Thane Richard: Librarian for the World
Thane Richard is publisher and chief operating officer of Outernet, a company dedicated to connecting every person on Earth to free data. Richard was a panelist at the 2015 Game Changers Summit hosted by United Methodist Communications, Sept. 17-19, in Nashville, Tennessee. The summit's focus was harnessing the power of information and communications technology (ICT) for global good. The aim is to demonstrate how ICT can be used to improve all facets of life throughout the developing world.
If you combined the entire population of North and South America, Europe, Indonesia, Japan and Korea, and then double it, you’d arrive at the number of people in the world who don’t have access to the wealth of information they could find on the Internet.
Thane Richard is working to change that.
Richard is publisher and chief operating officer of Outernet, a company dedicated to connecting every person on Earth to free data. Outernet uses capacity on a global satellite network to beam data from the open Internet to users with a receiver, similar to the way radio works. The ever-growing collection of information — dubbed “Humanity’s Public Library” — ranges from Wikipedia and books to civil defense warnings and health information.
The information available via Outernet is especially helpful in countries with no infrastructure for traditional Internet, but also in countries where online information is heavily censored or even banned.
Richard first became aware of the wide discrepancy of available information access while working in Mumbai, India, right after college.
“While I was there, I learned that news and current events are banned on FM radio in India; only the government is allowed to broadcast them,” he says. “I thought that was odd for the world’s largest democracy to regulate information. So I started my own podcast, a digital pirate radio of sorts, sharing the news online. Since we weren’t on FM radio, it allowed us to avoid the ban.”
Now, he considers data to be a commodity.
Recently, Outernet installed a receiver at a school in a remote part of Uganda, and now teachers there are able to access learning materials for their students as well as request other useful texts to be loaded to the Outernet library. In an area reached only by an hour-long boat ride, where acquiring physical textbooks is nearly impossible, teachers and students now have free access to entire libraries.
Outernet’s mission to improve lives through access to technology mirrors that of United Methodist Communications’ Information and Communication Technology for Development team. In fact, the two have now joined forces. The United Methodist Church is the first faith-based organization participating in Outernet’s library.
“I’ve always seen the religious sector as being one of enormous promise for us because of the presence globally of many different faiths,” Richard says. “People of faith are networked, they’re mission-minded. From a content standpoint, having a robust spirituality section is important if you’re going to have a good library. By engaging its global network, the leaders at United Methodist Communications will be invaluable in guiding us as we build out the faith-based content of Outernet's library."
*Butler is a multimedia editor/producer for United Methodist Communications.