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Rose Shuman

The internet is inaccessible to millions of people in rural developing areas. Rose Shuman is helping people find answers to everyday questions like health, agriculture, business, education and entertainment, with Question Box, a simple device breaking through technology, language and literacy barriers.


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Rose Shuman
“Most of the time, people think Question Box is elegant, clever, and cool, as well as a bit magical.”

​Imagine someone comes along and tells you about a new mode of transportation. They call it the helicopter, and explain how it's faster than the trains, planes, and feet you're used to. Its only drawbacks are its costly fuel, the lack of landing pads anywhere you'd want to go, and the fact that its instructions are only in French. With those caveats, you might not be too excited about getting your helicopter license.

This is one way Rose Shuman explains why internet use has not increased much in the developing world. Trustworthy electricity is rare, as are computers, technicians to service them, and people who know the globally dominant language. It may become more useful to future generations who grow up learning some of these skills, but not to the current generation. So how then to connect these individuals to the knowledge accumulating on the internet in a way that is culturally accessible and relevant? Reliable information on market prices for crops, for example, or even train schedules and sports scores, could increase the financial and intangible qualities of life.

To address this challenge, Rose and her colleagues at Open Mind created Question Box, a centrally-located call box that works like a telephone intercom, connecting callers to trained operators in nearby cities who have the internet in front of them. "The call agent answering the phone is always local, and speaking the caller's dialect," Rose explains. "That call agent 'translates' answers to make sense to the caller." 

Question Box provides information directly asked for by the callers, so they hear answers that are important to them. Ideally, a Question Box hotline is integrated into operations or draws upon the expertise of an existing local organization, one that's already got a good handle on what people need to know about a topic and how they need to hear it.

It's an idea that is attracting partnerships in Uganda and India, and the attention of global proponents of open access to information. "Most of the time, people who know a bit about social innovation or the developing world think Question Box is elegant, clever, and cool," offers Rose, "as well as a bit magical."