The Power of Connectedness

I’m reading Christakis and Fowler’s book Connected* while on the road for TEDIndia. It supports a point I make to donors a lot: that connectedness is a basic human need, more basic than food, water or shelter. Those of us who are lucky to live close to our friends and family often forget how important it is to be connected to the people we care about.

Samasource started working with refugees a few months ago, when I had the chance to visit Dadaab, Kenya, the largest refugee site in the world and home to more than 300,000 people living in abject poverty. CARE Kenya convinced a donor to install two computer labs with satellite access in Dadaab last year, which Samasource used to train refugees to do paying work for Silicon Valley companies.

The work is boring (see my post about virtual sweatshops, if you’re curious about this), but it has led to some cool unintended consequences. To wit: several refugees discovered Facebook because they now have a reason to spend time online. Which led to the following exchange on my Facebook wall (Paul Parach is a former Lost Boy who was forced to flee his village on foot at age 9 and has grown up in refugee camps):

refugee_screenshot

This is amazing. Paul first used a computer a month before we met him, and now he’s connected via one degree to Mark Zuckerberg. It’s really hard for me to illustrate how important this is. People like Paul spend the tiny bit of cash they earn in the camp buying cell phone credit. Paul and the other 42 million refugees worldwide are desperate to be connected to the outside world, and Facebook and cell phones are the only way they can do that.

If anyone who reads this knows of good research about the psychological impact of isolation and/or social connectedness after long periods of isolation, please comment — we’re eager to use this as one of our impact metrics.

*using the Kindle app for iPhone; props to Lloyd Taylor of Netelder for making this possible on a social entrepreneur’s budget.

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