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Maria Trujillo Lecture: Books or No Books? What Does the Global South Need?

Does the Global South benefit from the charity of the Global North? Dr. Maria Trujillo of Georgetown University provides a thought-provoking lecture.


Maria Trujillo: I’m starting with a question: Books or no books? What does the Global South need—and why is it that I’m using that term, the Global South? It’s the politically correct development term. We can call them poor countries, low-income countries, the third world, the developing countries; but we can also call them the Global South. It doesn’t have to do with trying to develop and never getting there. The developing countries feel like you’re going somewhere, and you’re never actually going to get to that final stage. From now on, every country that’s in this red zone is what I’m going to call the Global South.

Now, there’s differences among these countries. They’re not at the same stage of development, but I’m just going to refer to them as the Global South. Who’s from the Global South here? Born. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight. Eight among a group of maybe 70? And second-generation Global South, with heritage? One, two, three, four. OK. Maybe I’m going to call on you to tell me some stories about the Global South. I know for sure that you’re going to tell me some stories about the books in India. Prepare that story for us.

Why do we care? Why do we care about these countries in red? Anybody? We’re here in the Silicon Valley. This is golden California. Why do we care about situations like this? Why?


Maria Trujillo, PhD

Faculty Director and Associate Professor of the Practice in the Systems Engineering and Technology Management Programs, Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies

PhD in International Development and Technology Transfer, MS in Artificial Intelligence, BS in Industrial Engineering

Audience: Because they’re human beings who are suffering, and we want to help them.

Trujillo: Why do we want to help them?

Audience: Because it’s the human thing to do.

Trujillo: It’s the right thing to do.

Audience: I was going to say the same thing.

Trujillo: It’s the right thing to do. Anybody else?

Audience: Beyond the human connection, so much of everything we use, and companies, and technology, and everything. Industry is connected; it’s where so many of our resources come from, and knowing that you’re not draining somewhere of their resources for your own gain, and that….

Trujillo: The interconnectedness. That’s why we care. Anybody else has any other take on that?

Audience: Because when we need help, others help us. We should give it back.

Trujillo: We should give back. Yes. How about because it makes economic sense, too? Right? See, if they’re better off, we’re better off. If we have enough economic incentives, we actually have not the Global North and the Global South, but the global-global. People say inequalities have always existed. Anybody familiar with this? [Shows slide of the book Guns, Germs, and Steel, by Jared Diamond.] Yes? What was the basic premise of that book? You said yes, you had read it.

Audience: [Crosstalk.]

Trujillo: What’s the basic premise?

Audience: I think it’s that some geographies are apparently just [inaudible].

Trujillo: Right. The latitude and the longitude affected the use of crops. Inequalities are going to exist anyways. But I keep asking, why do we care? Why do we care about the Global South? This picture is actually from India, and I’m going to come back to it because I want to talk about the Golden Rule. The Golden Rule, as you saw in the movie, is, according to me: The one with the gold makes the rule. And because the one with the gold has made the rules for so long, once a rich country becomes rich, it kicks away the ladder so that the poor country never makes it to being rich.

Not only is the one with the gold making the rule, but it’s actually impeding those countries that want to become better or more developed to get there. That has to do with the double standards that the developing countries apply the same interventionist policies that all the major developed countries used to build their wealth. OK. What we used to build the wealth of the Global North we’re saying, “Don’t apply it in the Global South. Use a different formula.” That formula is the one that the World Bank, the IMF keeps.

The argument says, “This is how the world works. The strong calls the shots. The Golden Rule is the one with the gold makes the rule.” The answer is, we need new rules. The international establishment recommends what the international investors want. Follow the global norm or perish. The answer is look at China. No democracy, but there’s huge investment. Besides, countries don’t grow due to foreign investments. Local ownership is more important, and I’m going to touch on this later, too.

And the standards for institutions are higher now. No sense in comparing today’s institutions to 100- or 150-year-old institutions. It took rich countries decades, even generations, to establish certain institutions that we’re asking the Global South to start. And it took us all these years to develop these institutions that make us strong, and we want them to start fresh from what took 100 or 150 years to develop.

