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Technical Volunteers, Design, and the Developing World

Justin wrote to tell us about a conversation at Dervala.net about what individuals can do in response to problems -- often very big problems -- in developing and war-torn nations. Few people have the resources or opportunities to devote their lives to helping others; Justin asks, in the comments, "is there a way to help human rights without full-scale immersion — that is, without going over there, cutting off links with your family and friends, and dedicating your life to it?"

This question turned into its own discussion at Dervala.net, a discussion which includes some very WorldChanging-style links to organizations dedicated to making things better one volunteer at a time. Thinkcycle -- a group we posted about early on -- is mentioned, as is a South African program for building an Open Source school administration infrastructure, SchoolTool. One of the most intriguing links in the discussion, however, is to a site called Design that Matters, a Massachusetts nonprofit which links NGOs, underserved communities around the world, and university engineering and business students.

Started at MIT in 2000, some of the projects DtM has undertaken include Cholera treatment devices, an incubator for premature infants that works without electricity, and a "Cree Talking Toy" -- a device designed to help Cree and other Native American children learn their native languages. Design That Matters is definitely a WorldChanging organization to watch -- and help out, if you can.

Thank you for the suggestion, Justin!


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