23 December 2010
As technology in essence amplifies human intent and capacity, it is imperative to focus on the first 20% group: empowering those whom drive progress. Hence our focus on Local Talent, whom almost per definition roam that category. By supporting such persons one anticipates that the environment change to 30/60/10, as average performers get inspired and energized, and weak performers improve.
Thus, when resources are limited, non-discriminatory role out of technology, including Information and Communications Technology is not the way to go. One needs to carefully look which communities show healthy and positive intentions, vision and real collaboration, with capable persons committed to their environment, and support that local vision with technology. In Macha it has been shown that such contributes to rural communities and its people reaching their collective and individual potential.
22 December 2010
It is a matter of the realm within which one wants to define/proof impact. In a Western mindset scientist mostly aim to contribute to comprehensive mathematical models, preferably with conclusions in the realm of economics. Implicitly, those models focus on short-term effects, and give clear guidance on risks. They do not necessary cater for long-term effects, nor give clear guidance on uncertainties. Those models have proven track record, working well under standard circumstances.
As there is still much less known of (rural) African realities, for modeling purposes these circumstances cannot yet be defined as standard. Effects of enshrined cultural focus on history, communities of people and inclusiveness, effects of infectious deceases, and dominance of closed societies, are most significant for long-term effects. Thus, necessarily, proof of impact in Africa starts with assessing long-term significance.
We witness changed lives, spurs in local innovation, and inspired communities and people that emerge as players prone to have long term effect in the(ir) world. How does one proof that? I suggest by registering and study of facts and stories of communities and individuals concerning the intervention, evaluating their social consequences seen from various stakeholders' distinct historical and society perspectives, and possibly, when circumstances can thus be modeled, in economic terms.
I consider myself privileged to work with many scientists and students in multiple disciplines, from Africa and the rest of the world, whom dare to go in these uncharted, deep waters. Although we have come a long way, it feels like we are just starting. No wonder! Long-term assessments can take long! And as we aim for scientific proof in these varied cultural contexts, is is good take take time in assessing the results then to rely on elevator pitches only.
14 December 2010
Reasoning from radical African communalism, one could provide a new answer to the dominant rational view on identity, that, for instance, an internet search (or services like Gist) of a person now shows. As an antidote to the thus growing distance between individuals stands the African traditional view that 'reality of the communal world takes preference over the reality of the individual life'. Many might heed to such, hence, I guess, growth of building communities on the Web.
In my view, researching technology within the realm of traditional African thought could open new ways as how we perceive, and thus develop, technology. For instance, African social-ethical ideals might provide answers to technology development that otherwise focuses quite singularly on empowering the individual at the expense of the collective. Of course, such research is to be conducted in a different manner, using inclusive, collaborative methods, with open source and non-competitive approaches.
Seeing the difficulties that ensue with the prevailing Western view, I would like to encourage that technology could aim to unite people among themselves to facilitate Being Together.
01 November 2010
27 October 2010
Within resource abundant settings there is lots of documentation available for anyone interested to understand what is. Cultures as they are can be known. Now pops the challenge to understanding what is becoming. One does so by interacting with the existing information, setting up networks of relationships to facilitate this process. Basically one shares information and guards relationships.
In resource limited settings all this information is not available. No books, no news papers, little Internet, and communication channels are just opening in privileged places. It is the past experience with cultural differences, so strongly felt during colonial times and often blamed for current inequities, that one must reckon with daily. It is by knowing history that members in rural community say they view current events, and contemplate the future. Such history is transmitted via oral means, within the given set of relationships. As private space is thus freely shared, the community views exchange of new and external information with apprehension.
In Macha I recognize the helpful existence of well defined world-views. This acts as third culture - a neutral ground - where one travels to from different cultures. Such world-view, properly defined with its thought patterns and models, provides for a space where individuals meet and information can be shared.
No doubt communications are instrumental. Living during current times of greatly expanding information networks - bridging gaps with cables, wireless signals, social networks, and other emerging means of communication - is very exiting. I am privileged to witness it all from an environments where its impacts are reverberating through all aspects of community life.
