Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Social Justice Programming

It's hard to be a programmer who cares about the world around you. There isn't the directness of other disciplines. You can't walk up to a starving child and give them a sheet of code, it just doesn't help. If you're a water engineer, you can help build a new well. A sanitation engineer can help with desperately needed, erm, sanitation. Agriculture, nutrition, etc, these are all very directly applicable and needed skills throughout the world, but Software Engineering is harder.

Still, I am a Software engineer, and I love it, so how do I help? I have been struggling with this idea for years, but now I've decided that I want to start bringing it to my blog, and the first, somewhat quirky thing I'd like to mention is mobile phone money. (Yes, I hear the skepticism, but hear me out!) :)

There are a couple new project, one called M-PESA and the other called "Hello Money" and both of them are being launched in more violent, less safe parts of the world, and for good reason. It turns out, according to David Birch and Bruce Sterling at the LIFT|ASIA conference, that cash is actually the hardest thing for poor people to use, and it is no wonder that in places like Kenya, people use their SIM cards as currency because they are more secure and less dangerous to carry than paper money.

Also, thanks to the fantastic people at Adaptive Path for turning me onto this.

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