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MIT's Digital Nations consortium convenes

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., July 24 -- More than 250 government officials, educators, technologists and development specialists from more than 30 countries convened today at the MIT Media Laboratory to participate in the first meeting of Digital Nations, a new research consortium focusing on the design of new technologies to address major social challenges in underserved communities and the developing world.

During the meeting, Media Lab researchers reported progress on major initiatives in the areas of education, health care and community development; unveiled new technologies to empower residents of underserved communities; and announced the formation of a new international scholarly journal Information Technology and International Development.

Aiming to bring the benefits of the digital revolution to a much broader audience than ever before, the Media Lab is working closely with a unique network of collaborators from around the world, including governments, NGOs, grass-roots organizations and private companies. Harvard's Center for International Development serves as a key partner in the consortium.

Together, these organizations are developing new technologies to meet the needs of individuals and communities -- and, in tandem, creating programs to implement and scale these ideas on a sustainable basis.

Unlike many traditional development efforts, the Digital Nations consortium does not aim to impose solutions but rather to empower people in all walks of life to invent their own tools and solutions. Towards this end, Digital Nations supports a broad range of on-the-ground "action projects" that enable people to design, create and learn in new ways. Projects include:

Sustainable Access in Rural India (SARI) -- Creating viable markets for information and communication services in rural poor areas by inventing and deploying innovative technologies, applications, and business models, and rigorously evaluating their effects.

Learning Independence -- Working with universities in the developing world to facilitate a "true transfer of technology" that enables people and organizations to design their own technological tools to address community challenges, fostering a greater sense of independence and self-sufficiency.

ThinkCycle -- A collaborative online community working on global design challenges, creating an evolving database of problems and solutions contributed by individuals and organizations around the world. Emerging projects include human-powered generator devices, a self-calibrating intravenous drip for cholera treatment, bilingual literacy tools and low-cost corrective eyewear.

Little Intelligent Communities (LINCOS) -- Flexible, economically-sustainable community centers that provide connectivity solutions for health care, learning, government services, banking, soil and environmental testing, as well as culture and entertainment.

Learning Hubs -- A worldwide network of organizations committed to deep change in learning and education that will serve as working models for innovative approaches to learning.

Computer Clubhouse Network -- A network of after-school learning centers where youth from underserved communities become fluent in new technologies by working on design projects based on their own interests. Intel is supporting 100 new Clubhouses, in more than a dozen countries, over the next five years.

These projects are taking place in communities around the world. Digital Nations is collaborating with the Government of India as part of the recently announced Media Lab Asia initiative, which aims to facilitate the invention, refinement, and deployment of innovations to benefit all sectors of Indian society -- in particular, the country's poorest and least educated populations. India will serve as a site for numerous Digital Nations programs.

In Mexico, Digital Nations is working closely with Telmex, Mexico's primary telecommunications provider and a corporate research partner of the Media Lab, to catalyze a growing dialogue between the public sector, academia, educators, and industry to address critical social challenges of education and poverty.

In Denmark, Digital Nations is working with Learning Lab Denmark, a joint initiative of the Danish Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Trade and Industry, with projects focusing on new approaches to teacher development, innovations in math and science education, and "playful learning" in non-school settings such as museums.

Digital Nations also works closely with a number of other Media Lab corporate and strategic research partners: Hewlett-Packard, Intel, Motorola, and the United States Postal Service, as well as Lab sponsors CSK, and Try Group. Media Lab corporate research partners BT, Eircom, the LEGO Group, MasterCard International, Swatch AG and United Technologies Corporation are also members of Digital Nations.

Research efforts of Digital Nations are guided by a Board of Advisors including Jos� Mar������a Figueres, former President of Costa Rica; Nicholas Negroponte, Co-Founder and Senior Director of the MIT Media Laboratory; and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Harvard Center for International Development.

During the Digital Nations meeting, organizers announced the establishment of Information Technologies and International Development (ITID), a new journal to be published by the MIT Press, with editors at the MIT Media Lab and the University of Maryland. This quarterly international journal, whose first issue is due out in 2002, will focus on the intersection of new information and communication technologies with social and economic development. It is expected to become a key forum for scholarly work and analysis in the area of information economies, the digital divide and the use of new technologies in international development.

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