16 September 2010
Limitingly, monitoring and evaluation is mostly executed from a predominantly rational view point. Such emanates from the predominant western setting, where the relational tends to heed towards the rational, where people follow the agreed upon action. This is quite different than the reality in my rural area, where the rational tends to heed towards the relational, where action emerges because people are together.
A western newspaper recently published a few lines on the importance of mutual respect, in the context of issues encountered in integration of different cultures in western societies. It was explained that “respect within collectivistic (non-western, GvS) societies means one not always says the truth. This is because the truth can hurt someone, and the feelings of someone are seen more important that the saying the truth".
This short monitoring and evaluation statement shows handling of truth singularly defined in light of rationality. In my view, truth fundamentally is defined in the relational realm. For instance, even in view of the statement above, there is even a difference between the (rational) truth and saying it. For instance, in a situation of where saying the (rational) truth can hurt a relationship, the best course of action can be to delay mentioning it, and first build the relationship to be able to address the issue later. Such is quite feasible in respectful, open relationships, where questions are being asked carefully, people listen, and all are focused on holistically assessing both the relational and rational.
I propose to recognize the relationality of it all, and to aim to be able to echo the words of Horatio Spafford, 'Whatever my lot, it is well, it is well, with my soul'.
15 September 2010
Also it is exiting to see that satellites are being launched and (sea)cables being rolled out to connect Africa. We are eagerly awaiting lower costs of bandwidth, as up to now we have not seen a decrease in pricing; We continue to pay well over USD 1,000 per month for a dedicated 128 kb/s connection. The ever growing demand for bandwidth - even to be able to keep doing what we already do - effectively means the cost of service continues to rise.
The causes of the continued high prices of bandwidth are known: Investors recuperate their investments first, urged to do so in these perilousness times and unknown territories. It also becomes apparent that the costs of transporting 'the last mile' (or in our case the last hundred kilometers) is the next hurdle. Quotes for terrestrial connectivity between rural areas and the 'backbone' in urban areas are surreal, multiple times the cost of bringing the (international) bandwidth to that urban area. And thus a 1 Mb/s committed connection, costing less then USD 200 per year in London, still cost us more then USD 80,000 per year. Although we (also) need such bandwidth – actually much more to satisfy the live saving needs in our rural community - this kind of money is just inconceivable.
Then, all this does not take into account the investments in equipment, the cost of transport, and the cost of local staff performing in operations and maintenance. We have witnessed that current equipment raises major hurdles to perform in rural areas. Circumstantial facts generate often at leasts one major 'show stopper', making most equipment to fail in a rural African environment.
I am glad that with students of the University of Zambia, and the Copperbeld University, and with collaborating applied research and expert partners from all over the world, we are venturing on the path of applied technology research. Through such long term activities we will be able to sustain an inspirational role. Also it provides hope to generate real technological breakthroughs which can perform well in the rural African environments, and thus, on the long run, will facilitate the role out of Internet on this continent.
03 September 2010
While dwelling in rural African areas, it is difficult to contemplate a world where individual consumer demand is being satisfied with abundant and tuned availability, with shops that seemingly stock up everything. Where food is in abundance, water – cold and warm – never stop running from multiple taps inside a home, where there is little dust, everything appears aligned and clean, a world were people cherish individuality before community, where money comes in plastic forms, or out of a wall, and where people are busy have no time and appear to live in luxury and comfort. This seems virtual reality, only existing 'in stories'.
While dwelling in urban western settings, it is difficult to contemplate a world where basic commodities and resources are scarce and supply is erratic, activities are directed by weather and seasons, and markets offer more of the same, and time seemingly does not exit. Where gathering of food and water is a daily struggle, where written texts are not seen, activities are set by communities whom defines the individual. This seems virtual reality, which only exits 'in stories'.
These are no virtual realities, but worthwhile existing and real existences. Thus the challenge is to augment the visual or oral experiences - either by text or multimedia, or speech – with sensory information, with immersion, and real interaction.
16 June 2010
The presentation of scientific paper on Internet performance at Macha, yesterday at NSDR10 in San Francisco, resulted in valuable interactions with leading scientists and practitioners. Obviously it is all about the interpretation of what we witness. And due to our enshrined culturally diversity, I postulate that both the facts being witnessed, and the observers witnessing it are being challenged. This iterative process hones existing models and lead to new insights.
