Eric Johnson

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Maendeleo, Intel Bring Solar-Powered Tech Education to Rural Uganda


Asa Mathat /

One of the most important themes of this year’s D: Dive Into Mobile conference is that mobile is about more than just apps that solve our first-world problems. To understand what “global mobile” means, consider the example of Asia Kamukama, who spoke Monday afternoon in the first of three “Global Voices” sessions.

Kamukama is the co-founder of the Maendeleo Foundation, with the goal of “promoting information communications technology in rural Uganda” and in places that otherwise would have limited or no access to computers.

About 57 percent of Uganda has access to electrical power, Kamukama said, but only 15 percent can afford it nationwide. In rural areas, that number drops to 2 percent.

And that’s the problem: Having the technology is one thing, but powering it is another. Maendeleo has incorporated solar panels in its classrooms since it began in 2007, but Kamukama said their low-cost desktops had a rough time being ported around with the panels in a specially modified RAV4.

“Sometimes we would drive about 400 kilometers with five desktops, and halfway through, they would die, full of dust,” she said.

So Maendeleo hooked up with Intel and began using its (also low-power) Classmate PCs. A month of testing with the same solar panels and SUV were successful enough, Kamukama said, that Maendeleo bought 15 of them.

The Maendeleo Foundation has consequently been able to give 28,000 people their first taste of tech, Kamukama said, and plans are under way to expand the schools’ programs into remote libraries. She said those library partnerships would help keep Ugandans interested in and engaged with computers after her group drives away.

Check out video from Kamukama’s appearance below: