December 2011 Archives

VSO international board.jpg

Picture a dusty, hot Saturday afternoon in Kaduna, Nigeria, the buzz of cheap Chinese motorbikes filling the air. In the backroom of a small community foundation, I introduce myself to the two people told to me as the "hardest working loan officers at Fantsuam Foundation." Bent over their laptops, sweat dripping on their brow, two Kenyan VSO volunteers are doing intricate financial modeling in their role as loan officers for the foundation.

This was my first introduction to of Volunteer Service Overseas (VSO) volunteers in the field and I was immediately impressed with them and VSO in general. Peace Corps volunteers work hard (I was one, briefly) but not on Saturdays. And to see Africans volunteering in Africa gave me great pride and renewed hope.

Great pride in seeing the dream of Geekcorps become a reality; Africans empowered with high-level information and communication technology (ICT) skills able to grow and succeed on their own terms. Renewed hope in the belief that through this empowerment, we all - North, South developed and developing - can work together towards greater economic and social advancement.

So it is with great honor that I announce that I am now an international board member of VSO, as part of the appointment of a new Chair and six new trustees to its International Board. My ascension to the board is part of VSO's transition from a U.K.-based volunteering organization to a global development charity that engages people from all over the world in the fight against poverty. As Marg Mayne, CEO of VSO says:

"I'm excited to be working with the new trustees, all of whom are from outside the UK and nearly half from the global south. Their appointment shows how we're implementing this more global approach at the highest level."

Through its "People First" strategy, VSO is now more than just volunteering. VSO's approach has moved away from direct service delivery to a greater focus on strengthening systems, developing policies and building capacity in the 34 countries that play host to roughly 1,600 VSO volunteers, most of them mid-career professionals with an average age of 43. A VSO volunteer is now just as likely to be someone from Kenya, India or the Philippines as they are someone from the UK, Ireland or the Netherlands.

As an international board member, I plan on upholding the efforts of those two Kenyans I met in Nigeria by contributing to the continued shift at VSO and support VSO's global development impact with cutting edge skills and information and communication technology.

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datawind aakash difference from olpc

Recently, the CEO of Datawind presented his case to the World Bank on why the Aakash tablet computer will revolutionize education in India. During his talk, he presented this slide as justification that his tablet was not the XO and that Datawind would be more successful in reaching a 5 million units sold milestone than OLPC.

While I agree that Suneet Singh Tuli's business plan of selling tablets directly to consumers based on clear market advantages is more sound than Nicholas Negroponte's idea of selling millions of laptop to governments based on a handshake with presidents, I do not see a better education plan. In fact, I see none.

What I do see is Datawind and OLPC focusing on hardware sales. OLPC started the netbook revolution - cheap laptops for everyone, and Datawind is starting a "netlet" revolution - cheap tablets for everyone. Congratulations to both. But without a serious focus on educational software and content, and the integration of both into the national curriculum and into teachers' daily instruction, the Aakash will have the same issue as the OLPC:

It will be a cool gadget that pushes boundaries in computing, and leaves education as moribund as before.

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