For Uganda’s Poor, a Cellular Connection

Today’s article focuses on an initiative spearheaded by the Grameen Foundation and Google to provide easy access to information in rural Uganda. Founded by Muhammad Yunus, the Grameen Foundation is leading the way in the fight against global poverty through microfinance and technology-based initiatives. In Uganda , where there are likely more cell phones than there are light bulbs, this initiative has found a unique way to disseminate information on health, agriculture, trade, and the like: text-message based search and query services.

What makes Grameen and Google’s initiative different is the execution: they canvassed citizens to see what information was most needed and stationed more than 10,000 “helpers” in the form of local “village phone operators” who can teach their neighbors how to use the service. This entrepreneurial, innovative approach to bridging Uganda ’s information may have deep impacts far beyond mere snippets of information: it can be used for education, business, improved agriculture and personal empowerment.
If this model can be applied as successfully to educating people in third-world countries what might be possible for the globe? How many more diseases and deaths could be prevented? How many more people could know about their medical and family choices?

Forty years ago today, the United States sent a man to the moon. Today, the world is reminded of the remarkable achievements that are possible when people stretch their imaginations to their fullest capacity to solve problems: including eliminating poverty in our lifetime. The small steps toward educating impoverished people mentioned in this article are a giant opening toward a new possibility: a world where all people have access to education and thereby can contribute their gifts and talents to the world in positive, sustainable ways.

by Dara Kerr

In many parts of the world, electricity is a luxury. People spend hours gathering firewood to cook their dinners or warm their homes. In Uganda, only 10 percent of the population has electricity, the vast majority doesn’t have microwave ovens, computers, or televisions. People don’t have access to the latest information on disease outbreaks, weather forecasts, or soccer championships. But this may soon change.

More than a third of Uganda’s population, about 10 million people, own a cell phone, and many more have access to these phones through family members and neighbors. Cell phones can be found in every desolate corner of the countryside, where 85 percent of the country’s residents live. With the dire need to be connected, people go to great lengths to use cell phones, charging them with car batteries or solar chargers.

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