Reporting on the Beyond Access “Local Alternatives for Development Conference,” it is difficult not to begin with the highlight of the day: our team won the idea competition, in the Public Technology and Innovation category, to the tune of $10,000 to implement our idea! We proposed to digitize, and make interactive, 4 multi-language story books that we published last summer, during the Mama Mtoto Story Time program. We hope that the new format (which will allow the book to tell the story in audio, plus adding photos videos and quizzes) will allow to reach the section of the population with the lowest level of literacy. No reason they shouldn’t be able to explore books with their young kids regardless of their own reading level!
We are one of five happy recipients of a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and we have to say that all the teams had stellar, fundable ideas and it must have been difficult to choose.
The rest of the day was filled with amazing learning opportunities as well! These were kicked off with a great conversation between USAID Administrator Rajiv Shaw and former President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos. They discussed information technology in the 21st century, and especially local institutions, can promote development. We were able to get a photo with one of the following session’s panelists:
Informal conversations were great opportunities for sharing experiences from multiple perspectives–attending the development coffee lounges were representatives from community-run libraries, public libraries, government, NGOs, and funding agencies. At the coffee lounge dedicated to the topic of non-formal education, Joyce Warner of IREX emphasized the importance of libraries as critical to providing a second-chance education opportunities for people without access to, or who have withdrawn from, the formal education system. Maria also addressed this group:
The innovation spaces coffee lounge was particularly interesting.
Laura Britton described her work at the public library in Fayetteville, NY, where the library has established a makerspace. Featuring 3D printers, vinyl sticker cutters, and juicers and offering workshops on book making, knitting, duct tape building, and how to build replacement parts for home appliances, the space emphasizes STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) learning, plus art and design. Programs such as these support the conception of a library as a an incubator of ideas, an innovation space.
One of the facilitators referred in this session to an increasing ingenuity gap–the identification of problems is accelerating, while development of solutions has plateaued. One can not only look to government institutions or to private businesses utilizing the market for innovative solutions. Ideas can come from individual citizens as well, and libraries are well-placed to support them. Thus we think of libraries not only as a free and open access point to information, but also as “a space to facilitate the slow hunch.”
Later that evening, Maria’s Libraries hosted an extremely successful fundraiser for the construction of the new library in Busia. More on that next!