When Design Studios Meets Nerds

A few days ago we’ve met Mike & Mike from Paiwastoon – their mission: making IT work for Afghanistan. Emer had contact with one of them before and she knew they were piloting a olpc project here. To describe them in one word: NERDS.

Since 5 years Mike Dawson, half US and half Brit, 100% british humuor, is living and working in Afghanistan. He is CEO of Paiwastoon, a private company with 30 employees. Besides his marketing guy Mike all other employees are Afghans. He himself is driving a car around in Kabul (totally unusual), he really goes to areas where you normally only go in a military convoi (one olpc project is in the Taliban region near the Pakistan boarder), he speaks the language and has – so to say – totally adapted to Afghanistan. His colleague Mike Guarino came also 5 years ago on a student exchange project, but inbetween he went back to the US for 3.5 years. He joined Paiwastoon as Marketing manager 1.5 years ago.

Their clients are military, NGOs, governmental institutions and the Ministry of Education.

So here we are in the beautiful garden of base2 …

Emer, Mike D., Merel, Mike G. (from the left)

… on our table a brand new shiny tablet and Android smart phone, simple Nokia phones and robust olpcs adjusted to the region – meaning: getting rid off the camera, removing all offending games and pitcs … On the tablet and smart phones the newest education apps, on the olpc an interactive textbook in Darsi (local language) with basic animations, videos, picts. A world of hightech in the place with the worst education on the entire planet. A contradiction?

Technology for technology’s sake? We all agreed, that this isn’t at all the solution.

But what are the opportunities when besides many cultural issues (such as: girls are not allowed to have cell phones in rural areas and to go to school) you are in a country where

  • there is a HUGE lack of teachers,
  • the knowledge of the teachers is in many cases very limited (no methodology),
  • there is no time for feedback during school time,
  • school lasts only 6 months a year,
  • there are hardly any schools and school material is limited,
  • Internet is hardly anywhere available and if so bandwidth is exceedingly expensive,
  • hierarchies and authorities are “top of the pop”
  • corruption is everywhere

We think opportunities are endless. You can start pretty much with anything when there is nothing. But you should pilot and learn what works best.

There are some guidelines you should keep in mind:

  • re-assure maintainance
  • have people on the ground
  • move in small steps rather than in big ones
  • monitor and evaluate honestly and carefully
  • fail, but fail fast
  • learn and improve

So for a project like Great Ideas which is regarding the devices technically high end it’s a huge support to have people like Mike on board who adjust hardware if needed, who find ways to access devices from a distance and who know the locals and speak their language!