February 28, 2006 4:00 AM PST

Geekcorps: A Peace Corps for techies

How do you bring the Internet to countries like Mali, where more than 70 percent of the population is illiterate and the telecommunications infrastructure barely exists?

You use the radio.

Equipped with dust-resistant PCs, digital audio broadcasting equipment and antennas assembled from salvage, local radio broadcasters are emerging as ersatz Internet service providers in the West African nation, thanks in part to a program initiated by Geekcorps, a U.S.-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to cultivating high-tech skills and businesses in the world's emerging nations.

News.context

What's new:
U.S.-based not-for-profit Geekcorps seeks volunteers who can spend a month or more helping emerging nations advance their telecommunications infrastructures.

Bottom line:
Geekcorps could play a pivotal role in bridging the technological divide. But while potential volunteers are intrigued by the concept, they sometimes drop out because of job circumstances or family issues.

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If a villager wants to get a note to a friend in another part of the country, he or she comes to the radio station and dictates an e-mail to the DJ, who then sends the message off to another station closer to the recipient's location. The DJ who receives the e-mail then issues a broadcast: Muhammad Kanoute, come to the station and I will read your e-mail message to you.

Previously, sending a message could take several days of jarring bus rides, according to Wayan Vota, director of Geekcorps, which is a division of the independent non-profit International Executive Service Corps. The stations also garner revenue by selling ads and charging for the e-mail service. Many also have a service where they will broadcast live from weddings.

"There is no New York Times wedding section, but (residents) still want to be known in their community," Vota said. "The underlying goal with every implementation is: how can you make sure this is a money maker for the community?"

A station created by the organization in the village of Boureem Inaly makes $50 a month after expenses. That's enough to hire an additional person at the station.

While a host of multinational corporations and academics have announced plans to bring technology to the emerging world, Geekcorps has been on the ground in West Africa and other regions for more than five years, and its presence could potentially play a pivotal role in bridging the technological divide.

Geekcorps

Some of the technology behind the energy-efficient, ruggedized PCs from Via Technologies for emerging markets, after all, comes partly from a PC concocted by the organization.

Although the organization would love it if volunteers could stay four months or longer, one-month stints are common. Geekcorps pays the travel expenses and housing and tries to make it easy for family members to come along.

"The people we are targeting to volunteer are employed, might be mid-career and have families," Vota said. The median age is 32.

The organization will make a recruiting pitch in San Francisco on March 2 at Jillian's Billiards in the Sony Metreon entertainment complex. Currently, according to the Geekcorps Web site, the organization needs experts in Knowledge Management, object-oriented programming, C++, and Linux for spring and summer 2006 assignments in Zambia, Kenya, and South Africa.

Geekcorps can essentially be thought of as a Peace Corps with a focus on PCs. The organization recruits technical experts to conceive ideas for integrating technology into local economies in a self-sustaining way.

CONTINUED: Ghana--Internet hot spot…
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6 comments

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Kudos-Way to bridge the digital divide
With all the industry news I read, I can't believe I didn't know about GeekCorps. With growing and growing gaps between First and Third world countries - a really noble way to bridge those gaps. Kudos to Mr. Zuckerman on starting the vision and all the people who give of their time to help others become wired.
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Kudos-Way to bridge the digital divide
With all the industry news I read, I can't believe I didn't know about GeekCorps. With growing and growing gaps between First and Third world countries - a really noble way to bridge those gaps. Kudos to Mr. Zuckerman on starting the vision and all the people who give of their time to help others become wired.
Posted by marileev (292 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Geeks Rule In The African Bush
Clearly, Geeks rule in the African Bush as they do around the rest of the planet.

The #1 Life in the Geek Corps photo showing two Geek Brethren inside Thatched Hut Cyber-Control says it all. That Dynamic Techno-Duo is the quintessential Ueber Geek Technical Team dressed for Techno-Ops in the African Bush.

The Manager Geek is dressed in a J. C. Penney, Geek-Sheik business suit; the Worker Geek is in cotton duck trousers with his shirtsleeves rolled up ready for Techno-Action with both Techie Brethren wearing G.I. [Geek Issue] shoes.
Posted by Catgic (106 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Geeks Rule In The African Bush
Clearly, Geeks rule in the African Bush as they do around the rest of the planet.

The #1 Life in the Geek Corps photo showing two Geek Brethren inside Thatched Hut Cyber-Control says it all. That Dynamic Techno-Duo is the quintessential Ueber Geek Technical Team dressed for Techno-Ops in the African Bush.

The Manager Geek is dressed in a J. C. Penney, Geek-Sheik business suit; the Worker Geek is in cotton duck trousers with his shirtsleeves rolled up ready for Techno-Action with both Techie Brethren wearing G.I. [Geek Issue] shoes.
Posted by Catgic (106 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A rare bird
I interviewed Zuckerman for an article a few years ago. Found him
to be very unusual for an Open Source advocate and IT success
story. Most of those people are know-it-alls who want to impose
their views on the world. Zuckerman is someone who is just as
interested in what he can learn from others as he is in his own
knowledge. He is also a pragmatist, able to work with people who
he doesn't necessarily agree with politically.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Reply Link Flag
A rare bird
I interviewed Zuckerman for an article a few years ago. Found him
to be very unusual for an Open Source advocate and IT success
story. Most of those people are know-it-alls who want to impose
their views on the world. Zuckerman is someone who is just as
interested in what he can learn from others as he is in his own
knowledge. He is also a pragmatist, able to work with people who
he doesn't necessarily agree with politically.
Posted by J.G. (837 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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