This story leaves me ina bit of a dilemna. For the past year, my company has been working with Wireless (WiFi) technologies, with the goal of using WiFi and related technologies to make it easier and cheaper to deliver Internet connectivity to the developing world.
In this area I consider myself a pioneer. In early 2001 when I went to Accra, Ghana as a GeekCorps volunteer to help a local ISP set up a wireless backbone and last-mile, not many people in Denmark (or probably anywjere in the west) had even had the idea that WiFi made sense in this context.
And since returning to Denmark, I’ve spent significant time and savings trying to build a business based on this premise.
Some days I think just being active in this space has helped make a lot of poeple aware of the possibilities, but most days I probably realize that my contribution has been (and still is) insignificant. That villagers in India, more or less on their own initiative, have adapted and deployed these technologies tells me 2 things
1. I was right all along. WiFi makes sense and has a natural place in the development of rural areas in the worlds poor countries.
2. In most cases it makes more sense when the locals get the idea and deploy the technology than having some spoilt Danish consultant spend months looking for DANIDA money to be able to go there and help them. Sure, we might have more experience and come up with a better solution, but the costs are overwhelming.
What can I conclude from this?
First of all, countries like India, Brazil and South Africa are unique. They have both the poverty that needs attention, but also the established industries, educational systems and above all, middle-classes that mean that they often have the necessary skills in-house. Other countries, such as Ghana or Nepal, may not have that situation, and may be more relying on western skillsets.
Secondly, It may be time to either find a business model for what I/we do, or call it quits and look for a job.
I love combining my technology background with my interest in really helping even out the differences between rich and poor countries. I love it.
It’s what I want to do for a living, at least for the foreseeable future. But until now, I have failed to find a sustainable way to achieve this goal. Essentially I compare what I have done for the past year with the stereo-typical actor that waits tables at the local café. It’s accepted that if you really want to be an actor, musician, artist or similar, spending years of your life at minimum-pay or below is sometimes necessary. But for an IT-person who used to have a well-paying executive position to spend his savings, and a year of his life on something is harder for people to understand. OK, I want to be an actor, I want to work with ICT issues in the developing world. That’s all there is to it.
If you have any suggestions on how, where and when I can do that sustainably , please let me know 😉
If you know of an NGO or company that wants to take over or partner with 2 talented, idealistic guys with s***loads of tech-experience, and a real desire to make a difference, let me know.
If you have an interesting job for me, let me know.
And if you’re the person that can help us make wire.less.dk profitable, without taking us too far away from our ideals, let us know.