Bridging the Knowledge Gap

I recently came across the below ad online — part of a series called Google Search stories. The video demonstrates the positive effect that access to information– in this case access to the world wide web– can have on entrepreneurship and business creation in developing countries.

The video tells the story of Kenyan farmer Zack Matere, who noticed that his healthy crop of potatoes was suddenly dying one by one, much to his puzzlement. After riding his bike 12 km to a cyber cafe and doing a Google search for potato pests and diseases, he identified the problem: ants.  The search results offered a simple solution to the problem, which Matere used on his crops once he returned home.  Two months later, the crops had rebounded and he was able to harvest them.  He even used that initial Google search to find a customer for his crops in a neighboring town who paid more than what he was currently getting.

Not only did Matere use the Internet to help save his crops, he also used it to help farmers in rural communities to access information and knowledge necessary for finding solutions to the everyday challenges that they face. After witnessing the powerful effects that the Internet had on his life, Matere needed to help the community see that the Internet and access to information was important and relevant for their lives.  Many farmers cannot afford a mobile phone with Internet access and have to travel long distances to access the Internet in cyber cafes with Internet access that is often down.  To fix this problem, Matere became the link between the Internet and the community.

Matere came up with a simple but powerful solution to the complex problem of reaching and interacting with a huge farming community spread out over 50 sq km.  He placed a local bulletin board with print-outs of text messages, e-mails, photos, and articles all discussing local issues that he got on his mobile phone with Internet access . This “Internet notice board” provided a way for the entire community to be able access information on their own.

From this start, Matere started a project entitled “Leo Pamoja” (or “Together Today” in Swahili) to enable rural communities’ access to information by placing the Internet notice boards in local squares and meeting places throughout the region.  The project has since expanded to 26 notice boards in 20 villages and six primary schools with the capacity to reach 70,000 with regularly updated digital content.

Matere sets an example for other young entrepreneurs in developing countries to figure out the best ways to bridge Internet access to their communities to ensure optimal access to information for their communities.  CIPE believes that access to information can help entrepreneurs like Matere turn their ideas into reality and create jobs to help stimulate developing economies through innovation and the commercialization of new products. Like Matere says in his video, “When people have the knowledge, they can find solutions without having to be helped out.”

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