From Google to Facebook to Apple, Haiti’s Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe took a whirlwind tour through Silicon Valley’s most elite tech firms, convincing some of the world’s wealthiest and most successful corporate executives to share support and innovation with the poorest country in the Americas.
“Oh cool!” he said Wednesday, slipping on a pair of Glass — internet-connected eyeglasses — at Google’s headquarters before a ride in the company’s driverless car.
Lamothe joins a growing stream of politicians, celebrities and CEOs taking these popular roadshows, where they do a little business, a little schmoozing and quite a bit of questioning about how innovation happens in this booming tech region.
If there were an opposite of the affluent Silicon Valley, where entire municipalities have free wi-fi, it could be impoverished Haiti, where less than 1 percent of Haitians are regularly online.
But there are internet cafes throughout the Haitian capital, Port au Prince, and cellphone use is leapfrogging landlines. Some of the millions of dollars of earthquake relief and recovery aid has been spent on trying to get the long-impoverished country wired, including a $3.9 million program launched this fall to deploy 65 miles (105 kilometers) of optical fiber in the country’s southern region.
On Wednesday, Lamothe was sharing his vision for an even more wired Haiti, which begins with gathering data, from mapping all of the health clinics to conducting a census-like count of the population. The country has no zip codes and would like to replace its mail address system, which includes mentioning proximity to mango trees or intersections, with geolocation.
At Google, executives agreed to Lamothe’s request to get updated satellite images for Google Earth. Last updated after the earthquake, hundreds of thousands of tents are no longer there, and many new buildings have gone up.
Google also committed to sending servers to Haitian internet providers that will cache information, and the tech giant re-upped its donation of a package of online services that provide email and other services for more than 3,000 government employees, a benefit that usually costs $50 per person.
Sheryl Montour, a Google document reviewer whose parents are Haitian, met Lamothe at the company’s campus and was enthusiastic about his initiatives known as eHaiti.
“My cousins and friends in Haiti are all looking to be more wired,” she said. “They want computers, they want cellphones.”
This is Lamothe’s first visit to the tech titans. The Prince of Asturias made the rounds just last week, and South Korea’s ambassador to the United States, Ahn Ho-young, swung through in August.