Non-profit takes solar-powered mobile technology to developing world

by Antonio Pasolini on June 7, 2010


A Boston non-profit organization is taking technology to communities around the globe and best of all, it is doing so with solar power.

Smallbean recently launched its new MobileCAP campaign to extend its Citizen Archivist Project (CAP) to additional sites in the developing world. Smallbean’s CAP teaches technology skills and documents community life around the world, using solar power and donated personal electronics.

Each MobileCAP backpack unit costs $500 and contains a refurbished laptop, documentary tools (cameras, video and voice recorders), a solar power source, and Internet connectivity. Users conduct oral history interviews, as well as take photographs and capture video footage of community life anywhere in the world. Smallbean, with the assistance of the Boston Public Library, has created a Digital Archive accessible via the Smallbean website to house all data collected by the Citizen Archivist Project.

Smallbean launched its first two CAP initiatives in February, at Edison Middle School in Brighton Massachusetts and at Kwala Secondary School in Tanzania. The MobileCAP campaign will kick off in July with five units deployed to libraries throughout Kenya, in partnership with Kenya National Library Services, the Boston Public Library and Maria’s Libraries. Librarians and community members will get relevant IT and solar training and after that will spend five weeks gathering data such as interviews, photographs and video footage. The hope is to create a system of networked libraries throughout Kenya.

“Smallbean closes the technology gap with our learn-by-doing methodology,” said Sean Hewens, Smallbean’s founder and Executive Director. “Participants learn valuable computer and technology skills while sharing the stories, history, and culture of their towns and villages.”

The organization says it relies on renewable energy and refurbished electronics wherever possible. “The Citizen Archivist Project is both sustainable and ‘reuseful’” Hewens said. “Our goal is to foster independence – not only building skills for our students, but giving communities a chance to power themselves through scalable, off-grid solar energy that can go anywhere.”

Smallbean will distribute its MobileCAP backpacks to Americans traveling or living abroad, people in the developing world looking to establish CAP technology labs in their communities, and recipients of microfinance loans seeking to learn computer accounting skills while documenting their lives as small business owners.

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