Villages gone global

December 18, 2005 § Leave a comment

Seattle, USA

The Grameen USA village computing consultation certainly brought a lot of talent into one room. We had grassroots communications champions like Matayas Gaspar (founder of Hungarian telecottage movement), Dorthy Okelo (working on women’s networking projects in Uganda) and Peter Bladin (helped replicate Grameen Village Phone in Africa). Also, we had people from the corporate emerging markets world like Microsoft’s Karishma Kiri (working on village level research with the likes of Drishtee and Nlogue) and Intel’s John Sherry (co-author, Less Cyber, More Café). And, of course, we had some smart cookies with a big picture of ICT4D issues like Bellanet‘s Kemly Camacho (evaluation and facilitation guru) and APC‘s Chat Garcia (GEM guru). A diverse and talented group, without doubt.


What do you get a diverse and talented group like this together? Crisp new ideas? … replays of old disagreements? … creative sparks? … magic? … confusion? It turns out that the answers is: all of the above.

On the crisp new ideas side, there was a chance to talk about telecentre service and financing issues. In particular, we hit on the importance developing concrete, well packaged services that telecentres quickly adopt to both generate revenue and deliver social value (e.g. a simple end-to-end process for delivering computer certification or remote healthcare). We also touched on the idea of developing more flexible and nimble funding pools for from line telecentre implementation – something between microcredit and traditional bank loans. There is a need to get specific on ideas like these, but they are definitely useful seeds that we can grow something from. And, definitely seeds to be thinking about as we design the innovation funding stream in the new business plan.

On flip side, some parts of the conversation disappointingly slipped into old, unhelpful patterns. In particular, there was a tendency to frame things as a debate between two ‘diametrically opposed’ approaches – entrepreneurship and social value. Given the people in the room, I’d really hoped we’d be able to transcend this … to dig into innovative ideas that play in the messy middle where entrepreneurship and social value overlap. In my opinion, we didn’t get there. This was a bit of a missed opportunity.


In the end: great people, some useful and concrete discussions … but it’s a shame that we didn’t get to more concrete out-of-the-box ideas. Maybe it was the square round table. I always did like circles better.

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