Social Entrepreneurship

Sam B.

Closing the Digital Divide: Social Entrepreneurship

President Clinton said "It is dangerously destabilizing to have half the world on the cutting edge of technology while the other half struggles on the bare edge of survival." In 1996 Bill Clinton helped bring the digital divide problem to national attention and tried to close it by devoting additional funds to public schools and libraries. However, recent administrations have lost interest in the digital divide and have left problem solving to the public sector. The problem solvers come in the form of social entrepreneurs. Social entrepreneurs “recognize when a part of society is stuck and to provide new ways to get it unstuck. They find what does not work and solve the problem by changing the system, spreading the solution and persuading entire societies to take new leaps” (What Is Social Entrepreneurship). Social entrepreneurs who work to close the digital divide allow for the have nots to expand job opportunities, solve medical problems, and have a better quality of life. These social entrepreneurs provide internet access, technologies, education, and develop new technologies to close the digital divide.
Internet Availability

Organizations that try to close the digital divide most often provide the computers but they do not give access to the internet. These areas can be found in developing countries around the world. The use of these computers can not be fully maximized because the user has only the programs that came on the computer available to them. This isolates the user and prevents them from connecting with people from around the world. Also, in impoverished areas institutions can not afford the high restrictive subscription fees that come with the access to scientific knowledge and scientific journals. The Rural Internet Kiosk project has set out to fix the problem of limited access to internet and Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative is working to allow for open access.
The Rural Internet Kiosk has been designed to solve the lack of internet in rural areas. The small self contained kiosk has a solar powered hub that has satellite connectivity which allows for fifteen users to access the internet. The small kiosk even has three computers so people who do not have access to a computer can still use the internet (Cunningham). The kiosk has not been used in the United States because the digital divide in America is mostly caused by the lack of access to a computer and most computers in the United States are able to get online.
Open access has become a problem in developing countries because institutions need to access certain information but are unable to afford it. The Health InterNetwork Access to Research Initiative works to allow open access information to developing countries. HINARI interacts with publishers to allow for free or low cost journals available to institutions in developing countries. HINARI was first launched in 2002 making 1500 articles available from six different publishers. Currently HINARI allows over 7000 health and medical journals to be accessed in health institutions in 109 countries (Musakali).

Providing Computers Impoverished Areas
The obvious way to close the digital divide and give access to technology is to give impoverished areas computers. One Laptop Per Child has that basic idea except they focus on providing children with computers. OLPC strives to provide children in poverty areas in the United States and world wide with laptops that have programs already on them that will allow them to better the computer. The OLPC has five core principals that drive their program. The first two principals express that the laptops need to go to children and they have to be of a young age. OLPC wants the children to become educated so they can better their lives and the future of there communities. The third principal stresses saturation, which means that they want many children in multiple communities to have access to the computers. OPLC wants children from around the world to be able to connect with one another to share ideas. The fourth, connection, allows for the children to explore, experiment, and express themselves. This will allow for the children to learn from one another. The last principal is free and open source. This makes it easier to access much needed information that may have previously required a subscription or had limited access.  
Before just giving people laptops OLPC makes sure that the information needed to educate the people will be available to user. Professor Sameer Verma who works for OLPC thinks by providing laptops that have open source operating systems and ones that come with books, wikipedia and other software already on them so the people who use will be able to solve local problems such as stagnant water. He said "If they only had a little more information, they could solve their own issues and not have to deal with poor health"(Bruntz). The laptops would be able to network with one another but many areas that the laptops will be provided would not have internet. The laptops would give them the ability to educate themselves and then better there community. This education can get them out of poverty.

