It had begun so simply. Too many years working in libraries colliding in my head with this wh*** new open source education idea. Perhaps it has always been naive of me to believe that the right lever could move the world, but the right book in the right hands could make a huge difference. The website did okay. And perhaps the team that put together the later version had seen mine first or heard about it. And the things that happened then.
Perhaps what really made the difference was in 2013 when a bunch of the tech billionaires decided to put a netbook in the hands of every girl from Beijing to Cairo. Of course, there were men and some women who didn't like it. Who wanted to preserve the social order, but money still talks. When slum girls in Bangalore and Mumbai learned to code through open courseware and made saris the fashion of choice on most virtual networks, when young women in inland China learned how to open shop online and offer tutoring services to Western Mandarin learners, when Filipinos discovered they could market themselves directly to other countries instead of getting a nursing degree, but going overseas to work as a maid, when, when, when, when women and girls became so vital to a households and nations economy that self-interest trumped.
The idea had been simple, make free educational resources more accessible to everyone and eventually it would cost too much to not educate sons and more importantly daughters. The modest site I helped build still gets traffic - some loyal customers - and I watch as IPs ping in from India, Iran, and the Middle East.
My older daughter walks in with her VR googles.
"Where are you off to?"
"Study date with Wendy Liao. Mom wants me to practice my Mandarin some more and I'm going to help her with some math. Mostly, we will go to V-Beijing and Wendy will make me haggle with locals."
"Sounds like a plan."
"Oh that guy who gave the really great trig lecture - finally made sense. I'm making Wendy subtitle it to Mandarin. That should get her up to speed on her math."
"And you will enjoy it thoroughly I'm sure."
"Yup," she said as she lowered the VR goggles and was off.
I notice a name flash up on the social networking window I've got on in the background. An old family friend from our days in Hong Kong waving hello. The old jesting about an arranged marriage between his son and our daughter seem a tad less humorous given the social upheaval that has struck India in the last few years. The worst of it was three years ago when the Indian version of Ebay started allowing open bidding for marriage rights to girls. Millions of young Indian men who had gone to work abroad and earn their modest fortunes had been returning home to find no potential brides for them. One thing led to another and things had gotten ugly for a while, but that has abated somewhat.
I give him a virtual howdy back and invite his son to come for a visit when he comes to the US for school. I go back to viewing more of the newly indexed content. Some of it looks particularly promising - one Ivy League school is now offering a global toll free number where you can dial in and listen to lectures for free on your mobile phone. Something that can get to just about everywhere ever since Nokia, Samsung, and the other phone makers started giving away their second hand, recycled mobiles to under served communities. You can blame that bit of social good on McGonigal's 2014 online game - "Marketing to the bottom billion". Even Trump got in the act by bringing back his Apprentice show but aiming it at get rich by helping the poor. As one economist said at the time, "if all these folks live on a dollar again, we can double the market potential with just another dollar a day."
I gather up the info on the new free educational resource and flick them at the appropriate contact list - tomorrow morning, I'm hoping that girls in Senegal and Egypt and Cambodia will be calling into a lecture on physics or law or an intro to econ.
It is the best of times, it is the worst of times, but we are doing what we can.