From the archive, originally posted by: [ spectre ]
The Village: Gaming to Overcome Poverty in Africa
September 11th, 2007
As you might have realized from past posts here, I enjoy computer
gaming. I just recently came across a new game called “The Village”
that is being created to simulate a third-world village. Your goal is
to use your entrepreneurial spirit to raise this village out of
It’s a “multiplayer online real-time strategy game that immerses the
player into the role of an entrepreneur building companies to bring
prosperity to the villages of the third world.”
At first glance you might find this concept superfluous. After all,
what practical use can gamers in the West have on the real problems in
places like Africa? Let me try and explain why I think it could be
It’s not just about playing a game – it’s about attention, ideas, and
change through collaboration.
Getting the attention of people in the West in this time of
overwhelming media blitzes is difficult. People are interested
however, and creating one more avenue for people to find out about the
situation in places like Africa is a good thing. Gaming opens up the
world to a whole new demographic, and a game like the Village provides
a non-overt educational component.
Assuming the Village is an open enough game, there could be some very
creative business, engineering and technological ideas that come out
of it. If done right, the game could become a platform to test and
prove out ideas before doing a pilot project or investing in a
business in real life.
This is where the idea behind the Village truly comes into its best
light. Collaboration player-to-player and between players and real
world villagers is highly intriguing. The idea of drawing a line
between those in the developed world and those in the developing world
is very attractive. Think micro-level investment and idea sharing.
If the Village is developed to be fun, open and has the right type of
interaction levels between users and people on the ground in the third
world, it could be a very exciting project indeed. I particularly like
the idea of it being a solution for education and for growing wealth
through investment. In this case it’s not investment just by large
organizations, but by ordinary people (just like Kiva). http://www.kiva.org/
If you are interested in helping, find out how you can here.
Village is SimCity for the Third World.
Instead of being mayor, be an entrepreneur. Build and run companies
that transform lives. Village is a realtime strategy game for the PC
that immerses the player into the role of an entrepreneur building
companies to bring prosperity to the villages of the Third World.
Poor countries have a challenging mix of problems.
Almost everyone has seen a movie, a documentary, or website discussing
extreme poverty, lack of drinking water, starvation, or the fight
against AIDS. There’s plenty of opportunity to discover the plight of
poverty on the world. Now it’s time to share the solutions.
Village the Game shows off the best solutions to extreme poverty.
These solutions are sustainable, eco-friendly, and provide income for
the world’s poorest. Start and run your own microcredit bank, sell
irrigation pumps that help farmers grow ten times more food. Bring
affordable solar power and mobile phone technology to your village.
Test your favorite strategies in-game with villages modeled after the
The audience for Village is large and growing.
Whether it is lending money to microentrepreneurs through Kiva.org or
signing petitions at One.org every indicator says the audience that
cares about extreme poverty and wants to take action is large and
Play it. Love it. Live it.
The impact of Village doesn’t stop at raising awareness of solutions.
It continues into inspiring action: First learn how cool microcredit
is, then go to www.Kiva.org and try microlending for real. Experiment
with micromedical clinics in Kenya then recruit friends you met inside
the game to fund a franchise in Tanzania.
Town-building is fun!
Games like Westward entertain players with building a Wild West town
during the Gold Rush Era. In Virtual Villagers the player creates a
thriving tropical community on an island. Village the Game takes place
in today’s Wild West: the Third World; often within the beauty of
We’re bringing home this fun as a casual download.
Although Village will evolve into massively multiplayer online game,
Village 1.0 is a casual download. It’s single player action designed
for 12 hours of gameplay. The design document is ready for a talented
team to take it from the functional demo it is now to a polished icon
of reality gaming.
Become a part of history.
As billions live without life’s basic necessities there are millions
who crave to have deep meaningful impact on the lives of others. When
these millions discover the power they have to transform the lives of
billions, everybody wins. Village is the chance to discover that
power. Village is a game worth winning.
Founder – Darian Hickman | +1 (650) 464-5342
founder [at] villagethegame [dot] com
I’D LIKE TO THANK…
The knowledge modelled inside Village the Game has come from many
sources over several years. Here I’m hilighting the websites,
documentaries, people, and books that have shaped the content of
Village the Game.
www.WorldChanging.com is the awesomest website for keeping up on
sustainable development, green technology and the already existing
innovations for making the world a better place.
www.NextBillion.net focuses on documenting social enterprises across
the world, companies that are working on eradicating poverty through
free-market business practices.
