So picture this. She is stuck three hours from home, on a dusty road in a small broken-down bus jammed with hot bodies, music belching at too many decibels to think. A Facebook message pops up on my screen. “It’s hopeless. I won’t be home in time. And even if I am, my dad will be mad at me for returning late, so I will need all the time to placate and soothe him”.
I was at home in the UK and the girl above was in Uganda. She was working on a university and scholarship application for a top US university that needed to be in that night. I am her university counsellor and had been helping her. She had already completed a major portion of the application, but there were still some essays that needed checking and questions that were unanswered. I was more confident than she was – she had her phone and had bought some Facebook bundles. I messaged her back. “So you aren’t doing anything else – we can finish your application together.” And we did. Through using Facebook Messenger, we were able to exchange files, I was able to check her work, she was able to answer my questions and I was able to answer hers.
It took time and sometimes the signal wasn’t so good, but just before the bus finally pulled into Kampala, we had completed and submitted the application. Without technology and Facebook Messenger, this would not have been possible. My student is from the most humble of backgrounds one can imagine. But she is very bright, has outstanding grades and wants to make a difference in the world so that more children from the slums, like her, can contribute to their communities, country and continent.
Technology has revolutionised her life. Even two or three years ago, we would have been unable to complete the application in this way. We should not always pour scorn on those who make money, when what they make their money from contributes to the public good. It is especially reassuring when people like Gates, Job and now the Zuckerbergs, have a vision for the world where they can use their geniuses to make life better for many. One of my former students is benefitting from a large grant donated by the Gates Foundation to develop a way to make banking more accessible for illiterate slum dwellers in India. If, in the process, she and the others with her, make some money, then she will also be able to improve her life and the life of her family who lives in abject poverty. Surely then, we should be encouraging entrepreneurism, but also developing in people a social consciousness – creating decent jobs, with decent salaries and conditions, giving back to communities, paying taxes to the appropriate governments, and providing services that benefit others – so that they use part of their well-earned gains to improve the world.