IMARA (a Swahili word that means "power") is an effort that has begun at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). The overall goal of IMARA is to find and implement long-term, sustainable techniques for making educational technology and resources available to domestic and international communities.
The lack of available technology resources in underserved communities is often referred to as the Digital Divide. Though much has been written about this divide, and though government agencies from many countries actively track the state of this disparity, there have been few, if any, concerted efforts to find viable ways of providing equal access to people in underserved populations.
There are many components and key philosophies that underlie IMARA:
(1) Empower communities to help themselves. Instead of providing handouts, IMARA provides resources and training needed to IMARA communities to effect the changes that they believe have value.
(2) Local Experts. Heavy emphasis is placed on training the trainers, who become local experts in their communities. They then train others, and this gift of knowledge is then passed on to neighboring communities. Participants earn their new resources by helping others, which builds a sense of self-worth and investment in the process.
(3) Empower without indoctrination. Many outreach efforts carry a dogmatic directive, whether to espouse a particular religion or to promote a Western way of life. Our goal is to enable without strings attached; to allow communities to take the new opportunity and make changes that they decide and agree upon.
(4) Provide solutions to problems. We do not believe in introducing technology that unnecessarily complicates life or that does not specifically address a preexisting problem that has been identified by the community.
(5) Establish community learning and technology centers. These locations provide adequate power, lighting, and other accommodations to facilitate learning and community service. They also act as a hub for communicating with other centers around the world.
(6) Sustainability. No action should be taken without proper consideration for long-term maintenance, feedback, improvement, and outcome studies. Participants should learn how to care for resources, and should be invested in passing the gift of knowledge on to others.
(7) Leveraging existing efforts. Humanitarian efforts are scarce enough, and duplication of effort is unaffordable. IMARA will remain aware of ongoing and existing efforts by organizations already in a potential participant site, and will attempt to cooperate to the fullest possible extent with them to maximize outcome.
(8) Developing partnerships with industry. We want to help organizations that want to make a difference in the world. We provide logistics and the legwork needed to get resources and experienced trainers into underserved populations. This way, contributions of monetary and technological resources get deployed efficiently to communities in need. Everyone involved wins.