And interview with David Sasaki of Rising Voices

March 10, 2008 at 12:56 am | Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments
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David SasakiDavid Sasaki manages Rising Voices, a project of Global Voices, which starts community blogs with people around the world who are traditionally hard to reach because they live outside of capital cities and speak languages other than English. I caught up with him over breakfast this morning in New York before he heads off to South America to visit Chile, Argentina and Uruguay.

Everyday so many more blogs and websites are created, are we really reaching more people— especially people in the Global South?

Every month new people are being reached. But the language barrier is a huge issue, blogs are mainly being written in English. It also depends on a person’s social network, if their family or friends are going online. If you are not introduced to it this way you will never hear about it.

If you could give one technology tool to thousands of young people around the world, regardless of cost, what would it be?

I just saw the XO laptop [the $100 laptop], its really sturdy and easy to use. So I would give out something like the laptop but with a better user interface… or I would give out something like the I-phone.

What is a good website for someone who has just gotten online, who is not yet super web-literate?

It really depends on a regional basis. I work with a young woman from Bolivia who tells me she only goes to colorful websites, she hates the sleek modern ones with dark colors, which is something I would probably gravitate to. Clarity is really important. Information overload is bad.

Studies show that new users go online to use MSN chat, look at porn, dating sites, or play games. How do you make the web a tool for new users?

You can’t really see it is as competition. These things are important to people. It has to tie into the social media elements that make those activities attractive to people. You have to make it fun.

Do you ever run into situations where you worry that teaching about technology and blogging is western or colonialist?

Only Americans ask me that… I never tell people what they should write about. Rising Voices is enabling someone to communicate with a lot of people. It’s hard for me to see this through a colonial lens. What is colonialist about new media is language. If you are going online, after about three years you are going to want to learn English. Putting web content in local languages revolutionizes it for people. It’s also really important to translate local languages into English.

Have their been any unexpected outcomes in communities where you started blogs?

In Colombia I worked with 20 young people ages 14-25 to start a blog, and they were mostly writing about music and their personal interests. But one day the librarian asked them to interview this homeless guy, and when they did they found out that his parents had given all their land away to the town. After this the young people became very motivated around his life so they made a documentary movie about him. They got involved in the mesa de trabajadores, the community leaders committee, and had a dance to raise money to help fix up his shack and turn it into a house with plumbing.

So this is one story about young people helping this one 78-year-old guy. But as a result of the blog, the leaders of the community are taking the youth more seriously because they are representing their community online and internationally. In two months I saw the self-confidence of these young people go up. They became comfortable talking to the leaders in their community about their concerns.

Pick one: laptop, internet, radio or cell phone

February 16, 2008 at 9:45 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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I am still thinking about a poll I saw on Communication Initiative’s technology for development website.  It asked, which of the following technologies has the most potential for accelerating progress to reduce poverty? Film/Video, Internet, Interpersonal discussion, lap top, cell phone, print media, television, radio, wireless or other. 

There are 213 votes so far, and cell phones are leading with 23% or 50 votes, Radio with 23% and 48 votes, Internet with 20% at 40 votes, TV with 10% at 22 votes, Interpersonal discussion at 8% with 18 votes.   Laptops only have 3% with 5 votes!

I would love to see thousands of people take this survey from all over the world, and have their results disaggregated by location, as well as age, gender and occupation.   I voted for Internet, because in my job I have to connect to people around the world daily, and this is the only way I hear from them, whether by email or skype.  But, the internet as a communication lifeline is still tenuous, and it only works if I have met the people before, i.e. through “interpersonal communication”, clearly valued by poll takers.   After you meet and form a connection, the trick becomes keeping in touch.  I personally do so through sending out an e-newsletter every two months that lists opportunities and resources useful to people working with NGOs on the ground.   In a way it does not matter if they read my newsletter, it matters that they see my name in their inbox.  After I send the newsletter I frequently get requests for help or news from the people on my list. 

 I think the lap top numbers of this poll are telling.   People do not need their own computer necessarily (though those of us in the US could not imagine life with out it), they need money to go to an internet cafe, and they need a fast connection when they get there.   A lap top is not so useful if no one can help you fix it, if you have to worry about it getting stolen, or if there is no internet access for you to plug into.   In another post I will have to do some sleuthing to figure out how the $100 lap top, (“One Laptop per child”) program is going, and how they are going to adjust the machine to fit the resources people have on the ground.  

The fact that radio numbers are so high make me want to ditch this blog for a radio show.  From my seat in the U.S., radio is not seen as cutting edge, and therefore is often forgotten in the development discourse that I am exposed to.  But to people living in remote rural areas, a radio is their only tie to the world outside their village.  Therefore it becomes a huge part of their education and socialization.  I have read some exciting studies about using radio for reconciliation in Rwanda (soap operas where people discuss their traumas), and as a means (also through soap operas) to share information about sexual health and HIV/AIDS.   In Sierra Leone, the only national radio station is currently managed by the UN peacekeeping mission. As the mission prepares to withdraw, a vital task becomes passing on the radio networks to civilian management that can maintain all the transmission towers, as well as produce content that benefits the whole of the country.  

As I prepare to visit Rwanda next month, my contact has asked me to bring him a used laptop for $200 in my suitcase. “No problem” I said, envisioning tracking one down on Craigslist.org.   I just hope it doesn’t break too quickly after I give it to him.  I told him that you can now buy a copy machine/fax/scanner/color printer for between $100-$200.  He was very interested, and now I have definitely committed myself to a full suitcase.  I only hope these new machines have a decent shelf life.  I think these machines could definitely offer a lot to development, since in Africa, you generally go to a telecenter to preform tasks of printing, faxing, scanning.  I would love to see broad distribution of these machines there, it could really help small businesses and organizations. 

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