The unlikeliest resource for fighting poverty in Africa is a floating island with an ancient tree and a gleaming ballroom, drifting in space amid a sheet of falling rain. Someone sent me there the other night, and at first I didn't know what it was for. I had to learn that from the woman with the purple wings who was there on the dance floor, because as it turned out, she also happened to be an NGO director logging in from Cape Town, South Africa.
African Rain, Alanagh Recreant explained as as we took an obligatory twirl, is the social space for Virtual Africa, in turn a project of Uthango Social Investments. (It's the work of acclaimed metaverse artist and designer Eshi Otawara, who donated her talent to create the space. Her goal, Eshi explains in a note, was to translate her emotional sense of Uthango's goals in a place that felt protected, and nourished by constant rain.) An extension of their headquarters in Sunset Commerce (direct SLURL teleport at this link), African Rain officially opens this week, on the 24th, when Uthango hosts an "Africa Day" in Second Life. It's on Robben Island (direct SLURL teleport at this link), and though it may seem strange, Alanagh sees it as an integral part of their outreach to Africa's poor and marginalized communities.
"We start with addressing information poverty, access to relevant communities about opportunities to better their lives," she tells me, "Using mobile, Internet, radio, social networks on the ground and then look at buildings, training, enterprise development..." Second Life is part of that mesh, she argues, a channel "to bring in African content" to those who would otherwise not know about it, let alone see it in person. "Africa has A LOT to offer," she says. "But the positive is not seen." They're opening up Robben Island to landowners with an interest in Africa, and "embassies" of pro-Africa communities. With luck, they'll bring live music from the continent into African Rain, so Residents around the world can attend the concert. (Possible performers would include the Buyambo Marimba Band, pictured here; Uthango helped finance the group's first CD.)
But establishing an African outpost in the metaverse has its skeptics-- beginning with a branch of the South African Reserve Bank.
"We (Uthango) are a registered NGO in South Africa," Alanagh explains, "and try convincing the Reserve Bank that we can do business with Linden Lab understanding what it is we seek to achieve." (The Bank is the country's financing entity.) "And mentioning 'virtual currency'..." Her chat trials off.
"Why is that hard? Linden Lab is an accredited US company isn't it?"
"Yes, sure, but on our auditor's side we need to run our finances through the exchange control, and the Reserve Bank of South Africa asked motivation on motivation to understand what we seek to achieve they are not convinced yet."
Not among the skeptics, she says, are Uthango's clients.
"In showing one of our very poor clients Second Life, we asked, do you think SL could do anything to make your life better?" She refers to Bandile, Buyambo Marimba's manager.
"He is a struggling artist. HE confirmed a part of our vision in his own words and it was such confirmation. We want to tell our story to people around the world and he wants to host our storytelling about Africa on Virtual Africa. Another [client] told us we want people to know we have the solution to our problem, but not the resources to change. We had a long discussion afterwards about that, about creating resources in a community-- that Virtual Africa could be a platform for connecting people globally to Africans living in communities, if proper technical systems are developed.
"How will perceptions ever change, and people be closer connected," Alanagh Recreant says, as she twirls between crests of scarlet feathers, "if we don't do this?"
UgoTrade has a more in-depth profile of Uthango's mission here.