From China to Virtual Africa: How Can Participatory Media Benefit the World?

Sun, Jul 22, 2007


I met with Alanagh Recreant (a.k.a. Dorette Steenkamp) from Uthango Social Investments, on Virtual Africa in Second Life. And, while Uthango’s Virtual Africa initiative has barely begun yet – terra forming is first on the agenda – there is already a very special feeling of possibility, and great things to come. Uthango has already put out tender to all the listed developers on the Linden Lab website. And, many of Second Life’s top developers, PR companies, marketing experts, and consultants have offered services, as well as pro bono work.

The core of the USI strategy for poverty relief in Africa does not primarily revolve around Second Life. But Uthango uses Second Life as an enabling platform for social innovation. By doing this, they are taking the visionary extra step of including Second Life in their strategy to make an impact in the lives of the people they benefit.

A participatory social media convergence bringing mobile, Web 2.0 and Second Life together for community engagement, is happening now and will – in itself – make the first steps to addressing the exclusive nature of 3D-platforms. And, USI is determined not to let the digital divide that is exasperated in Africa by expensive, inadequate/non-existent broadband coverage (for now) widen any further. While significant moves are afoot to bring broadband to large swathes of Africa, often known as the “missing link,” because of the lack of connectivity, access is still a big problem for all but the most privileged.

Uthango’s concerted effort to tackle inequality and social injustice in South Africa goes beyond advocacy for connectivity to other divides – economic, educational and access to opportunities as well.

Investment is our passion – to draw attention to investment opportunities for people in Africa.

But, Uthango is pioneering the inclusion of participatory new media and advocacy for connectivity in their vision. And, while broadband remains prohibitively expensive in Africa, they are preparing the way with projects utilizing mobile connectivity. Mobile phones have become a powerful tool for creative economic development in Africa (see African Uptimist). Uthango has a participatory social media initiative in the works that will link three very diverse communities – two with 65% unemployment and lack of resources, and the other an affluent sea-side community with better infrastructure.

We plan to institute an inter-cultural and civil engagement program across these communities, using video-blogging, mobile, and upload to a central server, and link it up to Google Earth. There will be a community portal, initially linked to computers at the schools and library and ultimately with an upload facility from mobile phones – a mobile magazine linked to the portal with community events. Ultimately, this extensive and integrated social network will be linked to Second Life. Meanwhile, innovation from the more inaccessible SL will be channeled back via the more modest communication framework in real life. This RL/SL convergence for social gain will be a unique example of an integrated ICT approach to development.


Uthango are working with partners and professionals in Second Life to explore the commercial value for companies and individuals and the social benefits for institutions such as universities and schools, in their preparation for Virtual Africa. A key initiative on Virtual Africa will be a Bottom-of-the-Pyramid Innovation Center (see ‘Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid’ by C.K. Prahalad). Uthango are serious about seeking ways to bring community voices into Second Life while broadband issues are addressed.

But the plans for Virtual Africa also include creating one of the most sophisticated ecosystems on Second Life that will extend to the wildlife to ensure an exciting, educational experience: Eagles swooping, lions hunting, zebras reacting and mirroring wildlife patterns as closely as possible whilst highlighting endangered species and indigenous cultures. The vision of Second Life/Real life integrations possible for Virtual Africa goes well beyond educational and immersive goals into a vision that includes health, travel, adventure, e-commerce, environmental monitoring, and even disaster management.

Virtual Africa will be a key place for Uthango to bring attention to their Real Life work in poverty reduction, and collaborate with others on the goal of social investment in Africa. There are many initiatives already planned that will both bring in the Second Life Community to Uthango’s work, and make connections to Real Life projects – including concerts, a Second Life Bikeathon, publishing parties, and much more.

A new global market is emerging. The sellers are intelligent, energetic and pragmatic young African leaders with innovative projects in their respective fields. The buyers are equally intelligent, energetic and pragmatic young Westerners yearning to apply pragmatism to their idealism. The market place is new media, where stories are told, opportunities are elucidated, connections are made, and action is taken. (Joshua Goldstein, African Path)

From the Blogosphere, to Twitter, to Facebook, to Second Life!


I first met Yee, who is from Jinjiang, China and a recent graduate with a Business Diploma from HELP College University, in the blogosphere. Yee’s blog caught my attention and I linked to him in a post, “Bridging On Line Off Line Worlds.” And, Yee’s comments on my post re the task of bridge blogging were so wise that a connection was born.

Then we became friends on Twitter where I followed the obstacles Yee faced keeping his blog open to world despite the GFW (Great Firewall) of China. Then last night Yee joined Facebook. We instantly struck up a messaging exchange that covered everything from the role that religions played in American culture to how participatory media, blogs, social networks etc. could play and important role in intercultural communication. This is what Yee had to say on this topic.

