Can the online community help disadvantaged groups?
The usual way would be to enact laws mandating access to persons with disabilities. I see another potential, for example, in a project in Bangladesh that aims to train young people to crowd-source locally-made products and upload the information for sale over an e-commerce platform. This initiative has opened up markets, as well as additional income, for thousands of farmers and fishermen and provided jobs for hundreds of Internet-savvy young people living in remote regions.
Also, libraries in Europe offer Web-enabled terminals which unemployed people can use to submit resumes online for job applications. And in Singapore, libraries give senior citizens free Internet access on a daily basis. TechSoup provides IT software and services for NGOs at greatly discounted rates.
These were some of the several initiatives highlighted during thein Bali last month that enable disadvantaged groups.
It got me thinking about how Internet businesses can take a proactive CSR (corporate social responsibility) role. For instance, for every one hour of roaming a telco's customers consume in a developing country, the telco could donate one hour of local online access to citizens who do not have Internet access in that country? Or the telco could allow customers with unused minutes for the month to donate these to a consolidated "credit call-minutes bank" to offer VoIP calls to the underprivileged?
After all, the Internet was created to facilitate the sharing of knowledge and if it can make the world a better place, why not?