Mark Bennett passed away on 10 February 2015. Mark stood at the cradle of MalariaWorld. He will be missed and remembered.
Read below a tribute to Mark written by Julia Royall. Julia used to be the Director of the communications network of MIM (MIMCom) when she was the Chief, International Programs at NLM/NIH. Mark was appointed as Technical Director of MIMCom and helped 19 malaria research instutes in Africa to get (improved) access to the internet. His efforts have been invaluable to achieving free access to scientific information on malaria for all in need.
I first met Mark in 1991, during the early days of the Internet in Africa. Mark was Director of the Computer Center at the University of Zambia in Lusaka. In 1985, he had seen an ad in a London newspaper and moved his wife Jan, daughter Rachel, and newborn Caty from England to Zambia.
In the early 90s, the Internet was still in its infancy in the US, and the new digital world that would be created from social networking, social media, and the cell phone was waiting to be discovered. Even in the rudimentary environment at that time, Mark saw potential beyond the obvious business in hardware and software. As he worked on local access for students at the medical library and other central sites, he was downloading messages from a small low earth orbit satellite that passed over twice a day. His campus network ZamNet was one of the first Internet service providers on the African continent.
By 1997, he had set up his firm AfriConnect in the UK, and in 1998 I recruited Mark to work as technical director for MIMCom – Multilateral Initiative on Malaria Communications Network – at the U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health. He was the best (and probably the only) person for the job - highly skilled in doing everything with nothing, familiar with the challenges and opportunities of the African landscape, incredibly practical, a “we’ll work with what’s there” attitude, and an unforgettable sense of humor.
Gradually, access to the Internet and access to medical literature – high on the list of African scientists - was achieved at malaria research centers in cities as well as remote areas in 15 countries across the continent. These African researchers were not just equipped technically; they could now join and participate in the international scientific community.
By the end of his life, having sold AfriConnect Zambia to the Internet giant Vodafone in 2012, Mark could now invest his substantial funds from that sale in his creative and visionary venture iSchool: www.ischool.zm.
Last year, Mark and I were discussing by email an article about the Millennium Development Goal of universal education. In contrasting the other development goals with education, he maintained, “Education is very different. There is no universal panacea. Each child needs to learn (at least initially) in their own language (of which there are tens of thousands!) and in the context of their own culture. You cannot internationalise that. So concepts like throwing the Internet at the problem, which seems to be one of the key things being proposed, may actually make very little difference. You need to change the way that teaching is done, as well as localise it. But we are trying to make our small contribution”. See video's below.
These days, you can go quickly to Linked In and find out about Mark’s many accomplishments over 30 years of work in Africa. Read Mark Bennetts profile here. What you will not find is what he was too modest to note: that in most phases of his life, he was a pioneer. He liked to call himself a “serial entrepreneur.”
But his legacy is also people:
My daughter who worked for Mark in the early days of iSchool wrote to Mark’s daughters, “I've spent most of today thinking about your dad and the great impression he made on my life. I feel like I'm a beneficiary of his management, guidance, humor, and faith in me. He taught me so much - in addition to business and development in Africa, he taught me to be more generous: there is always time to listen to those who have something to say, there is always some change to give someone who seeks medicine (or even a sweet). And his strong faith in my capabilities taught me early on that I have the potential to accomplish whatever I set my mind to.”
Mark's deep experience, thoroughness and 24-7 devotion were legendary. He was also a generous person who was a patient mentor, a hospitable host.
He played a critical and formidable role in the early, early days of development of the Internet infrastructure in Africa. He saw that education was a need that could build on that infrastructure - and iSchool holds so much promise for so many.
Global Health Information Specialist
Washington, DC and Boston
(retired) Chief, International Programs, U.S. National Library of Medicine/National Institutes of Health