“The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid: Eradicating Poverty Through
Profits” by CK Prahalad is an awesome book filled with case studies of
companies like Voxiva who have come up with a great model for
controlling epidemics where medical staff are few and far between.
“The New Heroes” documentary funded by the Skoll Foundation tells the
story of 14 social entrepreneurs across the globe from Fabio Rosa
renting solar cells in Brazil to Muhammed Yunus pioneering
microcredit. Many of their stories are incorporated into the story of
PREACHING THE AFRICAN FREE MARKET
Meet James Shikwati, executive director of the Inter Regional Economic
By JASON DePARLE / November 18, 2006
*The Conservative Reach*
Preaching the Gospel of Small Government
BUKURA, Kenya – Lawrence W. Reed’s unusual line of work, coaching
conservative policy groups, has left Mr. Reed, a Michigan economist,
with acolytes across the globe. But none please him more than James
Shikwati, whose unlikely rise offers a case study of how the right grooms
Mr. Shikwati was a young teacher in western Kenya when he came across
an article by Mr. Reed on the genius of capitalism. In this isolated
village where Mr. Shikwati was raised, life revolved around mud huts and
maize, not smokestacks. Still he dashed off a note to Midland, Mich., where Mr.
Reed runs a think tank that promotes conservative economics and offers a
program teaching others to do the same.
“Do you assist individuals who would like to know more about the free
market and individual liberty?” Mr. Shikwati wrote.
Over the next four years, Mr. Reed sent books, reports, magazines,
tracts – even occasional sums of money – as Mr. Shikwati embraced capitalist
theory with a passion. Then he started a one-man think tank of his own.
On a continent where socialists have often held sway, Mr. Shikwati is
now a conservative phenomenon. He has published scores of articles hailing
business as Africa’s salvation; offered free-market lectures on five
continents; and, defying the zeitgeist of the Bono age, issued scathing
attacks on foreign assistance, which he blames for Africa’s poverty.
When Western countries pledged to double African aid last year, an
interview with an angry Mr. Shikwati filled two pages of Der
Spiegel, the German magazine.
“For God’s sake, please stop the aid!” he told the magazine.
So modest was Mr. Shikwati’s start in the policy world, he walked nine miles
on muddy roads just to get Mr. Reed’s e-mail messages. Yet nine months after
he started his group, Western supporters flew him to the United States,
where he joined a dinner of the conservative Heritage Foundation and toasted
an A-list crowd that included Edwin Meese III, the former attorney general.
The unusual collaboration between a Midwestern mentor and his African
protégé can be read in contrasting lights – as a crafty effort to export
Western dominance or an idealistic joining of minds in the cause of freedom.
While Mr. Reed salutes his protégé as a “passionate advocate for liberty in
an unlikely place,” Jeffrey D. Sachs, a Columbia University professor
who is a leading aid advocate, calls Mr. Shikwati’s criticisms of
foreign assistance “shockingly misguided” and “amazingly wrong.”
“This happens to be a matter of life and death for millions of people, so
getting it wrong has huge consequences,” Mr. Sachs said.
Mr. Shikwati’s group, the Inter Region Economic Network, or IREN, is
part of a global span of policy groups that Western conservatives have helped
build over the past quarter-century. Operating in as many as 70 countries,
with varying degrees of outside support, these institutes push a wide array
of free-market prescriptions, including lower taxes, less regulation and
They have strengthened property rights in Peru, aided the privatization of
state-owned companies in Egypt, protested union power in France and
led the way in halving the Lithuanian corporate income tax.
As the architect of Slovakia’s flat tax, the F. A. Hayek Foundation drew a
visit from Steve Forbes, the former presidential aspirant. He labeled the
country an “investor’s paradise” in “no small part because of the foundation’s
The movement even has a venture capital arm, the Atlas Economic Research
Foundation in Arlington, Va.: over the last decade, it has given groups like
Mr. Shikwati’s more than $17 million.
While conservative think tanks are in the American mainstream, their foreign
counterparts often push ideas held in distrust. In translating Friedrich von
Hayek’s works, the Research Center for Entrepreneurship Development in
Vietnam is bringing an über-capitalist to a communist state.