The technologies that multiple organizations provide to impoverished areas can only close the digital divide if the user knows how to properly operate the technology. As former president of Intel Craig Barrett said "Computers aren't magic…Teachers are magic." The non-profit organization stresses the importance of how to operate technology. The foundation was launched with 200 organizational partners in 70 countries (Korngold). Microsoft, International Development Research Centre and the Swiss agency for development created the organization to provide technology and education to areas that can not afford access to them. sets up centers that provide access to computers and the internet. The computer literate and educated mangers of the centers teach the low income users how to operate and maximize the benefits of technology. The computers can be used to learn about new agricultural techniques that they can benefit from. Also, the users learn how to connect with doctors to better diagnose and treat illnesses such as glaucoma, cataracts, malaria, AIDS/HIV, and tuberculosis (Korngold). The centers benefit both the individual users and the whole community.
Focusing in the United States
Only 10.9% of people in Africa have access to the internet compared to over 77% of Americans ( This shows why the majority of organizations and group that are working to close the digital divide often try to reach rural areas in laces such as Africa and India. This helps develop a secure future for these developing countries however, this means that there are still many people in the United States that do not have access to technology. Montana may seem like an unlikely place for the digital divide to flourish but with 34% of children in household with an income below $30,000 which largely live in rural areas. Also, another area in need of help is parts of Indiana. They have been losing technology workers to bigger cities. An organization that is working to help in Indiana is INITA.
Another organization that acts strictly locally is INITA. INITA is based out of Indiana and was originally made to bridge the gap between the technology haves and the have-nots. The organization hopes that by teaching children at a younger age in there own state how to operate they will be more willing to work in Indiana in a technology field instead of leaving the community and working in another area that is known for it technology businesses. So the education that they provide will not only benefit the future of the children but it will add jobs and opportunities to the whole local community and economy.
Bridging the Digital Divide based out of North Houston provides three ways for local children to close the digital divide. They provide the actual hardware, the internet access and also help provide education of how to use the technology. The BDD first supplies children with computers that have been donated to them by individuals. These computers are not the newest or best but they feel that any technology can help. However, instead of stopping there the BDD also has provided one area with internet access so that these computers can be used to their full potential. This way the BDD gives some of the poor of Houston all the technology necessities that they need. Also, the BDD has created a program to get children excited and educated about computers. The program is called the computer olympics and it is a competition that promotes children to learn how to use and operate computers. The competition has different categories of computer use for young children and then awards bronze, silver and gold metals to the children that are top performers. This will promote computer use among the children and will help close the digital divide in the United States. It educates the children while providing them with computers and internet access.
New Technology
New technology has made it less expensive and easier for impoverished areas to receive and use technology. Less expensive computers make technology much more accessible to lower class citizens. Current companies are working to make a practical laptop that costs under a hundred dollars. “The Nivo Ndiyo project, the OLPC laptop, and the Intel classmate PC are all laptops that cost under $350 and can be accessed by impoverished areas” (Malakooty,8). $350 is a very inexpensive laptop however when it is being supplied to a large amount of people it is very expensive. Recently in July 2010 Mr. Kapil Sibal, the Indian Minister of Human Resource and experts from Indian Institute of Technology Kanpur, released a “$35 touch screen tablet computer. The device was conceived 5 years ago as a response to OLPC’s laptop, which is currently priced at $199.”(Sandesh) Making technology cheaper is one way to close the gap however, another way is to invent something new.
In some areas community members have access to computers however these are shared by everyone. This makes it impossible for people to have personal information stored on the computer and these computers often do not have open source software. The WiHood which was designed in 2007 in Norway has been made to solve this problem. The WiHood bracelet has been designed as both a bracelet and a USB. It has been designed as a wearable bracelet for children and can hold open source versions of Microsoft software, RSS reader, games and a child-safe web blocker, and any other personal information. The bracelet can plug into a computer just like a normal USB and allow for the user to have there own personalized and familiar settings (Cummings). This will allow for multiple users to safely work on personal things and still operate on one computer.
Social entrepreneurship plays a vital role in closing the digital divide. Without organizations such as OLPC and the BDD, countless impoverished areas would lack basic technologies and the skills to use them. Social entrepreneurs give the have nots a chance to get out of poverty. The founder of OLPC Nicholas Negroponte said "Computing is not about computers any more. It is about living." The goal of these social entrepreneurs is not to just simply provide areas with technology, their goal is to better the have nots quality of life

Works Cited

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Bruntz, Michael. "Making a Difference One Laptop at a Time – SF State News – San Francisco State University." San Francisco State University. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.

Resolving the Digital Divide: Summary of Recommendations." National Coordination Office for Networking and Information Technology Research and Development (NCO/NITRD). Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.

Sandesh. "The ‘nano’ Computer." AshokaTECH: Technology, Invention and Social Entrepreneurship. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.

Cummings, Ashly Metz. "WiHood Bracelets Make Computer Education Portable." AshokaTECH: Technology, Invention and Social Entrepreneurship. Web. 28 Nov. 2010. <>.

Cunningham, Clair. "Rural Internet Kiosk." Social Enterprise. Web. 19 Nov. 2010. <>.

Korngold, Alice. "Microsoft and Providing Free Internet Access and ICTs To One Billion People By 2015 | Fast Company." FastCompany. Web. 23 Nov. 2010. <>.

Malakooty, Nina. "Closing the Digital Divide? $100 PC and Other Projects for Developing Countries." Personal Computing Industry Center (2007): 2-10. Print.

Musakali, Joseph J. "Bridging the Digital Divide through Open Access." SciDev.Net. 06 Jan. 2010. Web. 23 Nov. 2010. <>.