Tata Literacy Project
A cool example of how technology can be used to create societal transformation. This also illustrates one of the key points that most of the Digital Divide crowd misses : Digital Divide will not be bridged by throwing more money and ugly Dell boxes at the developing world. Localized solutions that tackle key problems with local input, creativity and buy-in will be far more effective than "foreign" solutions.
The flipside is that given the right environment to unleash the creativity of people, such solutions will cost a fraction of what is on offer today. Technology must be deployed within the right set of social
drivers to be most effective. This is the big challenge for all social entrepreneurs out there.
The Dallas Fed paper I posted earlier talks about the lack of attention to entrepreneurs in economics and how entrepreneurship is fostered within environments with different property right regimes, such as capitalism and socialism. I personally think that an even more egregious omission in social sciences is the missing study of social cordination mechanisms that foster entrepreneurship for public goods
. There is almost an unquestionable assumption that public goods do not belong to the realm of innovation or entrepreneurship, leading to corrupt, ossified bureaucracies in government as the monopoly providers.
However, I believe that this is where some of the most impactful innovation is now being enabled with technology these days. Given the democratising/empowering/low-cost nature of many of these technologies such as Open Source, I think it is reasonable to expect that their greatest impact will be on provisioning public goods, rather than the for-profit economic value chain. A dollar invested in a technology such as that developed by the Tata project is as prodcutive as 10 dollars in a conventional rural school with a teacher, without even including the costs of administrative overheads or the usual government wastage and corruption. We need to understand this type of innnovation at a much deeper level to address the Digital Divide as well as the bigger issues of poverty and hunger.
Question for inquiring minds : does open source/web 2.0 etc offer enough incentives for societies to use them as the platform infastructure for public goods? Yes, not having to pay monopoly rents to The Man, and having access to the source code is a great start. Is that all there is to it?