On Saturday I presented the concept of My Oral Village at the Toronto International Microfinance Summit, and after the talk, was approached by many young people asking questions. They told me the MOVE concept is ‘cool’. But older people often react differently. They may be very interested for a week or so. But then the interest wears off. A typical comment: “I wish this was more about technology!”
My Oral Village, Inc. is dedicated to re-engineering the retail interface of microfinance — the contracts, passbooks, brochures, signage, and software that communicate to illiterate and innumerate users and potential users about their microfinance transactions. These people are either financially excluded or very marginally included. In every case, their lives could be transformed if they could use financial services with greater confidence and skill.
Marshall McLuhan described technologies as the tools we create that extend our capabilities. Loan contracts, passbooks and signage — like mobile banking software — do this. That is, they do it if we can decode them. Writing, McLuhan points out, is also a technology. So is language, counting, geometry, measurement, classification and the tabular presentation of data. There is much concern today about bridging the digital divide. But earlier technological revolutions created their own divides, and it will take technological innovation to bridge them.
MOVE envisions a scientific, systems approach to older technologies. This will help us bridge the oral-literate divide, and bring hundreds of millions of poor people into the literate and digital economy, faster and more effectively.