This week I participated in an off the record dinner with some of the smartest people I've met. 20 people and a single conversation without a whisper of Web 2.0 or GYM. In the midst of our optimism that something was actually new, Gary Hamel called us on it, and pointed out the simple facts of abject poverty and unconnectedness for most of the world. Besides the cell phone, hand-crank radio and $100 laptop there is little hope. The former ambassador of Rwanda told us his story and imparted how poverty mattered more than security. His plea was not to connect Africa to the Internet, but to help with local connectivity.
The greatest minds in tech do deeply care and try to work on solutions. The first instinct is to connect everything to the Net, believing the rest will take care of itself. But the cost of far-flung and rural connectivity, especially to impoverished regions, is simply too high.
There may be a different approach to this problem. Instead of focusing on connecting the distant, help them connect with themselves. In the absence of connections, nodes are state attractors. That is, if you help a village connect with itself, the village will attract connectivity with others and eventually the Net itself. In effect, when you create value in a local node, an arbitrage condition can drive enterprising individuals to make connection happen.
The cost for local connectivity is plummeting. Wifi is in hypergrowth, leading to commodity production of radios, low power chips and innovation in software. The $100 laptop comes with Wifi. With advancements in Mesh Networking, you could gain an approach for networks that expand locally. Wikipedia may be available in their local language on a CD. But also bundle in an open source wiki to let them build their own web. As local nodes grow in strength, people will proxy for groups until they can be connected.