I wrote earlier about the influence of preunderstanding. It is quite clear that facts reported from our environment do also work inside the recipient, in this case scientists. Preunderstanding in individual scientists and their collective is changing. Interestingly, querying the (same) data with this changed preunderstanding can further, possibly new, insights: enhanced understanding emerges. This is a spiral, not a circle, as it is a progressive and constructive process. Although the environment or context are not changing necessarily, as a result of studying and interacting with the information, over time, observers grow their ability to understand this environment and context in a new way.
Thus study and research is facilitatory in assuring that we spiral in the right direction. As the Macha Works Model is both subject of scrutiny and a facilitator of the same, research findings are bound to interact, refine and improve its tangible results.
09 June 2010
I see technicians at LinkNet acquiring ICT skills and growing in stature at breath taking speed in line with the Macha Works Model in the predominantly informal setting of Macha Works, while they are considerably slowing down and lose drive when going through - often costly and time consuming – formal, on western thinking based, training classes. Obviously, even acquisition of ICT skills in rural Africa can utilize the often well honed observation capabilities of people.
After reading a number of scientific papers, I was triggered to assess the phenomenon of writing as a representation of speech. As this is an oral culture, it is obvious that communications through writing is often ineffective, possibly because it basically is an abstract representation of reality. I have learned that in the rural African environment thinking and conceptualizing takes place in an existentialistic way. This is quite different that the essentialistic thought patterns enshrined in the West. In our environment, comprehension does not come through deconstruction of the matter at hand in layers of reality. Comprehension comes through an assessment of the whole, and then foremost in reviewing its relevance, and integration, and effect for groups of people in the community.
Thus it seems that practical skills are not necessarily acquired through imparting and absorption of abstract concepts. Actually, it seems that comprehension of such abstract facts are more related to foreign concepts of certification and individual remuneration, while observational and participatory interaction seem to relate to skills development for actions resulting in betterments in the local community.
Technological realities are now predominantly communicated through writings and deconstruction of various components that build the whole. Of course, it is not an issue of either this or that. However, it appears crucial that a complementary, humanized expression of technology is being developed. Real sustainability of technology can be witnessed in practice when an all encompassing description is recognized, described, and enshrined in the local language.
08 June 2010
To be able to sustainably interact, participate, and ultimately collaborate in resource limited environments, one has to show one's colors, one's character. Of course, such is only possible in an atmosphere of respect for vested interests that are, while considering existing engagement processes, members and actors as the most appropriate setting under existing circumstances.
In my strive for sustainable progress, I recognize that one's vision - the clear, distinctive and specific view on the future usually connected with advances in technology or social arrangements - is important input in the engagement process. It is this vision that can transmit from one mind to another through speech, writing, behavior, or other imitable phenomena. Taking the concept of memes, the units of cultural ideas thus transmitted are the devices utilized to expedite and affect favorable support in the collective decision making.
Of course, this process can be tough and sometimes disheartening, especially in cross cultural settings. However, when all done in a humble, vulnerable way, is is not difficult be inspired by expressions and interactions that are true, are honorable, beautiful, and of value.
10 March 2010
Community is the first level that provides accountability; it offers the environment in which we can formulate our thoughts. This accountability guards against maverick and individualistic views. It provides a check against selfish and self-serving conclusions by those who lack the perspective to see beyond their own circumstances.
The term international community is even more difficult to wrap oneself around, as it crosses all cultural boundaries and local interests. Ideally it incorporates our African sense of community, where an individuality is defined through the collective, and the more Western sense of community, where the collective is defined by the sum of individuals. Embedding of knowledge needs communities, as in search of meaning it will make sense or ring true to others when evidence to reach conclusions are openly assessed. Thus the need for an international community.
In Africa the term community thrives tangibly. It is what make the environment tick. It is where one exists, where one regards to be member, and where one finds security. Now with Internet our rural African community expands innovatively. It is wonderful to see Facebook, Twitter and collaboration tools like Wave being embraced in our community. Now a most precious part of African Culture – community expressions – is augmenting the international community.