There are many many English language learners in China. But a large number of them just take this language as a means to pass the exam or a “certification” for better job occupation, once they achieve these goals some of them will probably stop learning, in a word, they do not treat English as a tool for two-way communication. So you can see there are many many translations of English-to-Chinese blogs in China. But, there very few Chinese-to-English blogs.

To encourage participatory media in China, I think it’s important to help Chinese English learners realize that English is not only a means for graduation or better jobs. It’s a tool for communication! In addition, they must have confidence to use it properly :-)

The obstacles: According to my experience, all Chinese people welcome the behavior of translating their posts or profiles or business documents into English. They have a strong desire to be understood by the world. However, things are not always so easy, as our logic and mind and culture are quite different from foreigners. And, culture conflict happens from time to time and sometimes conflict leads to bigger misunderstanding. Besides, on the internet, there is a Great Fire Wall which was founded by the Chinese Gov to block “sensitive info” from abroad.

I had asked Yee a little while ago if he had ever explored Second Life. I said I would love him to write about his experiences in SL for Ugotrade. Well in a matter of minutes after our Facebook exchange Yee had logged into Second Life for the first time. And so I met his avatar Yee Heron on Scope Cleaver’s sim.

It is hard to describe the excitement of meeting Yee for the first time in Second Life. The gulf of culture and geography and even the GFW of China seemed to dissolve as his avatar materialized in world.

Here is a picture of Yee, Scope Cleaver, Miko Omegamu (Scope’s right hand!), and I greeting Yee only minutes after he logged on and got his Second Life Avatar.


There were a few obstacles to getting Yee’s avatar fully rezzed. And, whether it was due to network connection issues, or the need for more memory on his lap top, chat was lagging and SL was taking a while to rez for Yee. Yee did mention that HiPiHi will not let him log in and was giving a message that he has not enough memory. Interesting that it was easier to get in SL from China than HiPiHi. But, we managed despite the technical obstacles to show Yee some of SL, including Scope Cleaver’s awesome virtual furniture store in Second Life, EOLUS One, and where to shop for cool clothes! And, here is a snippet of our chat as Yee saw Scope’s work on Second Life.

[23:29] Scope Cleaver: This is the office furniture building
[23:29] Scope Cleaver: I seel modern furniture here for Second Life residents :)
[23:29] Scope Cleaver: sell*
[23:29] Yee Heron: wow,so cool
[23:31] Scope Cleaver: the building looks empty but it’s only to hold all the production and hard work I’ll be doing on the coming months hehe
[23:32] You: Yee Scope is what they call a metabrand
[23:32] Scope Cleaver: in the making :)
[23:33] Yee Heron: IS Miko your partner, Scope??
[23:33] You: scope makes products and architecture just for the virtual world
[23:34] Scope Cleaver: Yes she is Yee
[23:34] Scope Cleaver: Been working in SL for a bit :)
[23:34] Yee Heron: cool, you do your business just as real
[23:34] Scope Cleaver: Yes indeed
[23:35] Scope Cleaver: You’ve been here less than half an hour and you look better than I do.
[23:35] Miko Omegamu: lol
[23:35] Yee Heron: are you a full time SL business woman?
[23:35] You: I know it is amazing Yee!
[23:35] Scope Cleaver: Should I work on my AV? :)


Yee stayed on Second Life for a couple of hours or more. And, we talked until the time difference meant I really had to leave to sleep. Welcome Yee to Second Life! We all look forward to seeing you again soon. And, as Scope Cleaver said:

[23:43] Scope Cleaver: Good luck Yee, and give SL a chance and it will reward you :-)

categories: Africa, bridge bloggers, china, crossing digital divides, Metaverse, Mixed Reality, Mobile Phones in Africa, Mobile Technology, Second Life, social media, The Dirt Road To The IT Superhighway, Virtual China, Virtual Citizenship, Virtual Worlds, Web 2.0, Web 3D, Web3.D, World 2.0

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  1. China » Blog Archive » No end in sight to floods in China Says:

    [...] Philanthropy LPGA Players Championship on Sunday for her second title on the Japan LPGA tour. … From China to Virtual Africa: How Can Participatory Media Benefit … I first met Yee, who is from Jinjiang, China and a recent graduate with a Business Diploma from [...]

  2. UgoTrade » Blog Archive » Philanthropy By Design in Second Life Says:

    [...] Alanagh Recreant of Uthango Social Investments who is an active participant in social investment projects on Second Life helped me cover the event. Alanagh is pioneering SL’s role as an enabling platform for social innovation, taking the visionary extra step of including Second Life in their strategies for poverty relief, crossing digital divides, and economic/social development in Africa (please see my previous posts here and here). [...]