In order to get modern technology such as computers into the hands of impoverished nations, the business plan of selling computers has to be localised.
Way back in 2004, an ambitious project was launched called the PCtvt project, which aimed to bring computers to third-world and developing countries.
The idea wasn’t simply to donate computers, but to develop a business plan that would solve the problems of getting new computers into the hands of people in these areas, and the final solution they came up with was a device that was a combination of computer, television, and phone. The concept was solid, the idea being that with one device we could bring entire populations into the digital world at a low price point, but ultimately the project went nowhere. It did, however, underline an important new concept: Technology, just like high quality translation work, must be localised in order to succeed.
People living in underdeveloped or impoverished nations do not live under the same economic conditions as you or I presumably do. A new computer with a fair number of bells and whistles that costs a few hundred dollars may seem like a perfectly reasonable investment for us, but what if you don’t see a few hundred dollars all year long?
So, the business models that work in my country won’t work in poorer nations. If we want to get technology into the hands of the poor people of the world to equalise access to information (and let’s face it, more and more of the world is accessible only via digital means) we have to re-think the business model and make it more local, just as we have to re-think translation services when targeting subcultures.
Cell Phones Show the Way
A great example of technology being localised almost by accident is the mobile phone. Mobile phones are the one piece of modern technology that are widely available throughout some of the poorer nations in the world, for a few simple reasons.
One, they are cheap, especially older phones that have been collected from Western users and donated or re-sold – yet they still function perfectly well. Two, they are, by definition, mobile. Once charged they can roam far from any power source as long as the battery lasts, and because they run off satellite connections you don’t need infrastructure in the ground to use them. And they are cheap enough that when they stop working even the poorest people can acquire another one fairly easily.
One Laptop Per Child
In 2006, the concept of a localised business plan for getting computers to low-income nations finally saw reality with One Laptop Per Child, which initially sought to create a laptop computer that would sell for just $100. Today the price remains a bit higher (over $200 by some accounts) but the project has demonstrated the need for localisation in this endeavour.
Image courtesy growthineastafrica.wordpress.com