08 March 2010
Being separated for many thousands of kilometers and with few communications paths or sketchy personal experiences, the information an audience possesses about rural Africa is quite limited. This is easy to solve by supplying the facts. But the disposition that most audience bring with its prejudices and biases about rural Africa is more difficult to address. Years of negative mass-media messages, pictures of disasters, and stories of mismanagement have taken their toll. It becomes even more complex when world views, and frame of references, and personal perspectives are taken into account. And, of course, than there are the approach/methodology issues.. That is where the rubber hits the road hard.
It appears that many interested in rural Africa already have figured out 'solutions' based upon their preunderstanding, even before communications take place. One wonder what is thus being missed, what is not being noticed? It is obvious the preunderstanding plays an influential role in the process of communications, and as such to challenge what one sees is an important part of the Macha Works road map. With the distinct phase of 'looking', we challenge preconceived ideas that often come unconsciously and can mask their own falsity. In the mean time, communications seem to serve mainly to either change or strengthen existing preunderstanding. With a large rift between the contemporary preunderstanding and the actual situation in rural Africa, it is imperative, though daunting, to communicate well.
04 March 2010
Among other activities, in San Francisco I discussed ideas, experiences and possibly resource allocation for activities in Information and Communications Technology in rural Africa for health, education and communities. Those discussions took place in situations of comparative luxury, with soft, easy comforts, quite removed from often awful conditions of the areas under review. Although gratefully experiencing pockets of true desire for participation, I could not help the notion of general selfishness of the affluent society and wealth. Reviewing my interactions over the last weeks, it seems that true understanding of needs necessitate close and personal contact with the environment in which those needs surface. Those that did so seem to deal quite differently than the ones who did not.
When looking around, one just wonders how current global economic processes could be sustainable. I read quite a number of reports on global warming, economic growth, and like, and they are not happy read. My travels induced virtual flashbacks into my previous luxurious life, full of ease and pleasure. Its trials and annoyances hardly compare with the difficulties, challenges, barriers, and trials that come people's way in the rural African environment. Well, for now this all just does not balance.
02 March 2010
- To be honest and ethical in all my communications.
To be faithful to my relationships.
To do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but to look out for the interests of others.
To refuse to elicit, accept or pay any bribes, and to report those who do.
To be a diligent leader without being harsh, and to remunerate associates what is just and fair.
To be a peacemaker.
To do my activities wholeheartedly.
To submit myself to just and ethical governing authorities.
To connect with the disenfranchised by investing generously and sacrificially in the broader community.
To collaborate with my peers to impact communities and nations.
09 February 2010
We gratefully live alongside, to join in inspiring activities, participate in connecting the unconnected and more, so people can play a local role in the current global society. Success stories feature adults mainly, the vocal group.
What about the children? In comparison, children in the West live in a world of possibilities and innovations. I witness young people visiting from the West in state of shock when experiencing our limited throughput on the Internet. When explained, they little comprehend life before we got connected, which was only few years ago.
When we set up camp in rural Africa there was no means of communications. Most places I visit today still have neither Internet or mobile phone networks. Children grow up in rural Africa unexposed, without comprehension of a connected world. This all goes way beyond generation gaps.
The New York Times states “If Your Kids Are Awake, They Are Most Probably On-line”, going on with “the average young American now spends practically every waking minute — except for the time in school — using a smart phone, computer, television or other electronic device”, apparently more then seven and half hours per day. Around me here in rural Africa I do not know any kid that fits that description.
Yes, there is need for exposure and use of communications by children in their formative years, also in Africa. African children and young people must be prepared for, and involved in, the information society and beyond. In Macha we give it a try: primary rural example school Macha Innovative Community School with computer education from reception class now working on replication in other primary schools; on-line chats on experiments and science lessons between rural secondary level school and western school; and students from Zambian universities joining the Macha Works while in tertiary education. These are our pebbles in the pond.
It is time to make Waves for connecting the young in Africa, as to build more and new bridges over widening divides, as to assure we can be together in the future.
