When Nina and I got married in 2009, the most thoughtful present we received was that of Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales (I wrote about it in my Spanish blog). After I told Jimmy about the difficulties my foundation educ.ar (whose mission is to improve education through the use of technology) was encountering in securing internet access for the many computers we had distributed to schools, Jimmy had a very special surprise for us at our wedding: an offline version of the Spanish Wikipedia.
Rather than being a present for Nina and me, it’s really a gift to all those kids in Argentina and other Spanish-speaking countries who have no means of connecting to the internet, or only have very limited access. And now, more than one year later, educ.ar is finally ready to deliver those DVDs to schools in Argentina.
At first glance this might not seem like a big achievement, but it is. As Jimmy explains in his blog, the difficulty is not getting the content on a DVD (it fits easily), but rather developing a simple offline reader that provides basic search and display functionality, using only free/open source software. Just think of the millions of cross-links that make discovering new information so easy and enjoyable on Wikipedia.
The DVD educ.ar will begin distributing this year consists of three parts. First, the offline Wikipedia itself, called “CDpedia”. Creating the CDpedia itself was only possible thanks to the efforts of the Python Argentina team. In addition, there’s a theoretical framework where experts comment on the value of using Wikipedia in the classroom and explain Wikipedia’s value in an educational and social context that is increasingly being influenced by information technology and is undergoing a permanent transformation. Lastly, the DVD contains general tutorials and a guideline showing how to effectively use Wikipedia in a classroom setting. Here is the online version of this project.
And so, what started out as a wedding gift from a single (and very special) person will now bring a world of knowledge to thousands of school kids all over Argentina, and later to even more people in every Spanish-speaking country. I couldn’t think of a better present.
Conferences like TED or CGI address serious issues, frequently tragic issues. So the question is: is there a role for humor in these events?
At the Citizen’s Award Gala Dinner at CGI 2010 the organizers took a big risk. They added humor to tragedy. It was daring. Would hearing descriptions of the 30 seconds in which 250,000 people died in Haiti right after Ben Stiller and Kevin Spacey mock interview of Clinton work? Would giving a fake award in the mix of giving out some pretty serious awards to people who risk their life for whatever they believe in not seen as rude? Would not the mix be offensive as it was at the last TED I attended with Sarah Silverman picking on the retarded? (here is Sarah Silverman’s view of the event) Or how about adding humor to stories of dilapidated women in Afghanistan? Well as you will see in this video the humor worked. And the key to the success was to keep the humor away from the tragedy. To draw a dividing line between the two. The event was great at alternating, but not mixing humor and tragedy. The same woman you will see in the video at my table, the wife of the Primer Minister of Haiti, who was laughing and raising her hand in approval saying that Haitians are Africans was crying (I did not want to film her then) when the tragedy of the 250K haitians who died in 30 seconds was told. Nina my wife held her hand and it was a very, very sad moment in which I had to hold my own tears.
In the case of my video I chose to focus on the humor. The whole ceremony lasted 3 hours and I think 7 minutes is the most that the Youtube crowd will put up with. So here it goes.
Before the digital era there was only way to be poor and that was not to have access to things. But now there´s a new kind of poverty and that is digital poverty. Not only can you be poor because you have no access to the information society as we like to call it in Europe but even inside the Internet you can be poor. Let me give you a concrete example of digital poverty. It relates to Stardoll. Stardoll is a very simple yet incredibly successful site for little girls to dress up their dolls. I first blogged about Stardoll in April of 2006 both in English and Spanish What happened to me after blogging about Stardoll in Spanish is that because of my Google Ranking when you google Stardoll only in Spanish you come to my blog. But what´s unusual about Stardoll is that even though doll´s are virtually dressed in Stardoll their virtual clothes cost real money. And what I frequently get now is e mails from little girls from Spanish speaking countries who ask me if I can please give them stardollars so they can buy dresses for their little dolls. And I feel so sorry about them that I even contemplated that my foundation could finance some of these but came to the conclusion that that would be absurd. Interestingly, yesterday, I had a chance to see Mattias Miksche from Stardoll again and raise this issue. Since there´s little cost involved in producing these clothes. Couldn´t we start an NGO that actually gave them for free or for practically nothing to poor girls in say Ecuador, Peru, Colombia? And in general, now that wealth is both felt (no food) and perceived (Swedish girls can buy clothes, Peruvian girls can´t), don´t we have an opportunity in the virtual world to do virtual philanthropy and make a lot of little girls, boys, and even grown ups happy? Mattias did not give me a concrete answer but I am sure he is thinking about this. Personally I think that there is a chance of bringing digital justice to this world. Pricing digital property in terms of the average purchasing power of each country would be a good start. Cause as opposed to real property digital property has no cost for an extra copy. Let´s take advantage of this and start the digital fair trade movement!
If there´s something unique at the Clinton Global Initiative it is the Commitments section of this event. I have never seen anything like this. Throughout the day as sessions start, President Clinton comes to the podium and announces that such and such a person has made a certain commitment to improve the world. These commitments are very specific.
For example, a person commited to fund a program to train truck drivers in Subsaharan Africa to use condoms. It turns out that truck drivers are a leading means of transmission of HIV/AIDS as they travel, have many different sexual partners and tend to have unprotected sex. As I listen to Clinton tell this story I wonder if they teach the use of condoms as part of the curriculum to get a truck driver´s license in Subsaharan Africa.
To many Europeans, American style philanthropy evokes a mix of admiration and contempt. Admiration because America has wealthy individuals who are willing to give a significant part of their income to improve the state of the world. Contempt because they believe that we cannot leave “improving the state of the world” in the hands of wealthy individuals. Personally, I think that the the problem here is one of degree. The American government is far too stingy in helping the world compared to European governments, but American individuals are remarkably generous. Bottom line is the American government should donate more. But the wealthy citizens in Europe should definitely be more charitable. Here at the Clinton Global Initiative we see American style philanthropy at work, and it´s amazing to see that at every session there´s an announcement of somebody coming up with an amazing donation.