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Epic Change and the TwitterKids of Tanzania

October 24, 2009  »  EducationNo Comment

school-tech

The Huffington Post’s recent (Oct. 23) article on the ‘TwitterKids of Tanzania’ highlights an interesting and very promising story. For those who haven’t heard, a classroom in Tanzania was connected to the internet for the first time. The event is made even more extraordinary when we realize that the idea to create, fund, and computerize the classroom didn’t even exist a year ago. Perhaps nothing speaks to the power of this event than the actual blog post from Epic Change:

Imagine: Students who have never even had access to a library now have access to an entire world of information. Children whose voices are seldom heard can now speak, in real time, to people, like you, across the globe. To our knowledge, it is the first classroom of its kind, a classroom in which primary school children in Africa are using twitter to share their lives with, and learn from, the rest of the world.”

Taking a step back, social media can be used in a variety of ways. A Forbes article published last July finds 21 ways to use Twitter. One of the ways is indirectly raising capital:

As in the physical world, no one likes to be solicited for contributions online. A better Twitter tack: Don’t ask, just inform. Last Thanksgiving, Epic Change, a nonprofit that encourages people to tell their stories to transform communities, launched the Tweetsgiving Web site, with the help of theKbuzz, a word-of-mouth marketing firm. Tweetsgiving asked people to tweet what they were grateful for, and compiled the responses at #tweetsgiving, with a link back to the Tweetsgiving site, where users had the option of contributing money to build classrooms in Tanzania. Over the 48-hour campaign, 15,000 people came to the Tweetsgiving site; 360 donated, for a total of $11,000. “We never asked people to give,” says Stacey Monk, founder of Epic Change. “We got people invested in their own, personalized way.”

Such non-traditional thinking is exactly what it will take to provide a proper technological education for the youth of Africa. The world is entirely aware of the need for better schooling in Africa, but is either uncertain how to provide assistance, too complacent, or too focused on their own domestic issues. A new medium of giving, such as Twitter, makes it enjoyable to help, especially when donors (or the public for that matter) can chat online with the students they are helping. A popular organization like Save the Children, for example, can not boast real-time communication between sponsor and recipient. Plus, the children can now make their voices heard to the world.

How does Epic Change make such a difference? Their website outlines the four steps. I especially like #3:

  1. Raise money by accepting donations
  2. Use the donations to make loans to fund efforts that will promote positive change in the communities they serve
  3. Facilitate loan repayment by developing income-generating projects that share the stories of the foundation and community
  4. Recycle repaid loans to help fund changes in other communities

Finally, I’ll close with some costs for 32kbps download/28kbps upload Internet access in Tanzania, courtesy of The Epic Change Blog (in USD):

  • Set-up cost: $1300
  • Monthly fees: $60
  • GDP per capita: $1300

Imagine paying $47,000 in the United States to set up a dial-up connection in the year 2009. Fortunately, ICT costs in Tanzania are expected to decline rapidly now that the SEACOM cable is operational. Also, mobile phones are providing new alternatives to fiber optic lines.