Lessons learned from the Common Libraries and Tunapanda Institute Mesh Network project: Update – March 2015

Late last year, Tunapanda Institute and Common Libraries launched a campaign to fund the creation of a mesh network in Kibera, Nairobi, Kenya.

The mesh network was to serve as a community network that would bring online open content to a free platform available to everyone in the community. People would be able to freely download on their smartphone or computer the information available on the network. This would include everything from community job information to online courses and books.

Tunapanda and Common Libraries remain committed to increasing access to open education, information, and the enjoyment of reading to Kibera. And, as we shared our campaign with our friends and partners, we found a lot of support for this project. Many thought that it was an interesting project and worthwhile. However, the support did not ultimately translate into funding for our crowdfunding campaign, and both organisations learned a lot from the process.

First, many people may not fully understand what a mesh network “is”, how it could be connected to future libraries, and how this could be beneficial to an informal community like Kibera. It can be a little confusing to someone not used to the idea of a network that is not connected to the internet but, instead, brings the educational content that is online to a free network platform. This kind of network means that individuals will not have to pay the exorbitant prices for downloading data on the smartphone or other device. In Kenya, data prices from the mobile providers are too expensive for the average customer, especially to those living in the low-income area of Kibera. Kibera also doesn’t have the free WiFi hotspots in cafes that are available in other parts of the world.

The Tunapanda and Common Libraries mesh network would bring free access to educational content, community information and open access e-books and journals. This kind of resource is incredibly hard to find in Kibera. We do not want to build the usual kind of “bricks and mortar” library. We want to build the flexible resource of a library and community notice board, without having to pay the rent on space. In this campaign, we needed more time to convince people that this is the type of resource that Kibera needs and can build from.

Some further work will be needed to convince people in more-developed countries that digital technology can provide some benefits of traditional libraries in places that lack the space for bricks-and-mortar buildings. For example, Kibera is about 1 square mile and home to 400,000 people or more (nobody is really sure how many people live in Kibera). But, the most important thing to remember is that it is difficult to turn interest and enthusiasm into funding. I think that this project piqued the interest of many different kinds of people. It is about bringing the joy of books and literature to people who don’t have access to a normal library. It also interests the tech-minded, those who want to see this technology used in a new part of the world. We have to remember just how difficult it is to bring a complex project into fruition.

We are happy to say that both partners are committed to the project and we are seeking other opportunities to build the network. Through additional partners and other funding streams, we will make this happen, because we know that this will make a difference in the lives of Kibera residents. In the interim, we’d like to extend our thanks to all those who supported the campaign and, in particular, to those who managed and contributed to it.

1 thought on “Lessons learned from the Common Libraries and Tunapanda Institute Mesh Network project: Update – March 2015

  1. Oliver omondi

    That is really a fabulous project that will surely create an enormous positive impact in kibera slums and will be really of great assistance,for those yearning for knowledge yet they can’t access it due to expenses that come along with it.

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