January 20, 2003 - Seattle Times: Chile and Honduras RPCV Dwight Wilson wants to see web access in poor villages

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By Admin1 (admin) on Monday, January 27, 2003 - 9:27 pm: Edit Post

Chile and Honduras RPCV Dwight Wilson wants to see web access in poor villages





Caption: Dwight Wilson, executive director of World Corps, wants to spread Internet access to poor, rural areas of developing nations.

Read and comment on this story from the Seattle Times on RPCV Dwight Wilson who served in Chile and Honduras and wants to see web access in poor villages. He founded World Corps in 1998 to bring computers and the Internet to the developing world an attempt to combat poverty and improve conditions through technology. Over the past year, World Corps has set up five computer centers in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. This month, with funding from the United Nations and Ford Foundation, it will launch programs in Kenya and Mexico, and later this year it will expand to the Philippines. Read the story at:

Visionary sees Web upgrading poor villages*

* This link was active on the date it was posted. PCOL is not responsible for broken links which may have changed.



Visionary sees Web upgrading poor villages

By Jason Margolis

Seattle Times staff reporter

DEAN RUTZ / THE SEATTLE TIMES

In the small, rural village of Gudipalle, India, most of the residents live in huts with corrugated-metal or palm-leaf roofs. Running water is at a premium, the literacy rate is 37 percent, and around 70 percent of the people, mostly farmers, live in poverty. But in a back room of a store on the only commercial block in town, the villagers have a new computer with Internet connection, thanks to the Seattle organization World Corps.

Founded in 1998, World Corps is working to bring computers and the Internet to the developing world an attempt to combat poverty and improve conditions through technology. Over the past year, World Corps has set up five computer centers in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. This month, with funding from the United Nations and Ford Foundation, it will launch programs in Kenya and Mexico, and later this year it will expand to the Philippines.

While the Internet has reached the developing world before, technology has remained in well-established urban areas, rarely penetrating the rural countryside. World Corps is among the first to attempt to reach rural populations with computers and to stick around to train people in how to use them.

It's a multinational nonprofit with a global reach on three continents, but the operation begins in downtown Seattle from a small sixth-floor suite with two employees, Executive Director Dwight Wilson and fund-raising coordinator Shawnee Keck.

"If our region becomes known as a place that trains and births global citizens, that's what I want Seattle to be known for," said Wilson, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Chile and Honduras.

World Corps was created by Wilson along with six people from other countries, all graduates of Earth Corps. Wilson began that Seattle program in 1993 to bring 18- to 24-year-olds from the developing world to Washington state for training in environmental conservation.

In Earth Corps, volunteers from across the globe take part in ecosystem restoration projects in King County as part of their environmental training, then return to their home countries with new skills.

With World Corps, Wilson said he and his colleagues wanted to shift the classroom abroad and create a global business organization.

In places like India, World Corps selects young people from local populations and trains them, in a classroom and on the job, in small-business management and information technology. It then helps them secure loans and office space to run small businesses.

To date, 15 Indians have been trained by World Corps workers. Teams of three Indians maintain five centers where town residents can use a computer or copy machine. Each center resembles a small, bare-bones Kinko's. World Corps says 15,000 people have used the centers so far.

"When people don't have access to resources, to basic information, it's a very powerful way to keep people in a state of poverty," said Wilson.

For this first effort, World Corps selected five small towns in the Kuppam constituency, a jurisdiction similar to a U.S. county, because of strong support from the chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, Chandrababu Naidu, who is trying to improve one of the poorest areas of India through technology.

The Andhra Pradesh government is investing about $1.25 million in World Corps for training grants and startup loans for the centers over the next two years.

In Seattle, World Corps has an annual budget of $700,000 to cover other operations. Roughly half of the money comes from private donations in the U.S., a third of that from the Puget Sound area.

Keck said the economic downturn has made it increasingly difficult to attract donors, especially in Washington state, and the organization has been forced to step up fund raising outside of the area.

It's never easy, Wilson added, to attract money for a project halfway around the world.

While the goal of easing poverty is not disputed, some question if the World Corps vision is the best way to serve poor, rural areas; arguments abound on how best to improve conditions in places like Kuppam, where many basic needs are still unmet. Most of the villagers in Kuppam can't read or write, much less type, so critics wonder if technology and the Internet can make an impact.

"Five years ago I had that same question. ... I believe you don't have to start with health and education. I think that's too simplistic," said Wilson. "I see no reason why you can't fight poverty on several fronts."

With computers, Wilson says farmers receive up-to-the-minute information on the weather, where to sell their crops for the best prices, job opportunities and news. Local villagers can also pay government bills online to save time.

Even if most people in Kuppam can't read, information can be disseminated by the literate and computer savvy. Hewlett-Packard is also working to develop voice-recognition software in the local Telugu language to increase the number of potential computer users.

Still, computers remain a novelty in Kuppam. While some are using the Internet as intended, crowds haven't yet materialized, and often the computer users are young men going online to play games or look at pornography.

In rural Kenya, meanwhile, World Corps' problems include a lack of electricity and phone lines to link remote areas to the Internet. Also, few young women are getting involved, said program coordinator Joseph Maruti, who worked with Earth Corps for two years in King County.

As with a new business, results from the World Corps program will take time.

Wilson said his long-term dream is to begin a private Peace Corps with its headquarters in the Northwest. The large-scale program would be open not only to Americans but to volunteers worldwide. He said the idea remains at the discussion stage.

Jason Margolis: 206-464-2145 or jmargolis@seattletimes.com.

Copyright © 2003 The Seattle Times Company

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