Far across the ocean, a landlocked little country sits nestled in the Himayalas where fewer than 1 out of every 10 people use the Internet.
Stefan Wolf is an entrepreneur and filmmaker working to improve Internet access in rural Nepal, while also creating jobs and empowering women.
He is doing it through Beyond the Four Walls, his organization that builds cyber “resource centers” (aka Internet cafes) in remote locations for young women to run.
“Nepal is one of the worst places in the world to be a woman, but not because people want to keep it that way,” Wolf said in an interview with VentureBeat. “We want to provide free tools to any girls that are willing to work with us. We will give management of the centers to the women themselves, so they can develop entrepreneurship skills, learn about technology, and make some money.”
The international development community has focused a lot on girls and women over the past couple years. The UN said that empowering women leads to stronger economies, improves the quality of life, and advances other goals surrounding poverty, health, and the environment.
Wolf said that Nepal still has a very traditional society where arranged marriages and the burden of childbearing and division of labor rests heavily on women.
There are many organizations working to get more girls in school (my cousin runs one of them), but Wolf’s vision is to use these cyber resource center as portals to long-term, sustainable economic opportunity.
“We can buy everything we need — Internet, backup power, one to two computers, and rental of a space — for less than $1,000,” Wolf said. “The girls make money by charging people to use the cafe, but it also opens up access to crowdfunding platforms, micro finance opportunities, Skype, digital outsourcing, education, or to follow whatever creative interest they have.”
Wolf first visited Nepal when he was 18 to volunteer and fell in love with the country. He started working on a documentary about Nepal four years ago but quickly realized he wanted to be more actively involved in solving the problems he saw.
So he took a break from filming to start Beyond the Four Walls.
Wolf said he focuses on the most talented girls, who have worked hard to understand English and are likely to get the most out of the project.
“There is a lot of publicity about this issue of girls, but I feel frustrated by that,” Wolf said. “I want to bring out the voices of these girls and connect them with the world, connect them to other people, and teach them to do what I have done. I want to help girls tell their story instead of trying to convince people how bad the situation is.”
Entire communities also benefit from these cafes, and Wolf said word of the organization is spreading quickly from one village to the next.
Beyond the Four Walls received a grant from the Motorola Mobility Foundation, as well as financial support from brands like Speck Products and American Apparel to get the first cafes going.