Jenara Nerenberg

E+Co’s Invisible Schoolhouse and the (Online) BoP Ecosystem

E+Co, a leading clean energy investor for the BoP, recently announced the launch of their latest initiative, the Invisible Schoolhouse. The Invisible Schoolhouse offers an online learning portal and distance learning services for energy entrepreneurs in developing countries. Workshops will be offered in Senegal, Tanzania, and Ghana this summer and will offer courses on clean technologies, finance, accounting, and other business basics.

With the launch of the Invisible Schoolhouse, I was reminded of several other online portals connecting entrepreneurs, experts, consumers, and more. The ICT for Development (ICT4D) space is producing some much-needed websites, resources, and offline initiatives. Just recently I learned about Elevyn, an online marketplace for microentrepreneurs to sell their crafts. I have my own initiative to connect the BoP to consumer researchers and job opportunities through an online platform, BOP Source, which is now being used by the BoP in Nepal’s Telecenters. In other words, “the BoP are signing in.”

(Full disclosure: I am the founder of BOP Source.)

Bal Joshi of has been using ICT as a way to connect the BoP to resources for over ten years. is a success story, the likes of which many are trying to replicate. And now he’s piloting VOIP, virtual ATM machines, and more throughout Nepal. Nepal, having some of the poorest infrastructure in the world, especially regarding ICT, is one of the most challenging places to work as an ICT4D entrepreneur, and yet the country seems to attract ICT4D entrepreneurs and is relatively open when it comes to trying new experiments.

In the many conversations I’ve had with Bal, I’ve always observed a passion, optimism, and patience in him – the last quality being especially important in this country. Finding the right people to partner with and seizing the moment seem to be a trademark of Joshi’s success, two facets I anticipate E+Co will also strive to develop for the Invisible Schoolhouse. I look forward to learning more about the infrastrucutre challenges and solutions in the countries where E+Co’s Invisible Schoolhouse resides.

So maybe Mr. Joshi will start the next online learning center for ICT4D entrepreneurs. Or maybe someone else will. Either way, additional specialized learning centers would be a tremendous contribution to our field. Why not create global online learning portals for health, agriculture, education, water, sanitation, and other areas? I’m sure such resources already exist and I’d love to hear about them if you are involved in any way.

The challenges are many, especially related to literacy and language, and that is perhaps why several learning portals already exist for specific geographic communities, such as Ashoka Fellow Mahabir Pun’s Nepal Wireless Networking Project Village Bulletin Board, a BoP Source partner. But with the rise of social networking sites and in the words of one entrepreneur here in Nepal, “There are already Sherpas working on Mt. Everest with Facebook profiles,” it seems that the barriers for a global online learning, marketplace, and networking center are quickly shattering. I look forward to following the development of E+Co’s Invisible Schoolhouse and I hope to hear from some of you soon with additional ICT4D initiatives.