Low Hanging Fruit

You know what I would love to do? I’d love to start an effort devoted entirely to solving the easy problems in the world. Not a new NGO; you know how I feel about that, but a division within a major existing group. It would be funded by donations, not government grants, and focus on the low-hanging fruit in relief and development. Heck, we could call it Low Hanging Fruit, and live with the inevitable LHF acronym. We wouldn’t worry about sustainability, but we’d have a big focus on local involvement.

There are a million little ideas we all run into, that don’t fit with any expressed donor priorities, but would so obviously make a useful different in the world. LHF would work on those. We’d document everything to pieces, so it would also serve as research on what works. Every community we worked in would have a paired control community with similar demographics, and as soon as we could demonstrate an intervention was working, we’d extend it into the control group so they could benefit too.

Blood and Milk: Low Hanging Fruit

(via Appropedia)

$12 computers already on sale in developing world

playpower 12 dollar computer

The $12 computing system itself defies conventional expectations of what a computer today should be. The soul of the Apple II and a geek microprocessor favorite of the 1970s, the 8-bit 6502 processor is the heart of these computers. It is small enough to be contained within a full-size keyboard and sold for mere dollars. The keyboard also has a slot for game cartridges, and is usually sold with a mouse and two game controllers. Many of these systems are currently on sale as “TV computers” in Bombay, Bangalore and Nicaragua. They are often packaged in boxes emblazoned with unlicensed cartoon art (Mario, Spiderman) and misspelled English (“Lerrn compiters the fun way!”) and are bundled with games that would likely be copyright violations in the United States. And like the early home computers sold in the United States, they plug into a TV screen for display. […]

It’s an ambitious project and one that requires just a tad of youthful optimism to pull it off. Dodge a pothole in China or India and you are likely to bump into the carcass of yet another ambitious attempt to bring low-cost computing to the developing world. The MIT Media Lab-backed One Laptop Per Child project planned to bring $100 computers to those in need. That project has never been able to achieve that price point, although OLPC cofounder Mary Lou Jepsen said Tuesday here that more than a million of the project’s XO laptops had been shipped to kids in more than 30 countries. Recently, Indian government officials made an announcement of a $10 “computer” that proved to be a dud.

Full Story: Wired

Powerplay’s web site

Mobile Phones to Serve as Doctors in Developing Countries

“There are 2.2 billion mobile phones in the developing world, 305 million computers but only 11 million hospital beds,” said Terry Kramer, strategy director at British operator Vodafone at the Mobile World Congress held in Barcelona this week. That’s why Vodafone, along with the United Nations and the Rockerfeller Foundation’s mHealth Alliance have banded together to advance the use of mobile phones to better aid those in need of healthcare in the developing world. […]

Examples of the mHealth projects included:

* Sending mobile phone owners updates on diseases via SMS.
* Letting health workers in Uganda log data on mobile devices from the field.
* In South Africa, the SIMpill is a sensor-equipped pill bottle with a SIM card that informs doctors whether patients are taking their tuberculosis medicine.
* In Uganda, a multiple-choice quiz about HIV/AIDS was sent to 15,000 subscribers inviting them to answer questions and seek tests. Those who completed the quiz were given free airtime minutes. At the end of the quiz, a final SMS encouraged participants to go for voluntary testing. The number of people who did so increased from 1000 to 1400 over a 6-week period.
* In the Amazonas state of Brazil, health workers filled in surveys on their phones about the incidences of mosquito-borne dengue fever.
* In Mexico, a medical hotline called MedicallHome lets patients send medical questions via SMS.

Full Story: Read Write Web

OLPC Cuts Staff by Half, Drops Sugar Development

Nicholas Negroponte, founder of the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project, has announced that his organization will be cutting half its staff and ending in-house development of Sugar, the Linux-based operating system that ships on its tiny XO Children’s Machine laptops.

Even though the OLPC project has been praised by the mainstream media, the free software elite and humanitarian organizations for its goal to supply low-cost, educational computers to developing countries with little or no technology infrastructure, the project has been beset by a host of problems and delays. The worldwide economic downturn has slowed hardware orders, but the project was largely sidelined by the revolution it helped create — a wave of low-cost, low-powered laptops built to run Windows, like Intel’s similar Classmate PC. Now, even the OLPC project is transitioning to Windows after realizing it’s what customers want. […]

Sugar will continue to grow, thanks to Sugar Labs, an open community founded by OLPC-er Walter Bender dedicated to building up the OS.

Full Story: Wired

How to add 1 billion points to the global I.Q. cheaply and easily

Almost one-third of the world’s people don’t get enough iodine from food and water. The result in extreme cases is large goiters that swell their necks, or other obvious impairments such as dwarfism or cretinism. But far more common is mental slowness.

When a pregnant woman doesn’t have enough iodine in her body, her child may suffer irreversible brain damage and could have an I.Q. that is 10 to 15 points lower than it would otherwise be. An educated guess is that iodine deficiency results in a needless loss of more than 1 billion I.Q. points around the world. […]

“Probably no other technology,” the World Bank said of micronutrients, “offers as large an opportunity to improve lives … at such low cost and in such a short time.”

Yet the strategy hasn’t been fully put in place, partly because micronutrients have zero glamour. There are no starlets embracing iodine. And guess which country has taken the lead in this area by sponsoring the Micronutrient Initiative? Hint: It’s earnest and dull, just like micronutrients themselves.

Ta-da — Canada!

Full Story: New York Times

(Thanks Justin)

Left Behind: the Singularity and the Developing World

structure built out of usaid food bags

structure built out of usaid food bags

My presentation from CyborgCamp:

Compared to many parts of the world, in the west we’re already living in the singularity.

We can help people in the developing world with technology, and we can learn new things from the problems of the developing world.

Left Behind: the Singularity and the Developing World

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