Project SHARE resulted in legacy of healthcare and education projects around the world
In 1983 the Intelsat organisation, then still an international consortium, was celebrating its 20th anniversary. I convinced Richard Colino, the Director General of Intelsat, that beyond having parties and ceremonies, the company should do something more tangible. I approached John Howkins, the IIC’s Executive Director, and together we used the IIC’s international network to convene a global panel of two dozen experts in media, telecommunications and education. With the help of Dr Jim Stevenson, then Education Secretary of the BBC, we tasked the panel with arranging participation in countries around the world.
Project ‘SHARE’ emerges
The idea, stimulated in part by the ITU-sponsored Maitland inquiry into the ‘digital divide’ (which eventually reported in 1985), was to demonstrate the new power of satellite communications as tools for education and health care. Testing would take place in countries around the world, focused on services in rural locations. This gradually evolved to become Project ‘SHARE’ (‘Satellites for Health and Rural Education’). Between 1983 and 1987 over 30 individual projects were planned and executed with the support of Intelsat, Intelsat signatories plus educators, health care providers, and telecommunications and media experts from around the world. The IIC and the advisory council helped to broaden the scope of projects that might be adopted and also aided in convincing local telecommunications and media companies that this was an experiment in satellite telecommunications that had merit and great potential for the future. We even recruited Charles Shultz, the cartoonist who did the Peanuts comic strip to do a special logo. This featured ‘Snoopy’ on top of a doghouse. This red doghouse formed the body of a satellite that was beaming out information to the world.
Opening the door in China
One notable success was in China. In 1985 John Howkins and I flew to Beijing with the aim of getting the Chinese authorities to participate in the project. Our plane was three hours late, and we arrived after midnight. China was then in the early days of international co-operation, but we were met by four enthusiastic officials, who questioned us continuously for the hour that it took to take us to our hotel. This enthusiasm and interest was also plain in our meetings at the Ministry of Communications and at CCTV, the Chinese state broadcaster. In the end, satellite education and health care demonstration projects were initiated with 37 remotely located earth stations. In some cases the stations were so remote that the communications equipment and portable power generators had to be sent to locations by trucks before being off-loaded and carted to villages by local townspeople. The system grew over time, eventually reaching ten million students and villagers and nearly one million teachers.
Projects large and small
Another project, organized by the Children’s Hospital of Miami, was an interregional AIDS tutorial that featured some of the world’s leading medical researchers. This one day event reported on the latest medical research and medications to tens of thousands of doctors and health care practitioners in South, Central and North America, Europe and Africa.
One of the most extensive projects was a global television broadcast that Intelsat provided free to the world community under the Project Share umbrella. CNN, with the help of CNN Executive Sidney Pike and others, asked the broadcasters around the world to prepare short 5 minute video broadcasts that focused on the environment, global population growth, health and medical issues. These were broadcast on a 24 hour basis to 130 countries around the globe with programming actually produced by over 100 countries.
There were other smaller projects such as a program produced by Trinity University, Dublin that reported on the latest research in water management and conservation in the Middle East. Other projects focused on sharing best practices and services in rural education and health care, involving the University of the South Pacific, the University of the Caribbean, and a number of South American and African countries. Dr. Maxwell House of Nova Scotia helped a great deal to help make the Caribbean projects go forward. Dr. House went on to become Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia.
The importance of local content
At the end of the project the IIC and Intelsat collaborated to produce a report which summarized the results, and noted some of the regulatory, administrative, financial, and standards issues that had to be faced. We found, for example, that the projects that had an on-going success after the tests and demonstrations were completed were the ones that included local programming and locally produced content.
Project SHARE was meant to last for two years. In the event, it carried on until 1988. I believe it proved, in the pre-internet days, the power of technology to expand global education in a whole series of ways, and demonstrated the importance of the kind of global co-operation that the IIC was created to provide.
We all tend to embroider the successes and vision of past events and deeds, but the IIC has stood at the crossroads of the digital revolution, providing wisdom and insight in unique and sometimes profound ways. Of these Project Share, planned and executed by the IIC with Intelsat, was a trailblazing event that fostered many subsequent satellite projects.
Professor Joseph Pelton is Director Emeritus, Space and Advanced Communications Research Institute at George Washington University, and former Dean, International Space University. He is a futurist and author of over 50 books on space, telecommunications and society, including a Pulitzer Prize Nomination. He was twice a member of the Board of the IIC.