What happened in 1829?

Audience: Steam engines?

Trujillo: Steam engine. Yes. What else? Typewriter, but that’s not what I want to talk about. Technology. The first mention of the word technology in a published journal, and Cambridge—was coined and published 1829 as the “application of the sciences to the useful arts.” Information and communication technologies are digital. Technologies have changed our lives since then. Hold the promise of changing everybody’s lives, including those in the Global South. Enter technology, in 1829, as a matter that you could study and publish about.

For example, what can digital technologies do for one-acre farmers in Africa? What do you think that guy is doing with that cellphone? [Points to slide.]

Audience: Checking prices.

Trujillo: Checking prices. Yes. What else? Prices of crops, right?

Audience: Weather information.

Trujillo: Weather. Yes. What else? Fertilizers. The value chain. The neighbors. Crops. You see that when you introduce phones into different regions in Africa. Nobody from Africa here? No? I was wearing this bubu in honor of Africans today. When you introduce phones, the price dispersion suddenly becomes much smaller, because people know when to sell, what to sell, what to hold, when to take it out to market, etc.

A simple phone with an SMS text can change the life of a farmer. Technology can change the world. Yes, technology can change the life of poor people. Yes, when can we buy improved seeds? Who is paying the highest price in the market? Other examples include Mitra. The Hole in the Wall. Does anybody know about this? No. This is an interesting experiment. Mitra is a neuroscientist who used to park his car near slums, and kids used to take care of the cars. What he built was a computer, which was a hole in the wall, with an interface that had Windows and Internet, and put it there, and filmed the interaction of these slum kids with this computer.

After days, the kids knew how to open Windows, close Windows, go to links, go to Disney, give names to each one of the cursors, and the … I don’t know. The different elements that they saw, they gave them names. They taught each other, so the smartest one or the one that actually understood how it worked taught the others how to use it, and they ended up mastering that computer. That was the experiment of The Hole in the Wall. Minimally invasive education, it became.

We don’t need to train kids how to use it. They will figure it out. This radio is solar powered, and you can wind it up, too. And it gives these women information about public health, where to go, what clinic to go to, when to go to, what vaccinations are available for their kids. Global health–type information through this radio. This girl is in Nigeria, using a phone to go over her homework, to interact with her classmates about her homework, and to tell her parents about what’s going on in school. Projects that make a difference in the Global South.

So this [shows slide] is from the World Bank. The World Bank says, “Look. This is the analog economy, and this is the digital economy that represents 4% to 5% of the GDP. This is worldwide. Earn 1% or 2% of the jobs.” There’s an intersection here, which is uncertain intersections. The regulatory uncertainty, and there’s a digital monopoly now here. This is the place where we can make a difference in the analog economy.

I brought it up because—and this, of course, the analog has vested interest—this is a huge area in which we can work in the Global South with the use of technology.

What are appropriate technologies for development? I told you I had questions. And what can be done? Appropriate technologies for development have to include illiteracy, local languages, and reliable electricity, and reliable Internet connection. No secure data exchange, and no smartphones. That list is a tough list, especially if you’re in Silicon Valley.

One example of appropriate technologies is the digital libraries, and I brought some libraries that we created with the University of Waikato. I’m going to pass these around [passes out a stack of discs], so you can have a look at them. The University of Waikato in New Zealand has a software called Greenstone, and what you do is you use that software to create a digital library. You burn a CD and you take it abroad, and it includes the [Humanity] Development Library—1,200 books by 400 authors that have to do with human development.

In those places where there are computers that have CDs, you can actually read all these digital libraries. I was going to show you the website, but I’m going to skip that part, and I’m just going to mention that the libraries that were generated, were generated all around the world, but include the Global South. The [Humanity] Development Library, which is their flagship library; medical and health, agricultural, food and nutrition, critical global issues, world environmental library, etc. They also have—all the [information on] how to build a digital library, all the publications and archives and documentation, online. And the website is NewZealand.org.

