Africa in Virtual Worlds

…Journal of our Experiences with Social Media and Virtual Worlds to date…

Wise Crowds Gathering in Virtual Worlds

The longer I stroll around in SECONDLIFE with a little avater that vaguely resemble my younger, ideal self, the more I am being reminded about the ‘wisdom of crowds’ (as per the book with the same title written by James Surowiecki). Yes, conventional wisdom teaches that if we want to get things done, we do it ourselves…or if we want it done right, we turn to a passionate leader. However, as I immerse myself into the full-colour, lively world of SL, it dawns on me that there is nothing convensional about this environment and it certainly will not require traditional thinking models: There are few boundaries, except those imposed by the ‘crowd’ itself where peer-pressure and social networks, feedback loops between users and developers, and the convergence of social media determine the next step. And in all this, I cannot help but think about the ‘missing continent’ in the default resource-related constitution of this virtual crowd – African people living in African spaces and fundamentally excluded from interaction here. And once again, the establishment of a virtual platform for collaboration with African civil society – using the latest technology and most appropriate social networking tools – is confirmed as an important mission for our organisation. And No, it DOES NOT mean that all Africans will be able to access SecondLife, but more about that later…

In his brilliant book, “The Meaning of the 21st Century”, James Martin pleads that we “build something better than a society with endless mostly trivial comsumer goods”. Vaclav Havel, the deeply philosophical ex-president of the Czech Republic wrote: “It is necessary to change our understanding of the true purpose of what we are and what we do in the world”. This new brand of collaboration for the sake of ‘beyond the self’ (for humanity) will enable us to create new models of doing business, of living harmoniously on an endangered planet called Earth. I am excited about our loose affiliation with the EOLUS initiative, and recent informal discussions with IBM about doing a project together to promote African music and South Africa, specifically. It is but early days…

Then, I recieved an email from AMD and am immediately encouraged with fresh thinking: “50×15’s mission is to enable affordable, accessible Internet connectivity and computing capabilities for 50 percent of the world’s population by the year 2015. Our vision is “A Connected Global Population.”

50×15 and a number of other companies are sponsoring the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) e-Schools demonstration project, consisting of six schools in each of the 16 participating countries, for a period of 12 months. Specifically, we’re helping to provide computing devices and Internet access for schools in Uganda, East Africa, Mali, W. Africa, and soon to many other areas of the Continent. Apart from NEPAD, we’ve built these “Learning Labs” in Diepsloot and Gugulethu, S. Africa”.

And when I visit the AMD’s SecondLife SIM, I sense the untangible passion to make a difference beyond brand, bottom-line and market share – 15 influential companies getting together for a bigger cause related to NEPAD, to (finally) replenish Africa with a strong realisation of it being stripped from its resources, plundered for what its soil holds – from minerals to oil to labour. This is the moral imperative for giving back, for including and for providing access to technology. And yet, there is the danger that lurks – to deny the very people that have always solved their own problems without any assistance. Only by working closely (too close for comfort!) with civil society, and filling products and services and solutions with african intellect, will sustainable interventions last. It will not merely be adopted by Africans, or embraced by Africans, but designed and owned by Africans.

AMD and 50×15 Project

We have defined our role in Secondlife clearly in our own minds and hearts – to bring the voices of African residents forward, to share our own African solutions for the global problems we all face in the world. We will celebrate those companies, professionals and individuals that have the courage to look beyond their own intellectual capacity to civil society for the innovation they seek… We are looking forward to bring you the BOTTOM-OF-THE-PRYAMID INNOVATION CENTRE on the Virtual Africa sim(s) and link it up with these brilliant initiatives. Indeed, the complexity of the worlds problems require interconnected solutions – with its challenges such as climate change, safety and security, poverty, war, disease, skills gaps and digital exclusion. We need to be trans-disciplinary in tackling challenges and we must set out with determination to develop wisdom of crowds in the most inclusive ways possible. Does SECONDLIFE not offer a wonderful window of opportunity to create a better FIRSTLIFE? And does LINDEN LAB understand the future and the potential of what they have provided – beyond consumerism and bottom-line?? More importantly, can we, as civil society, as ordinary people use the platform to its full value to tap into the wisdom of its crowd, and connect it with the wisdom of other crowds..

Let me tell you categorically where we stand: UTHANGO Social Investments has an energised local crowd of dedicated, ordinary South Africans and we are willing to collaborate and find the resources (financial and otherwise) to make a difference in the way we solve problems and in the processes we use to address complex issues. We invite collaborating partners to join our crowd and bring their wisdom!



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