MobileActive08: Project Diaspora

Project Diaspora
TMS Ruge

(A personal note: it’s been great meeting Teddy, who’s behind this project — five days of conferences makes for good friends quickly!)

We started with the reminder that the African diaspora is a highly educated and useful group of people!

As a starting point, looking at mobile banking. Many African banks may not accept the huge volumes that the Africa diaspora transfers. Solving the remittance problem is obviously a huge ICT issue. But regulator is even a bigger problem — 54 countries! Suggestion that some banks (mostly South African) are starting to gain footprint across the continent. Perhaps a better system is partnering with an existing provider — using volume to build incentive for providers to offer lower-cost providers. Finally, donating to NGOs rather than person-to-person reduce costs.

Big problem with NGOs: people don’t know what other people are doing — get lots of duplication of effort. This is a known but unsolved problem. Should Project Diaspora attempt to solve this problem? Shouldn’t duplicate effort towards preventing the duplication of effort. Suggestion: define a microformat, to allow aggregation of databases.

This led to discussion of whether diaspora should create new projects, or support existing projects. It’s hard to set up and manage something from another country! There are also already groups that manage relations between donors and NGOs, including accountability.

Challenges to diaspora using the existing organisations: too many projects to search through; and desire to be involved especially as being a diaspora member, rather than just another citizen of your host country. What about project information from government? Problem: a lot of people distrust the government.

Project Diaspora as a social network. is an existing one for the Kenyan diaspora. A further comment on these — being part of an existing organisation is better for raising funds and being sustainability. One challenge is getting recent news from people actually IN the country concerned. provides opportunity for volunteers in projects, and has people on the ground — citizen media type activity. Focus HAS to be on providing value to the people in the social network — some ways are letting people from the same country get in touch where they are, and also provide sources of information from their original countries.

Difference with “normal” social networking is perhaps the need for “community co-ordinators” who extract key information and memory out of the forums, and organise the database and summary pages.

A very different suggestion: work on existing open source Java applications for chatting (eg. Praekelt foundation has one) / SMS replacement on phones, and make it available through Project Diaspora — this makes international SMS essentially free! Huge draw to the site too.