This is NOT Easy
To say this project is not easy is the understatement of my life. I'll be vulnerable here and say that my naive expectation is that we could simply set up an optimized edge network, drop a few apps, and increase participation massively. "Give me a few weeks, and we'll get it done." Even though I've done this before, I'll admit that I never expected the challenges we uncovered in this project. But, the beauty in these challenges is that we are collectively knocking them out, collectively learning, and are now creating blueprints for follow-on communities and making the impossible possible. And, it's worth it!
Setting out to connect and gain participation from the next 3.8B people on the planet is no easy task. This is why we must use the collective genius of a partner network. We learned this lesson early on with our first pilot project in Luumbo, Zambia. Luumbo is located a few hours south of Lusaka and is home to a few thousand residents. They have a primary school and rural health clinic and have connectivity provided by one of our partners, African Mobile Networks (AMN). In the words of their Founder and CEO, Mike Darcy, AMN's vision is "a fully-connected Africa, with no community of any significant size being without basic telecommunications services to deliver social, economic, educational and other benefits to the population." AMN is a fantastic partner to the N50 Project, and you can learn more about them here.
However, just because a community has telecommunications services does not automatically mean people will connect and utilize the network (see blog on connectivity). This is why in Luumbo, the first thing we learned we needed to do, was to work directly with the community. We hired a local project manager who worked with the leaders in the community, the teachers, the nurses, farmers, and others and asked what they needed. To no surprise, education, healthcare, and current events are at the top of the list. So with the help of partners, we set out to tackle the challenge of providing these services.
We were able to work with Mwabu, who has nearly 5,000 lesson plans and 2,500 videos designed for Zambian Children. Additionally, we were able to work with another partner, Virtual Doctors, to put a non-emergency health app in the community. And finally, we were able to work with a partner website in Lusaka to curate current event content. This works with our partners FreedomFI and picoNETS to deliver this life-enriching content with an excellent experience to an optimized edge network running on Dell laptops.
Coordinating all the moving parts and making sure they work seamlessly together to deliver a good experience for the community takes time. It takes deep resources working on the ground in the community. In fact, in full disclosure, this pilot has taken us about a year to get to the point of installation. We ran into setbacks we never expected. It all takes time, from shipping delays to customs approvals, to surveying the residents, etc. And the patience shown by all of the partners involved is probably the one thing I'm most proud of with this pilot. Every week for a year, they've shown up and delivered what we needed to move the pilot forward—never complaining, just pushing forward.
The good news is that we've been documenting everything along the way. With the help of a few Intel volunteers and Geeks Without Frontiers, we're in the process of building a recipe generator which our hope is will cut the installation time from months to a few weeks. We'll be sharing these recipes on the N50 Project website towards the end of the year. They'll include optimized network designs, partner matches for use cases, and a how-to guide for rural communities. Our goal is to make the difficult, well, easier and faster. And we won't stop until we do. We're well on our way, so buckle your seat belts and join the ride.
About the Author, Daniel Gutwein
Daniel’s passion and purpose are to bridge the gap between technological advancement and the betterment of humanity. He does this by leading the incubation efforts for the Emerging Technologies team in Intel’s Internet of Things Group. The team’s efforts include work in AI, CV, robotics, Social Equity, and most recently, the N50 Project, which is an effort to connect and gain meaningful participation from the next 3.9B people on earth.
Daniel successfully founded two companies, including a non-profit that motivated 50,000 people in 38 countries to raise funds to build schools, hospitals, and computer labs in rural Africa.
Daniel is an alumnus of Harvard Business School and teaches marketing courses at the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. In addition, he serves on the advisory board for the Retail Orphan Initiative and the board of directors for the JSIM Hope Foundation. Daniel holds multiple patents in RF technology. LinkedIn.