Articulate, energetic, gifted at making friends, Mr. Shikwati, 36, is one of
the brightest new stars on this little-studied circuit. In just five years,
he has made his byline a ubiquitous presence on the country’s op-ed pages
and gained enough respectability to get government ministers to speak
at his conferences. Still, not even Mr. Shikwati claims to have changed the
direction of Kenyan policy. His greater influence may be exercised
abroad, in forums like that of Der Spiegel, where he gives Western
conservatives the added credibility that comes with having an eloquent African ally.
Mr. Sachs said such anti-aid arguments “have slowed life-saving
interventions.” Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for a United Nations food
program, said Mr. Shikwati’s policies would “kill millions of people.”
Irungu Houghton, an Oxfam official in Nairobi, said they would consign
poor Africans to “a major death sentence.”
Mr. Shikwati said, “I get all these letters, ‘I saw the children with flies
in their eyes – how can you be so cruel?’ ” He responds with the calm
of true belief: “We have to stop looking for other people to save us. We
need to look for ways to save ourselves.”
A Business Cure to Fight Malaria
Mr. Shikwati is hoping to do just that here in Bukura with a plan to
fight malaria, a disease that kills 800,000 African children a year. He is
not just running a think tank, he said, but a “do tank,” too, since he
said Africans will buy his theories only after they see results. One theory
is that business, not aid, can best fight poverty and disease.
To prove it, he is trying to commercialize the anti-malaria effort by
hiring Bukura youths to spray homes with pesticides. For about 75 cents,
villagers can get an introductory treatment, with subsequent sprayings running
$4.25 every six months. That is twice the average daily wage of a Kenyan
laborer, but cheaper than the $17 it takes to treat a malaria case here.
As the business grows, Mr. Shikwati sees a dawning cycle of virtue: medical
savings will buy fertilizer and seed; profits from the fields will bankroll
businesses; and the emerging proto-middle class will lobby the government
for freer markets, reinforcing the prosperity loop.
It all starts by getting villagers to pay, which Mr. Shikwati argues will
“change people’s attitudes.” With no electricity, running water or paved
roads, Bukura seemed an unlikely scene of social transformation as Mr.
Shikwati arrived for a visit a few months ago. Smoke from outdoor
kitchens clouded the air, and a former schoolteacher was sitting on a crate,
blind from drinking home brew.
The first stop was the home of Theresa Bakhoya, a teacher’s wife who has
been raising seven children amid frequent outbreaks of the disease.
“Since they sprayed my house, I’ve had no more malaria attacks,” she said. A
similar endorsement came from Wilberforce Mutokaa, who lives in a mud
hut decorated with a poster of the evangelist T. D. Jakes.
Yet for all the talk of commercialization, neither of the villagers paid. To
recruit clients, a local sprayer explained, he made the first treatment
free. “I’m not disappointed at all,” Mr. Shikwati said. As villagers see the
benefits, “I promise you there will be spraying on a commercialized basis.”
Mr. Shikwati has another “do tank” project in the arid Ukambani region
of eastern Kenya, an area of chronic famine and food aid. Urging
subsistence farmers to invest in new crops, he has two purposes in mind.
One is to improve yields. The other is to create markets, by showing suppliers
they can profit from selling to the poor.
“Then we can say, ‘See, selfish people interested in profit have finally got
the Ukambani people eating,’ ” he said.
At a farmers’ cooperative in the Kalawani district, about 100 miles east of
Nairobi, a dozen or so members gave the theory a go. Spending $40 of
pooled money on fertilizer and seed, they invested in a cabbage patch, but
only sold about $7 worth of cabbage, a loss of more than 80 percent. They
are now trying to grow saplings, which they hope to sell to nurseries. “We’ll
keep trying – everything is trying,” Stella Musau said.
Mr. Shikwati said their perseverance alone was a sign of progress. “In
business, when you invest in something that doesn’t work, you don’t
quit – you try your hand at something else,” he said.
A Capitalist Is Born in Kenya
Mr. Shikwati’s conversion to capitalism started with a rejection letter. As
a 27-year-old teacher in a rural high school, he applied to dozens of
American graduate schools and gained admittance to none. But one
rejection came with a book, “The Law” by Frédéric Bastiat.
