flow freely, it could work.

10:06 a.m.  
Blogger Queen of Ass said...

Can I just build a little neighborhood village? A global one is just too much pressure.

3:43 p.m.  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

maddy -Will do. Thanx

captain bee -Thanks. I write for lots of different reasons: to entertain myself, for school assignments. This was as initial brainstorming and fleshing out at work. (So I put more editing into it than I might for some off-the-cuff blog post filed in 'personal diegesis'). It is nice to be involved with the project directly or indirectly in some way.

cocaine jesus -It is definitely important to know what is possible and what is out there. So much of cultural evolution is simply catching on to things that others are already doing and then acting along with them and building from their ideas. Not that we're drones, but imitation DOES play a huge part in our learning and behaviour. Reading is one way to learn how to do things without actually doing them and I think it changes the way they act.

OIJ -Rock on! Yes, we can surprise ourselves sometimes. I like that. I get cynical sometimes but then I look outside me and see that the world is one complex interconnected thing and it makes me excited.

Jimmy -Well, this is going on a various local levels all over Africa. There are lots of task forces and Internet Communication Technology companies working on it, supplying VSAT and WiFi. I'm not sure what the unit costs are but it's a multi-million dollar project. I do know that there is going to be a donation of 1000 Blackberries and IT support for over the next five years to facilitate connectivity. It's getting through little by little, and physical facilities and centres are going up too to make it accessible to everyone within the communities.

queen of ass -Don't be silly. There's only one global village and you're a part of it. Put down your hammer! I promise this is a relaxing environment for us all, this "global village". I guess it depends which area of the village you're in, but generally I find it a nice place -the place whose only boundaries are the barriers that prevent you from imagining. The world has imploded! Look I'm talking to you as if you're sitting right beside me!

6:51 p.m.  
Blogger MAHARAJADHIRAJ said...

While I agree with the "information can change people’s chances of surviving every day" theory I don't see it fitting in say the field of medical research. How does one keep up with information that's changing at every turn. Where even the existing info doesn't help coz of the fatality factor. A virus, for example.

10:26 a.m.  
Blogger Nabeel said...

well yes you're right food doesn't come out of computers .. but let me give u an example .. food comes out of the ground .. farmers use tractors to work the ground .. tractors have computers (machine) .. there are ifs and buts mate .. two sides of the story ..

got your email .. will get back to you over the weekend ..

the famous philospher Kant said that there is enough money in this world today that if share, poverty will be eradicated. But the problem is, NO ONE SHARES!

6:59 p.m.  
Blogger Queen of Ass said...

I'll just be a part of my little sect, thanks. We all have the same accent. I can understand these people.


9:06 p.m.  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

maharajadhiraj -You're right that in some cases knowing just doesn't cut it. We know certain things that we nevertheless cannot avoid, and with the bird flu virus for example, it keeps mutating so fast that information can't keep up with it! Still, I feel better knowing that scientists are working to lessen the outbreak. Without culling large flocks of birds at a critical time, we would have a far worse case on our hands. I'm not suggesting that knowledge is a magic bullet. It takes DOING as well. There is that saying: "those who do, do and those who can't, teach". It raises a good point. But knowledge does have a special application for medical administration however, especially when we're talking prevention. It is really important that people have accessibility to medical services and expertise. My sister, who is a nurse, talks about a ressurgence of ideology within the health profession that people need to alter their whole lifestyle -exercise, eat properly etc, if they are hopeful about staying healthy. Of course we know this, but sometimes it takes an extra little nudge to show us and encourage us how. ICT's can help facilitate this by circulating more information which in turn can dispel myths about diseases, for example, the myth that you can be cured of AID's by having sex with a virgin or they can allow people to compare prices of medications to break down monopolies. The good thing about having constant communication with people from around the world is that we are more likely to discover facts if we have more information and although information may change from day to day, facts don't. With more information bumping up against itself we have the chance to test it while ideally lessening the misinformation and increasing the knowledge.

nabeel -Yes! Precisely! I was hoping that my introduction would make you think about how technology can help people acquire a basic means of subsistence by having a better infrastructure. Food doesn't come directly out of computers or from your John Deere, but these are tools that we can use to acquire more food. Here in North America it could be argued that we are addicted to technology. While technology has pushed the limits of what we are able to achieve, large-scale farming has pushed the environment to its limit. We are eroding the ground, polluting the water etc. There are ifs and buts for sure. You've got to give a little and take a little, but I think that reasonable uses of technology, along with other simple interventions like rain-gathering troughs (a kind of primitive machine) can bring about positive change for communities that are otherwise isolated and barely surviving.

Oh and yes, many of us are greedy but the fact that you're willing to help me with my resume proves that some of us aren't (you're willing to share your tips). Often I find that poorer communities have more of a grasp of this because even though they can't afford to live off of even $1 a day, they still make ends meet, working tirelessly to take care of their families and the larger families of those around them. I think it's because they know what it's like to be without. Kant believed we had a moral imperative to do good and knowing this in itself is a motivation to try to share. We have to want to do good, not because we will get paid back in kind but because of the greater principle that we can all help each other more than we can help ourselves owing to the fact that everyone has something that is more beneficial to others in cooperating than in jealously guarding everything so much that we cannot enjoy a quality of life. "There are many gifts but the same spirit"

queen of ass -I didn't mean to pressure you into a village that you don't like or make you uncomfortable. I just meant by "global village" a sense of interconnectivity across vast regions. I've seen you on msn so I know that even if you are too far away to sing with me, I can still read your words. You can still have your own sect too. I've got my hideouts. Nothing wrong with being able to understand what the heck people are saying :)

To all- I'm happy to see the interest in this topic and I appreciate your comments. I feel like this can be a difficult topic to discuss because it's such a political topic. However, hopefully we can all agree that we can't give up on this world. If we aren't willing to share our money or our time giving to the world's poor, the least we can do is share our ideas and contribute to solving our greed so that we can advance in the greater interest of a future without extreme poverty, hunger, disease etc.

Note: notice that I didn't say "a future without poverty". There will always be the poor among us. However, we don't need to make them any poorer. Poverty is both a challenge and an invitation to share.

6:02 p.m.  

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