Hacking For Cuba
Technology entrepreneurs generally paddle through a world flooded with
wi-fi radio waves, smart mobile devices, video conference brainstorming
sessions, whimsical texts and constant pings to social media. But
imagine building a product in a realm where all of those cutting edge
accoutrement were almost nil.
That’s what it’s like in Cuba and that’s one of the reasons young tech
experts, entrepreneurs and programmers will be coming together next week
in Miami for a Hackathon for Cuba, organized by the non-profit youth
empowerment organization, Roots of Hope. The task at hand is to pitch
apps and ideas that will help people communicate in a country where
internet connectivity and, well, any kind of informational exchange with
the outside world is hard to come by.
“Cuba has been and remains the country with the lowest internet and cell
phone penetration in the entire western hemisphere,” Roots of Hope CIO
Natalia Martinez told Forbes, adding that post-earthquake Haiti has
higher internet penetration than the single-party Marxist Caribbean state.
Very few Cubans have internet access in their homes, explained Martinez.
Those that do are usually connected to government or considered
trustworthy by the government, having gone through security checks.
Internet cafes offer a portal but at a steep price: $5 per hour in a
country where the average wage brings in $20 a month. Those with access
through work or universities must use censored channels (sounds like
Cuban web surfers could use a virtual private network like this one
FORBES spotlighted recently).
Cuban blogger and tech activist Yoani Sanchez will be on hand during the
proceedings at Miami’s The Lab co-working space, either in person or via
live feed. In recent months Sanchez has contemplated a solution to the
country’s Twitter problem. In Cuba, Twitter is accessed via SMS text. “A
person has to text what they want to communicate and it goes through an
international number, which is cost-prohibitive in the context of Cuba
in the first place,” said Martinez. Receiving responses to tweets is not
Coming up with ways to overcome such social media roadblocks are exactly
what the hackathon’s 200 or so participants will be charged with
devising at the free February 1 event. The best ideas receive awards.
“Whatever solutions come to mind have to keep the (Cuban) context front
and center,” said Martinez. That means leveraging existing tools like
cell phones and the technologies they contain, like Bluetooth, for
example. “It’s about using what is there and finding ways of increasing
access to things that people want.”
Martinez said Roots of Hope and support organization, The John S. &
James L. Knight Foundation – will be announcing details on funding
opportunities for participating programmers and inventors. Let’s hope
dollars come through—a great tech idea remains just that without the
capital to make it a reality.
Follow me on Twitter @KarstenStrauss
Source: Hacking For Cuba – Forbes –