02 February 2010
With our organizations growing and maturing we enter new areas, possibly new arenas. It is obvious that the scare of the uncertain remains the same, the stakes only seem different, and the way these uncertainties are being addressed seemingly changes. For certain, big organizations have big inefficiencies, often seen in overheads and arm wrestling. Small organizations have big inefficiencies too, seen in lack of (economies of) scale and non-alignment of activities. In view of such inherent inefficiencies, it is amazing one sees any yield at all, a tribute to the greatness of entrepreneurship and action, wherever.
So many new, relevant questions come up, and they seemingly come up within shorter intervals. Quite a number of them utterly profound and existential. In whatever direction one looks there are these important questions popping up. For me, the issue of the finiteness of existing models we base our societies upon remains the most daunting. Although as corporate international community we still seem to shy away from the consequences, it seems obvious the earth will not continue to sustain growth. Energy extraction, dumping of waste, growth of population, it all puts heavy strain to our current models (of economics).
It is all about the are of living, is it not? Life is about living it, thus I gladly witness calls for more integration, harmonization, and inter-disciplinary activities in research and development. There is still a lot to be applied into that, as daily life in rural Africa time and time again shows. Interweaving the issue of relationships into all we do is, in my view, highly needed. It is, and remains, about human beings and how Homo sapiens relate. Well being, that is where it is about.
Just an example, it is said that the production of solar panels cost more energy then they yield over their technical usable life. However, if there would be no solar panels in the bush, the main source of energy in the bush would not be harvested. So producing solar cells can been seen as actually transporting energy spent at the production site - in an industrialized setting - to the user site - in a remote setting. Obvious, putting solar next to the production site is not done, but in the bush we cherish this relationship between industrialized and remote settings. Thus we welcome the transport of some energy from the production site to the bush. Thus reviewing the relationships component became part of the sustainable energy discussion.
Yes, I am enthusiastic about the 'Macha Works Model', as a framework for (re)action valuing relationships. The model calls to heed 'calling' first, 'commitment' second, and then come phases of 'looking', 'reacting', 'waiting', and 'interacting'. Although this takes time, it is wonderful to see that thus enshrined activities in the Macha area are there to stay. There hardly any of bankruptcy - thus no writing off of capital- and a continued and clear focus on sustainability and progress. The model inherently points towards Social Return On Investments, which I reckon is a viable way to save the current economic models, by introducing monetary representation of non-monetary results in communities.
20 January 2010
The telecoms and Internet industry in Africa is changing rapidly. The big event of 2009 has been the arrival of the Seacom and TEAMS seacables on the east coast of Africa. Although cause for hope, these cables have not (yet) influenced life in Zambia, let alone in African rural areas. 2010 promises more on the seacable front: Glo One, Main One (on the west coast) and EASSy (on the east coast) are likely to become available. Such will bring competition and redundancy, and fuels hope for lower prices and hopefully reduces the need for satellite bandwidth, easing up current congestion. 03B Networks is still around, and says to offer cheap satellite prices somewhere from 2011, we'll see. Thus the gap between the speed in the fast lane (the West) and the slow lane (the South) will get wider in 2010 and we must relentlessly push forward as to avoid 'no-lane' internet in the rural Africa of the future.
So far prices for internet connectivity have not come down. ISPs and telcos seem to stick to their old business models, selling low volumes for high prices. Backbone providers seem more concerned with recouping their investments quickly then building the market (and building up marketshare) through ambitious and competitive pricing. It is rumored that ISPs will offer customers more bandwidth while keeping the prices to users the same, we have not yet even seen that happening. With the little availability of teresstrial and cross border networks the moment for the big change appears to be(come) delayed. However, change must come one day. There are enough new players in east, west and southern Africa to hope that a stream of new players will be coming to market with both more bandwidth and lower prices.
Growth is inevitable, and I look forward to reaching a tipping point at which opportunities exist for niche market players who can provide adapted services and better pricing. Room starts to exists for Virtual Network Operations in Internet, Mobile, and satellite communications. Such will help all, as it provides for costs sharing in order to reach the marginal - for us the rural - markets.
The events in Macha has shown that Internet is not to be considered a luxury. Mobile Internet is an important and good development, but is not going to be enough for Africa. Equipment investments are (very) high and there will be services that are impossible to do because of speed and reliability issues of mobile internet. Africa needs what the rest of the world will have, and growth of availability of internet is crucial for sustainable progress in rural Africa.