Sunday, December 6, 2009

Alis volat propriis - it flies with its own wings, or not yet?

Today I spent some time on my own outside the virtual African Lounge at Robben Island in Second Life(R), and I thought about the journey in virtual worlds to date: Our project has gained its own momentum and has grown wings beyond the small Uthango office at the old Sunset Commerce inSL. But does it fly yet? I am not sure... 

I have now just completed distribution of almost 300 notecards to my personal network about the status of Uthango's metaAfrica(TM) project. It is important that people know that we are having a tough time with this project in Second Life due to the financial costs. I think I will also post the same information on our project blog soon.

We currently have four sims - two full sims, and two homesteads - that are located next to each other and form a seamless region (beneath) for 3000 people (and counting) to explore every month. Some are even permanently camping at metaAfrica 1 to support our vision and have a home in Second Life. In these times, we hear much about landowners and projects downscaling, but we have stubbornly clung to the idea of having a region - working towards finding an African-based company or agency to partner with Uthango Social Investments. It has always felt like home to me, but then again - I am home in Africa - being an Euro-African (a term I have conjured up to define myself recently) and given my European roots in France in the 1600s and my place of birth in the Eastern Cape of South Africa in a rural village. Our region has lots of water, because (1) Africa has a coastline of beauty, (2) people love rafting, sailing and fishing here and (3) I am drawn to water like a typical Aquarian:

The month of November has been particularly busy in South Africa, and I could not spend my own time fishing in Virtual Africa on the small jetty overlooking a few animated and competing crocodile. Directions to my favourite fishing spot if you are active in SL: Click HERE.

Yes, we did also start to build a typical township / shantytown as part of our next phase of the project, but truthfully my efforts and energies were directed towards capacity-building workshops for 80 civil society organisations in South Africa on advocacy and campaigning: Online Ambassadors and Digital Nomads
Even this national initiative is part of the bigger picture for us, and organisations are SO keen to be part of virtual worlds. We have had the same request from organisations in Kenya and Egypt. Uthango is working on a plan to make that possible, and to enable them to link with the international community via this platform.

We ask ourselves so many questions recently: Is the community in South Africa more important than the community online in virtual worlds - miles away from the continent? If the economy is so cloudy, and resources thinly-spread, is it responsible to be in a virtual world and spend time, energy with advocacy in this format? 

So every now and again when my thoughts are pulled in many directions and I face the plight of our clients, I find a spot in a virtual world and remind myself (as well!) WHY we are doing this: And yes, yes, yes - we need to be present in virtual worlds and not just present, but ACTIVE. Information poverty is at the heart of many injustices in the world. And with upcoming European, Asian and American youth that are computer savvy, connected and AVATAR-friendly in a very connected 3D-online space, we have a responsibility to bring Africa into the loop as a parallel strategy to putting cables in the ground and connecting wires to gain access to technology continent-wide.

A young person in Amsterdam, Netherlands SHOULD be able to connect directly with another in Lusaka, Zambia and speak about cultural experiences during the holiday season after playing an online game, or maybe BECAUSE the game is designed to do exactly that. Also, if not, we design solutions top-down and may find that we have missed out on so many possibilities to make the world a more equal place of opportunity.

The virtual economy is growing and is already pinned at 8 Biillion USD per annum. Africa's 1 billion people COULD benefit directly from it if the DESIGN and INTENTION is in place. If the United Nations Millenium Development Goals highlight free trade and global partnerships as one of its eight goals, in MY book we include equal opportunity for virtual worlds as the upcoming emerging platform. Regardless of the developmental goal, it makes good business sense. More about that later...

It is all about timing. The biggest question is maybe: Will our wings be strong enough when it is TIME to fly? One organisation, One vision for Africa in virtual worlds, Several opportunities And all we need is a bit more time and our community. We think.


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