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Mahala Network's mission is simple:

Connect the Unconnected.

With the world’s population approaching 8 billion people, it is inconceivable that more than half do not have access to basic communication networks or the internet. Attempts to solve this issue have run into familiar roadblocks: high cost of last-mile service, language barriers and cultural resistance.

By upcycling end-of-life mobile devices and connecting them to each other—instead of cellular towers, drones, balloons or satellites—we create an organic, distributed network that allows individuals to communicate and communities to drive commerce.

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The Problem

In our world of nearly 8 billion people, more than half are not able to connect to the Internet.

Infrastructure

“There are indications that Internet growth is slowing, as broadband services extend out of urban areas to more remote, less densely populated areas.” — UNESCO Report 2015

Community

“The western world has established something of a monopoly not only on the Web, but on its content as well…which means that many individuals across the globe remain unaware of the Internet’s potential or cannot use it, because there is little or no useful content in their native language.” — The Broadband Commission for Digital Development

Cost

“While most Americans have Internet in their homes, only half of all adults who make less than $30,000 per year do. And 15 percent of Americans don’t have access to the Internet at all…” –Pew Research 2013

Skills

“Imprisonment of the mind is as much a sin as imprisonment of the body. We must free people limited by the lack of Internet access.” — U.S. Senator Cory Booker

About Mahala

Mahala Network is an inexpensive platform for bringing digital connectivity to the more than 4 billion people who don't have access to the internet.

Focus on Communities

We are focused on establishing inter and intra village networks. Mahala is able to meet immediate communication needs, without introducing the complexity of cross-language or cultural communication gaps.

Every Person Matters

Mahala also eliminates the “land-rush” mentality inherent to the “first world” internet. Every participant within the Mahala network creates value and adds meaningful content within the network, becoming creators instead of consumers of technology

Reduce Environmental Impact

By taking advantage of existing “e-waste” we reduce the overall footprint of electronic devices in landfills around the world and give them a second life–2x the social good.

Reduced Operating Costs

Finally, the decentralized nature of Mahala eliminates many of the on-going costs associated with running the first world internet, ensuring that participants never need to be treated as products.

Robust Open Platform

All together, Mahala provides a robust platform for communication, commerce and creativity to service the unconnected population of our world.

Mahala Network brings technology together to exploit innovation instead of individuals.

Beneficiaries

There are more than 4 Billion potential beneficiaries of the work that we're doing. Currently Mahala is in pilot in rural communities. These are some of the stories we've heard.

Sibongile

is a teacher at Sunshine Academy in Kwabutele township in rural South Africa. Her 40 students walk on average six miles to attend school for four hours each day. Mahala Network would allow Sibongile to publish her curriculum and lesson materials on a site for students to access even when they aren’t in the classroom. In addition, when Sibongile travels into town, she would be able to connect to a much larger network—and even the internet at a café—to make additional multimedia, books and other supplementary material available to her students.

Naresh

is a seventh generation Nepalese farmer. He and several other farmers in his village work together as part of a cooperative to share resources and mitigate risk. Mahala Network would allow Naresh and the other farmers to communicate with neighboring villages about crop blight and other disease that today is difficult to predict or prevent. It also helps the farmers determine a fair price for their goods, something that today is determined by the inexperienced driver who collects the crops from several villages.

Victoria

is a single, middle-aged woman with three children living in the Appalachian region of the United States. Her husband was a coal miner who died a few years ago from lung disease. Victoria makes money by selling homemade soap at a farmer’s market in a town 30 miles away. Mahala Network would give Victoria and her children access to a communication network and educational material to help them raise their standard of living. It would also provide a platform for Victoria to set up a small business page, letting her take orders which would help her to better manage her inventory and her finances.
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Help Mahala Grow!

“The digital divide is proving stubbornly persistent in terms of access to broadband Internet, including the challenge of extending last-mile access to infrastructure to remote and rural communities”

The Broadband Commission for Digital Development

Mahala, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit in the United States. Donations are used to target pilot high impact communities around the world: in the Asian subcontinent, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Appalachian region of the United States as well as interim communities like refugee camps. These deployments serve to help the most underserved communities by providing no-cost access to communication.

After initial success in these communities, we will partner with governments, non-governmental and charitable organizations to increase the net impact. These organizations can leverage their own resources to source, configure and distribute Mahala enabled devices to targeted populations. These could include areas impacted by disasters where normal communication services have been severely compromised, or areas plagued by intermittent crises that make existing communication services unreliable or cost-prohibitive.

Beyond the objective of empowering the unconnected populations, Mahala is committed to working with national, state and local governments and private enterprises to ensure that positive outcomes continue to fuel the growth of the platform. These include individuals and organizations facilitating the collection or refurbishment of secondhand devices, training to install the software, and logistics to deliver the devices.

Numerous studies have been conducted to assess the impact of information and communication technology in under-developed countries. As expected, the highest positive social and economic impacts were in the upper and middle classes due to the cost-prohibitive nature of the networks. Similarly in developed and developing nations, expanding telephone, radio and cellular networks, as well as reduced cost of devices have all resulted in strong socio-economic benefits.

Mahala builds on this success through a unique approach to networking, marginalizing traditional approaches in favor of radical innovation to build organic, distributed networks in economically under or unserved areas and leverage existing hardware while reducing e-waste.

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When thinking about the ‘last mile’ of Internet access, it’s easy to think “Why not just build a cell tower?” Unfortunately the solution isn’t that easy. Access to the internet requires not only a wireless signal, but power for the cell tower, and at some point a direct link to the trunk link of the internet. Google and Facebook recognize the difficulty in solving the infrastructure challenge, and both have developed unmanned aircraft to beam the Internet down to unconnected parts of the world, in an attempt to address the infrastructure challenges. Elon Musk has laid out a plan to launch thousands of low-Earth orbit satellites to beam the Internet to the remotest parts of the world. Even where they’ve managed to bring connectivity, they run into the next obstacle: Affordability.

