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January 20, 2006

More Reasons for Being

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I recently returned from a three week stay in Ghana, West Africa, where I trained several non-profit organizations how to build websites. Over and over again I was reminded how much we in the West take our wealth for granted.

This is the start of an inspiring blog post from Rob who writes the Software By Rob. It's a highly interesting account of his stay and well worth reading. And while I wouldn't disagree with anything he has to say I would offer one addendum: I also think that we in the West take our education for granted.

Consider this story Rob relates about one of the gentlemen that he worked with and to whom he recommended a $15 computer training book.

15 bucks. The guy works 40 hours a week at an IT training facility and can't afford a $15 computer book. He's not starving. He's not living in a mud hut on the side of the road scraping to feed his family. But $15 is probably a week's salary for him, maybe more. At 83 times the minimum wage this book would cost $427 in the U.S., and the book was actually an old edition (from 2001), which as most of us know is almost worthless in the world of computer programming. If he wanted a current edition he would have to pay three times that if he could find it at all.

Rob then asks the question "Does this seem wrong to anyone else?"

Yup. It does to me. It should to most everybody.

He goes on to say:

For destitute poverty, providing food, clean water, shelter, and medical care are the most critical needs. There are many organizations that provide these services to the poor, and they help remedy a dire need in the world. But once these needs are met, the person's information poverty must be addressed.

The phrase "information poverty" has now been added to my vocabulary. At the end of the day I think it is information poverty that lies at the heart of Africa's problem. Until you attempt to solve that all of the money being spent on all of the other things won't have the impact they could have. I won't spoil much more of the article (go read it!) but Rob talks about Africans could help to climb out of poverty if they had the technology to sell their goods on the global market. He uses the example of Ghanian drum-makers selling their wares through eBay or Yahoo! Not that far-fetched in today's age of technology...and a lot more fulfilling than buying some crap trinket from some faceless department store.

At the end of the day the twin potential powers of education and technology offer an incredible opportunity to make a real and lasting difference in the world. As I blogged about before, Technology + Education = Productivity = Progress. And I tip my hat to everyone else who sees the potential here for technology and education to empower people.

To Doug Kaye for his tireless work on the which will Change the World by bringing cutting-edge, innovative conversations to your headphones.

To Jimmy Wales for his vision and dedication to , the online encyclopedia and services that Change the World by providing increased access to information. (Note: In his personal appeal for donations to the Wikimedia Foundation, he lists he reason for being as "the child in Africa who is going to use free textbooks and reference works produced by our community and find a solution to the crushing poverty that surrounds him.")

To Wynn at the Stingy Scholar blog and Tyler at Textbook Revolution for their passion for Changing the World through increased access to educational materials (join our conversation on that very subject here).

To Brian Johnson and the rest of the gang at who are creating social networking tools that will connect people serious about Changing the World and empower them with the technology to actually do it.

And to the many others out there who want to leave a brighter, more hopeful and more educated world to the generation to follow.

Have a fantastic weekend everyone and if you feel the urge please take a few minutes this weekend to appreciate the access you have to technology and education. It's an incredible blessing but one that most of us (myself included) rarely acknowledge.