ICT4D Professional: Steve Song

Steve Song is an international development professional residing in Cape Town, South Africa and specializing in communication infrastructure in Africa. He is the founder of Village Telco, “a social enterprise that builds low-cost WiFi mesh VoIP technologies to deliver affordable voice and Internet in underserviced areas” (Many Possibilities). His previous work includes a fellowship with the Shuttleworth Foundation to work on telecommunications access in South Africa. The Shuttleworth Foundation provides funding for those it deems as on the forefront of social change. Additionally, Song spent 10 years at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa. The center “supports research in developing countries to promote growth and development” (IDRC). Song’s research there dealt primarily with ICT4D in Africa.

One of Song’s main achievements is the creation of the Mesh Potato through Village Telco. The Mesh Potato (pictured below) combines voice and internet services in a low-cost, open software and hardware device.

Openness is a common theme in Song’s work. He believes that open hardware and software are crucial to successful ICT4D. By designing hardware that is easily discernable more power is put into the hands of the user. Communication technologies are no longer a foreign product, but rather they are something that can be tinkered with and improved upon by the consumer. In a blog post titled “In Praise of Taking Things Apart” Song argues that the ability to create is ultimately what creates wealth, and thus development. A device like the Mesh Potato, which can be taken apart and analyzed, presents and opportunity for innovation where previously there were only indiscernible products. In the long run, this functions to open up the telecom industry to entrepreneurship, increasing competition, and bringing down prices for all.

Steve Song’s Twitter



One response to “ICT4D Professional: Steve Song

  • hmfraser

    The mesh potato is very interesting. I found a list of the features and the reasons behind each one and it seems like a lot of thought was put into each element. Great that it has low power use, can run on 10W solar panel and can be installed outdoors (and last!). I also appreciate that a prototype was made then put through a pilot program. I would be interested to hear from some people who use it and how their experience with it has been.
    Though I do find myself curious about the name?

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