Saturday, November 04, 2006

Microcounselling, the Wiki Way

Nimrod dreamed to reach the Heaven. And he had a pretty good start too, when some construction-afficionado counesl managed to convince him to construct the Tower of Babel. The spiraling staircase would be his highway to heaven, mused Nimrod, and ordered construction slaves and supervisers to get a hand on this project. The Tower began to take shape, everyday rising several meters towards the sky. Impressive as it was, the idea of Human Invasion of Heaven even peeved the God. That Adam was a naughty boy, and his descendants are even more arrogant! He decided to employ some "politics", and created what we now know as the Diversity of Languages. Nimrod's people spoke in one common language, and God's subtle interference caused a macro-misunderstanding, as no single person could understand what the person standing next to him spoke of in a Lingua Xena. The obvious result was chaos, followed by abortion of construction, destruction of the Tower, an end to Nimrod's ambitious effort and Death of a Dream.

Perhaps Wiki-dreamster Jimmy Wales was conversant with biblical stories, and that's why he didn't dream to invade heaven. The Age of Slavery was well beyond his reach, so he opted for Volunteers. His collaborative encyclopedia, Wikipedia, hosts 1,465,649 English articles at the time of my composing this article. Wikipedia is a success story of 2,655,082 volunteers [1,040 of them are administrators] from all over the world. It now hosts articles in other major languages, as well as extending the horizon with Wiktionary, Wikiquotes, Wikibooks, Wikisource ... all free to read and free to edit.

Wiki has harnessed the power of people's good will to construct something ... something new, something helpful; perhaps it's ingrained in most of us. And this Tower of Babel was possible because the information super highway brought billions of people on a leveled ground [Friedmanish, of course], and I can join hand to lay a brick on that tower along with a girl in lower Sahara in no time. Wiki has been marvelous in letting people put the pieces together, all of them sharing the language and spirit of construction. Wales' Wiki perhaps would reach the heaven if the articles are printed and placed on upon another.

The Wiki Way is therefore a method to summon people with this spirit of construction to a virtual congregation.

I was very moved while reading Tom Friedman's The World is Flat. Obvious facts are often camouflaged by less obvious ones. Of course we're living in a flattened world, and have tried the least to take advantage of its flatness. Our neighbors did. My agitation, having realized that we could and should do something about it, reached an epileptic phase when Dr. Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Microcredit, its merits and demerits was again a hot topic being quibbled about around me. And it took me some time to settle down to a linking idea, of organizing the little efforts from millions to benefact more.

I am not very conversant with the practical problems with Microcredit, but am aware of the fact that it involves some not-so-micro interests. But nothing to do, you can't do banking without charging interests. The only thing people could contribute gratis is counsel.

Then I recoined the term Microcounselling.

Imagine the surface of Bangladesh. 148,000 [approx.] square kilometers of dense population, suffering from numerous problems, seeking help from others. Helping Bangladesh always sparks up a different image in our minds, like getting grants or loans or donations from ADB or WB or some other donors, in terms of hard cash. But have we ever tried to help ourselves? Forget helping with money, since we don't have enough of it, but we could help the people providing our knowledge and skill. It's not very difficult reaching our people even in the humblest shack in the farthest settlements now, thanks to the Telecom business.

Neteracy [again a coined portmanteau word, Internet Literacy] is very much low in Bangladesh if we exclude the major cities [the cities are something that Bangladesh is not de facto]. But we have demonstrated that if trained, we can excel pretty fast. Let us start with a density of rural neteracy being 1 per 100 square kilometer. Consider the whole country to be a uniform village system. We would need 1,480 computers with internet connection. There are people who decided to widen the reach of poor children worldwide with their “a laptop for 100$” program. There are people who can electrify homes with solar panels to provide battery power for Laptops. Let us coordinate with them. We could train a wonderkid in every 100 square kilometer throughout Bangladesh. This kid will be the porthole to a new world. He or she would become the communication representative of his 100 square kilometers domain. And who will this kid communicate with?

With us, of course, on a surface similar to that in Wiki-s, a surface where resident and non-resident Bangladeshis could donate a fraction of his or her idle time to "counsel" these 1,480 wonderkids, who would seek counselling for their “little” problems. Perhaps there is some trouble in drinking water and they don't know who to consult with, perhaps there is an unhappy incident of social abuse and they do not know who to seek justice from. There are so many "little" problems for us to solve, with wisely simple and empathetic suggestions, which would make life easier and stronger for so many of us out there. These little pieces of advices are what I am calling microcounsels. It won't cost us a buck to deliver them, and interest will be a term here that means "a feeling that accompanies or causes special attention to some object" according to Merriam-Webster's Unabridged Dictionary. There are more than 14,800 of us all around the world to donate 10 minutes everyday to deliver microcounsel to our people, so there would be more than 10 of us to counsel 1 domain.

I know it sounds so optimistic and simple, while it would require dozens of IT experts and massive awareness initiative among us over several years. But that is something we can afford to employ. The question is, do we believe in us, in our power to construct our very own Tower of Babel? Or have we taken it for granted that we will share the same fate of Nimrod for ever?

You lay a single brick. We will do the rest.


  1. This is definitely an interesting idea. I never thought of such an extension to microCredit. Setting up a internet connected PC could be blocker, same reason as was for traditional land phone technology. I would rather suggest using internet or atleast limited connectivity powered cell phone for micro counselling. There are other human factors which we might need to consider eventually.

  2. Couldn't agree more.

    First of all, we're not uniformly electrfied. We need solar photovoltaics to run the batteries of the laptops [it has to be laptops for the sake of mobility and maintenance] and the cell phones. EDGE facility can provide a reliable and fast connectivity to the Microcounselling hub. The Telecom giants could easily start a new package with limited connectivity, so it becomes least expensive. We are using the phones for a purpose intrinsically slow: talking. Let the communication be more penetrating.

    Unicode bangla has crushed the language barrier. Now all we require are some gifted kids to run-n-reign the 100 km2 domains. They will be the ambassadors of their local units.

    I'm again providing examples of situations necessitating microcounsel:

    1. Drinking Water Problem
    2. Health Issues [Telemedicine simplified]
    3. Education Problems
    4. Legal Issues
    5. Abuse Reports
    6. Pollution
    7. Agricultural Issues
    8. So many more ...

    And not only seeking counsel, they might as well enrich us with news and facts, and let us know of their achievements.

    A small module could be easily field tested. It wouldn't take rocket science [even if it does, we have rocket scientists amongst us].


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