In Social Networks (not Facebook) and Development I covered the relevance of local social networks and social capital / trust for successful, long-term community and economic development.
Finding, engaging an empowering local social networks is the first step. I believe connecting these networks to the global communities of interest and practice on the Internet can provide a multiplier effect.
In the recent Technology Salon on Malawian health ICT systems, it was discussed how hiring recent Malawian college grads and connecting them to the global community of open source coders gave them an immense resource to draw on as they began their work; and they were soon contributing as peers and mentors to other programmers around the world.
That’s power, and that’s the 21st century version of technology transfer. This connection of existing local communities of practice with a worldwide audience bridges the wonderful development practice Oxfam uses, where they facilitate interaction between communities at different stages of implementing similar projects:
Oxfam supports exchange visits between a community that is interested in a particular initiative (be it a breed of goat or a new crop) and a community that has recently adopted it. Field workers regularly tell stories late into the night of what happened in other communities (the good and the ill) or instigate role plays, acting out what people most want their grandchildren to remember. Formal meeting employ case studies or a panel of speakers from different backgrounds analyzing a society's future or scenario-building or futures analysis presented by facilitators (in an accessible manner, one hopes). Yet remarkably few of these participatory mechanisms have been employed deliberately for the purpose of identifying cultural consequenses of poverty-reduction activities explicitly" (Alkire in Culture and Public Action (Amazon), (Author's website)).
Taking that model and (where possible through cell networks, phone lines or satellite connections) sharing project challenges and successes worldwide accomplishes a score of things. It helps communities pick and choose from the best and most successful development projects (and specific implementation practices), avoid projects that have failed often before, be peers and mentors, and break down international barriers.
It’s not all roses, there are language problems, potential abuses, and some failed projects fail because of local conditions that may not apply in other parts of the world. Still, more honest and shared information among the stakeholders and beneficiaries is a long-term valuable goal.