WorldTalk gives people in rural areas in developing countries access to information in their own language, over any telephone. It aims to set up self-sustainable enterprises in developing countries, provide them with initial financial and managerial support, and co-ordinate the technological development.

In poor communities computer access is limited and literacy levels low. Telephones require little maintenance and no training. They are already accessible in the form of fixed and mobile and are affordable to a large number of people in developing countries. They provide on-demand access to information, as opposed to radio broadcasts, which are programmed and fixed.

It works as follows. Callers dial the WorldTalk number and get connected to the WorldTalk internet server. Using the telephone keys callers select what they want to listen to from a cascading menu structure. The server links the caller to the right content and plays it to them in their local language. Content is stored as pre-recorded audio with dynamic elements generated on-the-fly using text-to-speech. Callers can be connected to other phone services (counselling, government services, etc) or directed to a call centre for help. The system allows for other features, like sending out information in SMS-format, callers depositing information, and more.

WorldTalk has carried out a market study in KwaZulu Natal in South Africa. This showed a great need for accessible information on topics like housing, welfare, small business, healthcare. We have developed a demonstration system and successfully tested it with end users in KwaZulu Natal.

SouthAfricaTalk is managed by Professor Sam Zondi, who is working to secure a contract with a first customer to launch the pilot project. WorldTalk is looking for support, both financially and in-kind, to make it happen.