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inveneo.jpgHonestly, it's hard to imagine a story that's a better example of what we're all about here at WorldChanging.

Inveneo is a San Francisco-based non-profit organization that is bringing information and communication tools to remote villages in the developing world. These tools are based on free/libre/open-source software, and rely upon voice over IP (VoIP) and WiFi to connect multiple remote locations to each other and to the broader Internet and telephone networks. Moreover, the equipment at the stations operate via batteries charged by a combination of solar cells and bicycle generators. In short, Inveneo is using open source technology and renewable power to improve the lives of the global poor through better access to communication.

This isn't just a fantasy, a "we're hoping to do this soon" sort of project, either. With the assistance of the NGO ActionAid, Inveneo has deployed its system in rural villages in Uganda:

At 11:10am PST on June 8th, with a VoIP phone call from the Community Knowledge Center to the village of Nyamiryango, Inveneo's first solar and pedal powered communications system went live in the Bukuuku sub-county, Kabarole district of Western Uganda. This successful deployment was completed in partnership with ActionAid, and enables villagers to use a phone, computer and the Internet for the first time ever, empowering them to use communications and technology to improve their lives dramatically.
Inveneo has setup five systems. One in the Community Knowledge Center acts as the hub station, connecting the stations in the villages to the local phone network (since no landlines are available in this part of Uganda, a interconnect to the GSM network was established using GSM terminal units) and the Internet (utilizing the existing Internet connection at the Community Knowledge Center). All the remaining four communications stations are installed in villages with no access to electricity or phone lines. All stations are connected with 802.11 wireless network links ranging from 2 to 6 km. distance. [...]

All systems have been installed with strong participation and support of the local communities and ActionsAid's local staff. Inveneo has trained ActionsAid's IT Officer (Jane Nabwire) as well as other staff members in installation, maintenance and troubleshooting of the system. ActionAid will train the users from the locoal villages in the use of the stations and how to apply the system to improve their situation.

We've talked about the value of communications and information networks in the developing world numerous times here; while basics such as food, potable water and medical care certainly have priority, it has become increasingly clear that connections to regional and global communication and information networks can have be of tremendous value to rural communities. Inveneo lists some of them; I've added links to stories on WorldChanging that reinforce their argument:

  • Heath care: Heath clinics can communicate in real time with doctors and nurses in hospitals; PCs are used to gather statistics and access databases, review treatment options etc. Communities are empowered to document traditional treatment options and to share this information with others.
  • Income generation: Through improved communication farmers are aware of market prices for crops and materials allowing them to increase their income by being in a better negotiating position with middlemen. Coops are formed between villages to improve buying power and share resources. This results in substantial income increases.
  • Aid distribution: Though access to databases in real time aid (e.g. food rations) can be distributed more efficiently ensuring that all beneficiaries receive their fair share.
  • Community empowerment: Communities get access to information allowing them to take part in shaping on their own destiny. Information about government programs and citizens rights empower people to be aware of their rights and opportunities.
  • Education: Communication tools and the ability to efficiently use these is a crucial skill for future generations. The integration of ICT in teaching curriculums demonstrates this capability. Inveneo’s system allows more children and adults access to these tools. The network also allows for delivery of content for the curriculum.
  • Disaster relief: Rapid deployment of phone and data networks after disasters.
  • ...to which I would add a few more:

  • Weather monitoring: Many rural jobs depend heavily on good weather info -- farming, fishing, ranching and the like. While radio-based weather reports are useful, being able to see weather maps and get detailed information about potential problems is much better.
  • Family communication: The global population shift from rural to urban communities inevitably breaks up families. Village telecommunication networks allow distant family members to remain in contact, with positive results for community stability.
  • Economic empowerment: Beyond the support for traditional economic practices, the introduction of information, communication and energy technologies allow for the development of useful trade skills related to those technologies, from solar technicians to software programming.

    Inveneo looks to be on exactly the right path for changing the world for the better.

    (Via Timbuktu Chronicles)

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