The Internet in the hands of the developed world has become an experience where only the wealthiest can afford to participate with high startup costs in the form of monthly cellular and cable or satellite bills, hosting fees and domain registrations (to be more than just a consumer). And where individuals cannot afford the pay-to-play model, large corporations either extract personal information in exchange for services like search, email and social connectedness or push advertising in the form of banners, popups and unsolicited messages.

 

Facebook was recently called to task for it’s largely beneficent low-cost Internet.org project for pushing its own social network alongside Internet access in developing countries. This seemingly benign inclusion should not be unexpected but serves to disenfranchise and marginalize would-be content creators in developing countries, which is the third challenge: Local Adoption.

Indeed, virtual ‘real estate’ on the Internet in the form of domains has been swept up to such a degree that the governing body of the Internet (ICANN) released hundreds more Top Level Domains to supplement the waning supply of meaningful .com, .org and .net addresses available. However even this move was not without financial motivation, and a large number of Top Level Domains were industry-specific and purchased by and reserved for large corporations like Amazon (.amazon) and Google (.google), further sidelining the individual contributor.

Even if the other half of the world were to suddenly get access to the internet, it is unlikely that they would value it to nearly the degree that English speaking countries do. Of the more than 7000 languages in the world, 5 of them make up more than 90 percent of web content. The offering is disingenuous—the equivalent of inviting digital immigrants to a city that has already been built and in a stroke of irony offering to make some of the most poverty ridden individuals in the world consumers of our content and products.

 

Additionally, late comers to the internet are seeing stronger activity from state actors who leverage Internet access for political and economic objectives. As democratic movements took off in the Middle East in late 2010, governments in the area suspended access to the Internet, leaving millions cut off from each other and the world. Even developed countries aren’t exempt—in the United States the FCC repealed regulations that required Internet Service Providers to give equal priority to all content on the Internet and allowed those same providers to collect information individuals’ browsing behavior for the purpose of advertising.

But perhaps the most difficult challenge is the last: Skills.

The skills gap has a high degree of variability around the world. It can be as simple as a lack of awareness — “how do I participate?” to a lack of literacy. There has been such a strong focus on developing the sub-$100 computer that the skills gap has been left largely untouched. How do we prepare 4 billion people to take advantage of the internet in a way that they can understand and appreciate its value?

 

Equally critical is the change management that takes into account cultural variability: local conditions and customs and especially understanding how families and communities influence the introduction of new ideas.

The situation can seem hopeless given the challenge laid out by WEF—even if we were able to provide internet access in the next 20 years, how do we overcome the risk of further impoverishing, disenfranchising or exploiting the individuals we’re trying to help?

Mahala is a network for the unconnected—a device that creates its own standalone network that can be brought into any community anywhere in the world. There are no assumptions about power requirements, wired or wireless connectivity or even proximity.

It just works.

In addition to upcycled mobile devices, Mahala has a prototype device that looks just like a cell phone with an integrated solar panel and substantial internal storage. When these devices are assigned to an individual they are biometrically encrypted to them and they are assigned a unique identifier for life. They receive some basic training about how to create, publish and share their own content within the network, how to access information already on the network and how to request information that isn’t available yet.

As more people in the community are given Mahala devices, the network gets stronger. Individuals can make calls and send messages to each other—each device connecting securely to the devices around it to form an encrypted chain from the sender to the receiver.

Many small villages today are serviced by semi-regular vehicles that provide them with supplies from nearby towns and cities. With Mahala, the driver becomes a conduit for more than supplies—they are a link to other villages that frequent the same cities. Information from those other villages is cached on his device opening up opportunities for messages to be securely sent and received and a basic framework for trade that didn’t exist before. The network takes on elements of a digital Pony Express, or a truly global interlibrary loan.

And with the encryption that is built directly into Mahala Network is the framework to support an economy. Every transaction on the network, whether passing along an encrypted message, or bringing data from a sister network is rewarded with a small digital payment using blockchain based cryptocurrency. This is more than a passive digital income stream. It allows neighboring villages to do business using a standard currency without relying on financial institutions that are infrequently available or prohibitively expensive.

Mahala is a network for the unconnected—a device that creates its own standalone network that can be brought into any community anywhere in the world. There are no assumptions about power requirements, wired or wireless connectivity or even proximity.

It just works.

When these devices are assigned to an individual they are biometrically encrypted to them and they are assigned a unique identifier for life. With every device, individuals receive some basic training about how to create, publish and share their own content within the network, how to access information already on the network and how to request information that isn’t available yet.

As more people in the community connect to the Mahala network, the network becomes even more powerful. Individuals can make calls and send messages to each other—each device connecting securely to the devices around it to form an encrypted chain from the sender to the receiver.

Many small villages today are serviced by semi-regular vehicles that provide them with supplies from nearby towns and cities. With Mahala, the driver becomes a conduit for more than physical supplies—they become a digital link to other villages. Information from those villages are encryped and cached on the carrier's device opening up opportunities for messages to be securely sent and received and a basic framework for trade that didn’t exist before. The network takes on elements of a digital Pony Express, or a truly global interlibrary loan.

And with the encryption that is built directly into Mahala Network is the framework to support lightweight economic tools. Every transaction on the network, whether passing along an encrypted message, or bringing data from a sister network is rewarded with a small payment using a digital ledger. This is more than a passive digital income stream. It allows neighboring villages to conduct business using a standard currency without relying on financial institutions that are infrequently available or prohibitively expensive.

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