February 24, 2006
The dream is over
This time last year, a hologram of the U2 lead singer Bono shimmered in front of a packed audience at the annual TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) conference in Monterey, California.
Bono's image, which was projected into the hall via satellite, talked about Africa in general and Ethiopia in particular. As this site reported at the time:
Bono was granted three wishes by the organisers of the TED conference. His third was "I wish for you to show the power of information - its power to rewrite the rules and to transform lives - by connecting every hospital, health clinic, and school in one African country, Ethiopia, to the Internet." TED participants are now supposed to help him make the wish a reality.
Sadly, not all wishes do become a reality. Ethan Zuckerman of ...My Heart's In Accra and Global Voices, is currently blogging from this year's TED conference and gave us an update on the status of Bono's dream for Ethiopia:
With advice from the TED community (me included) and a great deal of research, this idea was abandoned as being not the right thing to do at the moment.
It is a good job that Ethan was there to give us an update. Because I am not sure how else we would have found out that Bono's dream of switched-on schools and hospitals in Ethiopia had come to nothing.
The announcement of the wish received blanket media coverage last year. But this year, there have been no details of its demise, as far as I can see, on TED's website, which is still reporting that Bono's wish #3 as open. Nothing on the website of chip-maker AMD which this time last year issued a press release boasting AMD To Help Make Bono's Wish A Reality. Nothing on the website of Bono's own DATA organisation. Nothing on the official U2 homepage.
It's a shame, because it would be fascinating to find out exactly why a collection of the world's greatest technologists (the 800+ TED attendees) could not follow through on Bono's idea. Lots of lessons could still be learned for future tech-centred development projects.
The first lesson could be that development is really, really hard. It is a lot easier to dream up sexy ideas than to follow them through into reality. You can understand why companies like AMD jumped straight into the whole rock star glamour of the Bono-internet-Ethiopia launch, then quietly let the idea fade away into obscurity a year later. But, if I were allowed a TED wish, I would ask for a full report on the whole failure - a report that could be used as a cautionary tale and a foundation for the next tech-based big idea.
A second lesson could be that maybe, just maybe, the internet is not the answer to all of humanity's ills. In Ethiopia's drought-stricken Somali and Oromiya regions, the health centres are not calling out for internet connections. They are calling out for staff and really basic supplies - things like oral rehydration salts to stop children dying from diarrhoea. A recent survey of the Somali region's Afder and Liben zones, for example, could not find a single operating health centre.
When Ethan gets back from Monterey, it would be interesting to hear more about the research and the advice behind the whole cancellation.
Posted by aheavens at February 24, 2006 7:48 AM