The Peace Corps Challenge to End Poverty


I wrote to my fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers today:

The idea of ending poverty globally has been in the air since UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's IT Challenge to Silicon Valley in 2002 first officially proposed that it might be practical.


We can do it now, and I wish to invite you all to participate.

This is not the better-known Millennium Development Goals program, which attempted to speed up the process that was already happening. It is rather the program of the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) to leapfrog the stages of development of earlier times, and go straight to digital technology as the enabler of education, economic growth, civil society, and so on.

In order to do this, we have had to accomplish a number of things that are required all at the same time in order to make this all work. In a word, we are talking about infrastructure.

  • Deregulation, replacing government telephone monopolies, especially in Africa, with competitive deployments of mobile telephony has resulted in an explosion of mobile phones everywhere except North Korea.
  • One of the most important microfinance programs has been placement of mobile phones in villages, to the considerable benefit of village society and the considerable acceleration of economic growth.
  • One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) provided the XO hardware and initial Sugar software for global education at a cost lower than printed textbooks.
  • Sugar Labs took over development of the XO's Sugar education software, and is now hosting my Replacing Textbooks project to create Open Education Resources (OERs) for every subject at every age level for every country in every language.
  • NGOs have worked out how to provide renewable electricity and broadband Internet to the remotest villages.
  • There are multiple fiber optic cables all around Africa for the first time, and massive buildout all across the continent. A number of governments, especially those engaged with OLPC, have promised to build out their networks to all of their villages.
  • UNESCO, host of WSIS, has opened up a discussion on its Web site on all of these matters, with more than a thousand participants, and invited me to lead the discussion on financing and economics. I can get you an invitation to join in.

The Short Version:

With the promised OLPC XO-3 tablet computer expected to cost $75, the hardware investment for providing them to a billion children at a time, with electricity and Internet, is about $25 billion annually, assuming that the computers are replaced with new ones every four years. In the long term, when every country is not only lifted out of poverty and misery, but attains the level of the current developed countries, this would add about $200 trillion (US, with a T) to the $74 trillion global economy. I leave it to others for now to work out the Net Present Value and Return on investment implied by such figures. I wish to point out that the financial benefits are of considerably less value than the elimination of unnecessary disease and death, of government corruption, of oppression, of helplessness and hopelessness.

The Long Version is here

I am aware that I have raised more questions than I have answered, so I invite you to ask me whatever you like.

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Are you ok?

Any chance of getting Avaaz on side?

At present they firefight brilliantly for the chained, but they don't yet overtly build. Your education comes free of chains and full of the open source creative attitudes that will breed lifelong firefighters.

Or are you sensibly waiting for XO-3 development to get it ready for the favelas, the next biggest olpc challenge?