One of the libraries we worked on was first aid in pictures for illiterate populations. How do they know what to do in the case of an emergency, and they have to perform first aid? First you have the human body, and you searched somewhere in the human body, and then you searched what had happened, and it would give you the procedure. That was fun to do. Only people that are illiterate don’t have computers, but it proved that we could do a first aid in pictures digital library.

When I heard that Course Hero had a partnership to send books to the Global South, I looked a little bit into it, and I found that for Africa, [it] was the largest shipper of donated text and library books to the African continent, shipping over—more than 40 million books to 52 different countries since 1988. Wow. Amazing. Very good.

Really? Very good? What do we know about our history books? Who are the good guys in the Global North stories?

Audience: The Global North.

Trujillo: The Global North. We are sending books to Africa with stories about the Global North, in which they’re the bad guys. That kind of not makes a lot of sense, or does it? Does anybody have any thoughts on this? If you follow the source of information, you’re seeing that what we’re doing is sending stuff to Africa. Information, books, and what we should be doing, in my opinion … I’m sorry. In my opinion, is allowing the Global South to produce their own solutions, and to actually send us their stories. What we should be doing is having projects that are local that then can be exported even between South and South. That’s a thing now. People talk about South and South collaboration without involving the North. Why don’t we talk between Latin America and Africa, and see what things have worked and how we share.

Now I’m going to get personal, and I’m going to put on my hat. The hat in the movie. This is the cumbia hat. If you ever see anybody with a hat like this, it’s because they’re from Colombia. This is their typical Colombian hat. And I’m going to talk about two things. I’m going to talk about the fact that I’ve not always been an academic. I have to confess that I had a 10-year gap between teaching in Tulane and teaching in Georgetown. And that 10-year gap was a forced gap, because I had to escape [Hurricane] Katrina, because Katrina hit when I had my four-day-old baby, and I had to move to Houston for two weeks, and then get a job in Rockville. I had to work in the field until I went back into academia.

My CV includes a lot of fieldwork, and some academia. I’m not this professor that others are. I started working in 1990. This is how the Internet came to Colombia, by the way. This is the story that didn’t make it into the film completely. I was working for a place called CIMDER, which is a multidisciplinary research center and development paid by the Canadians, and I was there working with the Xenix. Does anybody know what a Xenix network is? You see, I’ve dated myself. I’m the oldest one here. I can’t believe it.

BITNET. Does anybody know what a BITNET network is? No. OK. Wow. A lot about the Internet. We were working with Xenix, which was basically a precursor of the Linux system, and BITNET, which was IBM mainframes talking to each other, sending messages—chats between IBMs. That was BITNET. So I said, “OK. I need my Internet account,” because I had been in Scotland, and I had done a master’s in artificial intelligence and knowledge-based systems. I did intelligent tutoring systems. So I went back to Colombia, and I said, “Give me my Internet account.” And they said, “What Internet account? We have BITNET. Why do you need Internet? We have BITNET. That is enough and sufficient for us.”

I’m like, “No, you don’t understand. We need Internet!” They said, “Why don’t you talk to the folks at Universidad del Valle?” And that’s my second piece of gear. This logo here from the Universidad del Valle, which I had been to … and studied. It was my alma mater. And said, “Why don’t you go and talk to them? They have some funds. They have a stamp that’s paying for infrastructure projects.” And I said, “OK.” I went there, and I said, “Look, this Burroughs B5900 … ” Does anybody know about this? Nope. I’m going to stop asking the questions.

Maybe somebody does know about Sun Sparc stations, yes? Yes. OK. Good. We replaced this Burroughs B5900, which was a mainframe, which my dad had bought—that’s my dad; Dion is a dean in the Universidad del Valle—that cost a million dollars for a stack of Sun Sparc workstations. And we changed what was once a centralized system to a decentralized one. And the computing center became the information services center, and we installed what we called la Red Farallones, which was the network, Farallones, which is a piece of land that is next to Cali, where I come from.

