Access to Knowledge for the Developing World

Over 50% of Africans own cellphones

Over 50% of Africans own cellphones – and use them for banking and accessing information

Over 50% of Africans own cellphones – and use them for banking and accessing information[/caption]

In order to scale the work that Translators without Borders does to support humanitarian NGOs we’re building an online platform, and as well as Google are both donating important pieces of the technology to bring this project to life. This will make it possible for us to create a self-managing community where professional translators can interact directly with the NGOs who need their help.

Our first goal is to extend the work we do, mostly supporting NGOs to help people in crisis situations. This week we’ve done translations in support of work in Haiti, Yemen, Pakistan, Niger, Chad, Congo, Nigeria and Kenya. Some of the texts are heart-breaking, of course, but others are quite uplifting, like projects to build a school in Gaza, a multimedia lab in Kabul and a garment microfinance business in Sri Lanka.

But there’s another use for the online platform we are building, and talking to Enrique Cavalitto of just now, I feel more confidence than ever in this vision. Enrique shares the vision that our self-managing community can extend to translators in developing world languages to translate important medical, technical, scientific and educational content to open up vast knowledge resources in local languages.

This is one of the reasons I’m going to Kenya, to find out what it’s like for them when they can’t access information as easily as we can when they need to know how to treat a sick child, let alone find out the latest farming techniques, learn how to build a generator, follow what the scientific community is doing or even get a university degree.

There’s a wall between most people on this planet and all that knowledge that we have access to, knowledge that has the power to save lives, improve family incomes, extend longevity, boost economies, and so much more. And that wall is language.

What can we do about it?