The Limits of the Networks
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El-Ghar is a town of around 100,000 people, situated in the Nile basin about 50 miles from Cairo. Most of the inhabitants work on farms surrounding the town, with the burgeoning market providing an outlet for their produce. Despite the basic day-to-day life of its inhabitants, there are many poorer areas in Egypt, and certainly through, Africa. Among the 100,000 denizens of El-Ghar, there is precisely one telephone line.
This solitary telephone line is not a shared commodity, but the proud possession of one of the town's wealthiest people. The United Nations Development Programme has sponsored more than 80 access points to the Internet for poor people in Egypt and has provided Arabic-language content that is specifically useful for farmers and other rural poor. The program's volunteers came to El-Ghar, intending to show people the resources they could access, but at the last minute, the telephone line owner changed his mind about allowing them to use his precious status symbol. As a substitute, the volunteers downloaded some of the system's pages onto their laptop and used them to show the villagers what they could access if they went to the Internet center in the nearby city. One of the farmers later happily reported that he'd discovered improved fertilization methods on the system.
Sitting comfortably in the United States or other highly developed countries, calling colleagues on cell phones, picking up our email on mobile devices, and downloading music files on the Internet, it's easy to forget quite how starkly different life is for the majority of the world's population. Our lovely planet Earth is packed with well over six billion people. Of those, probably close to half have never made a telephone call, and less than one in ten has access to the Internet.
ROSS DAWSON is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Advanced Human Technologies, an international consulting firm that helps leading organizations develop strategy and client relationships in the digital, connected economy. He is author of the bestseller "Developing Knowledge-Based Client Relationships: The Future of Professional Services" and more than 50 articles on international business. Dawson is in demand worldwide for his innovative work as a keynote speaker, workshop presenter, and strategy facilitator. His global media appearances include CNN, Bloomberg TV, SkyNews, European Business Network, and Channel News Asia.
Prior to founding Advanced Human Technologies in 1996, Dawson worked in a variety of senior positions in London, Tokyo, and Sydney, most recently as Global Director, Capital Markets, at Thomson Financial. He speaks five languages.
Ross can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)