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Around The World in 27 Years

I’m going to date myself by telling you a story.  When I was in junior high, my friends and I were computer nerds even though none of us had a computer of our own.  The lucky among us had a family computer at home, and we had access to various computers at school – the odd PC in a classroom here or there, a few computer labs, a handful of PCs in the school library.  
This era was solidly pre-Internet, however.  In those early days, we had bulletin board systems (BBSes.) I could channel my inner grandpa and talk to (well, okay, at you) about BBSes for hours, but for the uninitiated, BBSes were an early computer network (of sorts.) The BBS owner would set up software on their computer that would allow other users to dial in via phone. Once connected, the computer that dialed in could access content on the BBS owner’s computer. There were text messages you could leave for and pick up from other users, you could upload files for other users and download their files, some had ASCII-based games, and later on there were even rudimentary e-mail services.
The thing with BBSes was that any given BBS could only handle as many simultaneous users as the operator was willing to purchase modems and corresponding phone lines. And since we were dealing with phone lines, long distance charges came in to play (specifically, when you were in junior high you had to ensure that you never made a long distance call, because doing so was always punishable to the full extent of the law.)
I grew up in a small community about 45 minutes southwest of the Oklahoma City metro area.  At the time, it was a long distance call to OKC.  So in my little town, there were about five or six BBSes.  It was really cool to be able to call them up and browse through their content, but updates were understandably infrequent.
At some point – I don’t remember exactly when – calls to Oklahoma City and Norman became toll-free.  And let me tell you, that was quite a day.  In OKC, there was a local computer enthusiast group who printed a free publication called The Monitor, which ran articles about PC technology, software reviews, etc.  In the back of The Monitor, there as a BBS listing with names and phone numbers.  Hundreds of them.  Our teenage worlds exploded with an influx of new content to explore. I’ve always been a car guy, and I started a little collection (on my very own box of floppies) of “high resolution” GIFs (non-animated, thankyouverymuch) of rare and exotic cars I’d only ever seen in car magazines1.
I still have the telephone number to the BBS run by University of Oklahoma memorized.
Later, some of us got access to AOL, and by the time I graduated from high school I had a laptop of my own (a graduation gift from my parents) with my own dialup account with, a now-defunct dialup Internet provider in Oklahoma. From that point, we were off to the races with the (beginnings of) Internet we know and love today.
That made what happened this week extra special for me. For a few years now, Funds For Learning has partnered with the Institute for Economic Empowerment of Women, who run a leadership development program for women entrepreneurs called PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS®. The PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program places successful businesswomen in a mentorship role with entrepreneurs in Rwanda and Afghanistan, helping them develop business plans and improve technical and leadership skills.
At the culmination of the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® program is an annual conference where the top 15 students from each country are invited to the United States for additional mentorship and training opportunities as well as an in-person graduation ceremony.
But as you might imagine, COVID-19 had a little something to say about that this year. And so, like many other conferences and events, the PEACE THROUGH BUSINESS® annual event became a virtual forum out of necessity. Funds For Learning was honored to be able to provide access to our Zoom platform to host the event, as well as socially-distanced access to our tech resources for the Oklahoma-based folks who were participating in the event.
Here’s a couple of fun behind-the-scenes candids of FFL Mission Control: 
And so I sat, mostly agog, listening to powerful stories and valuable training sessions presented live by incredible women in Rwanda, Afghanistan, the United States, and other countries.  It was an amazing experience, and I am humbled to have been granted the opportunity.
And I learned stuff.  I learned fascinating aspects of cultures which are not my own.  I learned about time zones.  I learned how to be a more effective communicator.  A lot went into that experience – in order for my experience to be a reality I needed the presenters’ talent, I needed an organization with the idea to pull it all together, and I needed a willingness to learn.
But I also needed connectivity.
I couldn’t help but think about how back in the BBS days our access to resources was inhibited by something as simple as the charges associated with a long distance phone call.  And that, in my mind, is the true power of connectivity.  When it exists, I can use it to be educated.  I can use it to be kind.  I can use it to help others, and others can use it to help me.  Day in and day out, there are hundreds of students and library patrons who are depending on connectivity to grant access to life-changing resources that would otherwise be out of reach. E-rate coordinators in those schools and libraries are making it happen.
So to E-rate coordinators across the country, thank you. This might be a story about an old nerd learning new tricks, but the work you put into ensuring connectivity for your school or library has meaning and importance. Today’s students won’t ever remember a time when the world was not at their fingertips, but making sure it stays that way is what I call good work.

1Fun fact: I had some downtime on a work trip in Los Angeles a couple years ago, and I visited the Petersen Automotive Museum. A couple of the cars in my GIF collection were in the museum and on display *in person.* Fourteen-year-old me had a complete meltdown. I’m eternally grateful that I was traveling alone. 

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