Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Stop Drawing racial lines in the Sand, Take Action

Recently Mandy Dewaal wrote a post entitled "Who's who in the web 2.0 zoo", and she concluded that web 2.0 was a "whiteboys club". Something you would bound to agree with given the people noted in the article. However, Ramon Thomas responded with “Who’s who in the non-white Web 2.0 South African Zoo“.

I asked a similar question on this blog several weeks back, "Where are all the black bloggers and readers?" and noted we needed practical steps. Posts like Mandy's and Ramons are counter productive and actually serve no purpose as they are separating us in groups. Nic pointed this out as well on his blog and Nur Ahmed also looks at the issue on his blog.

Blogging about things like this actually does nothing other then change perceptions and as i pointed out in my previous post the only thing that really matters is ACTION and practical solutions. It boils to down to access to ICT and education. I posted on why access to ICT is a key economic driver as quoted below:

"In a study (PDF) by Harvard economist Robert Jensen he reported that when mobile phones were launched in kerala in 1997, Fisherman used the phones to call local markets while still at sea. This in turned helped raise profits by 8%, lowering consumer prices by 4% and reduced catch wastage from 6.5% to practically nothing."

Instead of asking these silly questions and debating issues that draw racial lines in the sand(which further perpetuates difference and hatred and turns into this), we should be asking:

- How can we use technology, to uplift people in poverty?
- How can we grant people people who don't have access to ICT that access?
- How can we TRAIN people with very little knowledge of technology cheaply and efficiently?
- How can we use technology to stimulate entrepreneurship for people in poverty?

This should not be about race, but about empowerment not based on skin colour but of PEOPLE IN POVERTY, irrespective of race.

Having said that, i recently started a project to actually take action and use the varied skills everyone has to make a change. I posted about it on techleader and created a google group to discuss practical steps. However, no one bothered to join. With only 9 members, i am forced to conclude that no one really cares (except for a few) we are more interested in blowing smoke, debating issues, blogging about making a difference while having dinners, meetups and networking events amongst a selected few, "the technology savvy/early adopter crowd". We can have conferences to spread ideas, but the only thing that will matter is ACTION.

So lets re-frame this, and let me give you a purely selfish reason why you should care.

Our country is facing serious economic issues and social unrest. We have fuel prices being hiked, interest rates going up, massive food shortages and inflation at the highest level in recent times. Do not get me wrong, this is not a doom and gloom post i am just pointing out the facts of the current situation. We may not feel the pinch, but people below the bread line will definitely and this could lead to social unrest.

South Africa has about 47 million people and according to a report by world wide worx only 8% internet penetration as of November 2007. Based on these figures that equates to just over 3.7 Million people. This means, that South Africa has a very small economy of scale for any Internet Company / Blog / Online media company, This means less profits, less people viewing your blog, less people joining your niche social networks, less people clicking on your adsense ads. It also means less tech savvy people, less people who would study internet or IT engineering related fields, which makes it more difficult to source talent for companies.

So look at it this way, if you could increase that penetration you could increases the number of people that are tech savvy, increase the number of people that are educated and trained, you increase people who could have the right skills for jobs, increase people clicking on your ads and you get more profits, and we are also better off as a country with more people out of poverty, more people educated and trained and more people that are economically productive. Now, these may seem like big goals but they are not when you consider the power of technology and drastically reduced costs of publication and co-ordination.

So here's an open challenge to the white boys club, the non white boys club and everyone else, basically all of us:

Rather then point out the elephant in the room which does nothing but acknowledge that it exists.

Ask yourself: what small practical steps can we take, to make a difference?

Ramon, you run Netucation: how about free training for those that can't afford it?
Nic, you seem to write well on your blogs, how about training on how to blog online and run a business from blogging?
Dave Durate, you run a programme at UCT, how about a competition giving someone a sponsored place at the next one? If that is out of the question we could raise money from the tech community or get a sponsor

These are just a few of the ideas, off the top of my head. Small things like this will actually make a difference.

The question really is Do you really care enough to to do something.

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Muhammad said...

Yoh. Awesome post bro. Really makes sense.

Two things we need to keep in mind...

1) What is our goal with Web 2.0? What do we want to achieve?

2) Is what we're doing taking us there?

It's a bit simplistic, I know... but its very relevant for us to keep focused.


Ismail D said...

Good point, we can choose to use social media web 2.0 to cut deals and for selfish purposes.... which will MAYBE enrich just ourselves or choose to look at bigger social/economic problems which will definitely make everyone better off.

khathu said...

Great post, with practical ideas. It does not have to be about black or white..it can be about SA for a change. I am doing my bit to carry the cause.