Googling to Prosperity

The search engine giant Google has entered the development foray. As we previously reported during the MDG Summit, Google launched the H2O initiative in partnership with UN-Habitat, to improve access to clean drinking water, as well as provide a community-oriented approach to data collection with the help of Google Earth. Continuing this trend, Google has launched “Google Africa” in an effort to bring the revolutionary power of the internet to some of the worlds most needy. As the Google Africa Official Blog states:

“We believe that the Internet is a transformational force for societies… Making us all much more powerful as individuals regardless of whether one is in New York, Stockholm, Bujumbura, Ouagadougou, or Cape Town. Regardless of background, education, social status, gender, age or economic situation, online access to information enables people to create opportunities for themselves”

Google has its fair share of challenges in its lofty ambition to bring the internet to Africa. A 2009 report by the UN supported International Telecommunications Union, estimates that a mere 8.8% of the African population has access to the internet. Despite a 20-fold increase in use since 2000,  internet connectivity remains reachable only by the middle class and by businesses located in major African cities. A continent with a large illiterate population, thousands of diverse languages, and where the majority of people live in rural communities without electricity, the challenges appear insurmountable. So what, exactly, is Google doing?

In their goal of “democratizing the internet”, the Googlers in Africa have been quite busy:

  • Creating forums for developers to have their website critiqued
  • Opening access to Google Universities for Africans to learn code
  • Creating African language Google interfaces, including African language Google health interfaces –imperative for knowledge-based healthcare
  • Expanding broadband access across sub-Sahara Africa. Partnering with HSBC bank and Liberty Global cable company, Google launched the O3b (Other 3 Billion) Network with the goal of making the internet “accessible and affordable for everyone on the planet”. As, the White African reported somewhat sceptically in early September, this has been attempted before –unsuccessfully
  • Building mobile-web forums, where Android phones experiment with new platforms for web-browsing

If all goes to Google’s plan, equipped with broadband and innovative technology, Africans will one day soon be Googling their way to prosperity.

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