A 19th-century, French, pamphlet-length attack on the state, “The Law”
enjoys something close to a cult following among some libertarians. It
describes taxes and regulation as “legal plunder,” and sees tyranny at
work in laws that force citizens to support public schools. “Try liberty,”
” ‘The Law’ just spun me around,” said Mr. Shikwati, who flirted with
socialism at the University of Nairobi and made the book’s translation
into Swahili one of his group’s first projects. “It showed me I was
believing in the wrong things.”
Mr. Shikwati wrote to the book’s nonprofit publisher and received a
journal with a column by Mr. Reed. Many busy people would have ignored the
letter that soon landed on Mr. Reed’s desk. (“Exactly what does the Mackinac
Center for Public Policy do for the citizenship of the world?” Mr. Shikwati
asked, referring to Mr. Reed’s group.)
But Mr. Reed, 53, runs a conservative “think-tank school” that twice a year
draws allies from across the globe. In answering, he began a four-year
correspondence. “This is how the movement grows,” he said.
By 2001, with Mr. Reed’s help, Mr. Shikwati landed two grants totaling
about $9,500 a year, one from Atlas and one from a related British group,
the International Policy Network. IREN now has a budget of $300,000 and
seven full-time employees.
With no academic credentials, Mr. Shikwati made a mark as an author of
opinion articles. He defended McDonald’s against critics of globalization
and drug companies against charges of price gouging. He called for the
legalization of the ivory trade, which he argues would protect elephant
herds. Above all, he called for an end to foreign aid, saying it hurt
local markets, corrupted governments and promoted dependency.
His iconoclasm and his authenticity as an African made Mr. Shikwati
attractive to the Western press, despite his lack of prominence at
home. His views quickly traveled the globe, appearing in places as diverse
as The Sydney Morning Herald, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of London,
Forbes and The Washington Post.
Echoing his calls to end foreign aid, Suzanne Fields of The Washington
Times lauded Mr. Shikwati, who has a bachelor’s degree in education and no
economics training, as nothing less than “a distinguished Kenyan
Critics and Admirers
Critics see a sleight of hand, in which Western conservatives created
a faux expert, then cite him to justify their views.
“The truly hard-hearted have been looking for a developing country
‘economist’ to sing this song for years,” said Neil Gallagher, a spokesman
for the United Nations World Food Program in Rome, which feeds about
three million Kenyans a year. “It justifies their meanness.”
Mr. Sachs of Columbia University said Mr. Shikwati was “part of a game”
the conservative movement played to create an impression that Africans
oppose foreign help. Although he agrees that some aid programs have failed,
he said others had eradicated smallpox, slashed polio rates and started Asia’s
green revolution, saving hundreds of millions of people from famine.
Even Mr. Shikwati’s African admirers tend to distance themselves from his
absolutism. Maggie Kamau-Biruri, who runs the Kenya office of the
International Child Resource Institute, a nonprofit group, finds it hard to
talk of less government in a country without enough paved roads and no
public high schools. But “I really like him a lot,” she said. “He means well
and wants to see his country move forward.”
Enamored of Mr. Shikwati’s success, Mr. Reed recently took his think-
tank school to Nairobi, offering an abbreviated session to participants
from Kenya, Zambia, Ethiopia and Tanzania. The following day, Mr. Shikwati
took him to Africa Nazarene University, where a student group he helped
lead had privatized the campus canteen and formed an exchange to trade its
The students then took them to an orphanage, whose dire conditions framed
the aid debate in especially urgent terms. The St. Paul’s Children’s Home
cares for 50 children, mostly AIDS orphans, in two small rooms, where
some sleep three to a bed, and it lacks amenities as basic as running water
and electricity. The students are teaching the orphans to recycle Christmas cards.
The profits, about $115 so far, have helped pay one boy’s tuition at a private
high school, since free education ends after eighth grade.
Critics like Ms. Kamau-Biruri see such mass destitution as evidence of why
Kenya needs a government safety net. But Mr. Shikwati said the poverty
showed that government fails – in this case by mismanaging an economy
better left alone. For Mr. Reed, the orphanage also bolstered his antigovernment
views; he saw “wonderful images of progress” in the student’s voluntarism.
Before leaving Kenya, Mr. Reed visited his protégé’s new office, where the
reading nook is called the Lawrence Reed Library. “James, I’m probably as
thrilled with your progress as you are,” he said.
Mr. Shikwati beamed. “Ever since we corresponded, my strength to change
Africa is so strong,” he said.