How do you provide vital information and literacy training to people with limited access to either -- especially if they are located in rural parts of Africa? Cliff Schmidt, the founder of Literacy Bridge, recently stopped by the World Bank to discuss his work in northern Ghana to help investigate answers to this question. Most groups seeking to harness the power of information and communication technologies in developing countries in support of such objectives pilot test their 'solutions' where it is easiest to do so -- often in (reasonably) well-off urban or suburban settings (often buidling off prior experience using such technologies in OECD countries). Literacy Bridge is notable in that it prioritizes helping people with the greatest challenges, rather than focusing on the easiest to reach.
The 'Talking Book' is a low-cost audio device device with recording capabilities -- imagine a rubbery MP3 player about the size of a grapefuit -- rather ingeniously engineered (and re-engineered) to meet specific needs and usage scenarios in very poor communities in Africa. It is designed for use in local languages, using locally produced content, as tool to promote literacy among primary school children (to cite just one goal and target group). One way to think of the device, Cliff said, is as a 'small portable computer without a display'. While the project is still in its pilot stages, it is notable for its express interest in investigating solutions that are low cost and scalable from the beginning, and in rigorously monitoring and evaluating the impact of its interventions.