Empowerment programmes

After running and selling a business it took fourteen years to build, I swore I would never employ another person as long as I lived. This took me onto the net. Where I have been fishing ever since and like most fisherman have tall tales to tell.

It has been a long journey. Following paths that fan out, converge and disappear in a swirl of dust. But there is always another to follow, something to learn,  an idea to explore.

One of my earliest experiences with hosting, was with MJZ Hosting which¬† became Hole in the Wall Hosting. One of the first low cost service providers and I have often wondered whether the name change had anything to do with an experiment undertaken in the slums of New Delhi in the late 90’s.

“………….. some colleagues and I sunk a computer into the opening of a wall near our office in Kalkaji, New Delhi. The area was located in an expansive slum, with desperately poor people struggling to survive. The screen was visible from the street, and the PC was available to anyone who passed by. The computer had online access and a number of programs that could be used, but no instructions were given for its use.

What happened next astonished us. Children came running out of the nearest slum and glued themselves to the computer. They couldn’t get enough. They began to click and explore. They began to learn how to use this strange thing. A few hours later, a visibly surprised Vivek said the children were actually surfing the Web.

We left the PC where it was, available to everyone on the street, and within six months the children of the neighborhood had learned all the mouse operations, could open and close programs, and were going online to download games, music and videos. We asked them how they had learned all of these sophisticated maneuvers, and each time they told us they had taught themselves.

We repeated the experiment in two other locations: in the city of Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh (Digvijay Singh, a prominent politician, was interested in our research), and in a village called Madantusi in Uttar Pradesh. Both of these experiments showed the same result as the Kalkaji experiment: The children seemed to learn to use the computer without any assistance. Language did not matter, and neither did education.

The way this worked, one child would explore randomly while the others watch, until an accidental discovery is made. Several children then repeat the discovery for themselves by asking the first child to let them try it. Then one or more of the children would make more accidental or incidental discoveries and in the continual process, make more discoveries.

The group dividing itself into the “knows” and the “know-nots,” much as they might divide themselves into “haves” and “have-nots”. However, a child that knows will share that knowledge in return for friendship and reciprocity of information, unlike with the ownership of physical things, where they can use force to get what they do not have.

When you “take” information, the donor doesn’t have to “lose” it!”

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