Why did we do all that? Because they told us that we couldn’t connect Columbia to the Internet because there weren’t enough funds. And there weren’t enough funds because the equivalent of the Ministry of Education and the NSF had half of the funds each, and they weren’t talking to each other. We couldn’t connect the country to the Internet because of that. We said, “Let’s show the NSF and the Ministry of Education that we can have a network inside a university that’s like an Internet, and once we show them this works, we can get them to talk to each other and put the funds together, and connect Columbia to the Internet.”

So I had to have people to actually work those Sun micro stations. So I hired—this is me right here, and these are all the kids. They were 18- to 20-year-old kids that were in charge of those Sun micro stations, and we had training sessions with seven terminals. There were seven terminals here, and we did a trainer of trainers of our users. We ended up with 60 students to be systems administrators, and three kilometers of fiber optics, and we were then awarded a prize by the Junior Chamber International for connecting Columbia to the Internet, and for having the largest data transmission network in the region. And this lifestyle magazine called Cromos published an article and dubbed me as the Internet Girl. They said, “Oh, you’re the Internet Girl because you’re among all these men.” I said, “OK. I’m the Internet Girl. I’ll take it.”

Audience: Why aren’t you the Internet Woman?

Trujillo: I think it sounds better, girl. I think it was a marketing device, but I was a woman at that time.

Audience: Thank you, marketing.

Trujillo: But wait, what had happened? We had funded a project, designed a project, implemented a project, made it work among ourselves, and now we had connectivity with the rest of the world. That’s what a Global South project should look like. Grassroots, funded, sustainable. Not designed by somebody here that told us, “Oh, this is what you should do.” But actually designed by somebody that’s there locally, right? That’s my first message to you. If you’re ever going to fund a project, make sure there’s local ownership, there’s sustainability, so that if you don’t—pull out the funds, the project will continue.

I said, “Wait a minute. The digital divide. Does the digital divide have anything to do with progress and development after I installed Internet in Columbia?” I said, “This is too interesting. Does this have to do with the quality of life?” And I forgot all what I knew about artificial intelligence, all what I knew about networks, and then looked at the digital divide and went to Tulane. Took a sample of 124 countries out of 174, which collectively accounted for 78.39% of [the] world’s population. I’m not going to read about all this. This is my dissertation, but I will jump to the findings.

And the findings were that the Internet, the Wired Index, which had electricity, phones, Internet, computing power in it, explained a lot of differences in progress or declines in development from 1990 to 1997. It didn’t explain absolute values, but it explained the changes: whether a country had made progress or had declined in development during that period of time. That’s five years to come to that sentence. It’s painful. That was the major conclusion. The digital divide since then has been described in many other different ways as, “Oh, well, you’re talking about people that are truly unconnected, or evade the net all together, or are dropouts, or intermittent users, or home broadbrand users.” It’s actually a spectrum of the people that are not online, and the people that are online. This is 2002, so probably there’s new data for that.

And this is what happened in the developing world, developing countries—still used by the World Bank as their nomenclature. The Internet; the mobile phones took off the Internet; and the mobile broadband have taken off faster than improved water or electricity. Here’s the crazy thing. There’s more people in the developing world with phones than with good water, which presents an opportunity, too. Right?

And the divide is not binary, so what do people do in Africa with the phone? They do email, social networks, web browsing—but above all, they do phone calls. One hundred percent of people in Africa do phone calls. This graph compared to ours is slightly different, right? Text messages probably outnumbers the phone calls.

OK. So, things can change with technology, and I mentioned the Freeplay Radio. Now it’s called Prime Radio, and they have Tom Hanks as their spokesman. A big difference now. You have somebody famous behind your product, and suddenly you’re trustworthy. The Mitra school Hole in the Wall became School in the Cloud. What he has now is a series of schools, connected, in which the children interact with each other through the cloud, and they have a facilitator. Not teachers, but facilitators that they call Granny, and they have these facilitators in each one of the schools in the cloud. That’s how his project evolved from being the Hole in the Wall to the School in the Cloud.

And now here we go. I have more questions than answers. I’m going to open to questions from you, and hopefully answers from you, too.

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