When viewing ICT4D projects, it is easy to point out the flaws and failures that plague the majority of them. Whether it be infrastructure problems or improper assessment of the target population, it is disheartening to say that even the greatest ICT projects are unlikely to reach their goals. When you go online and search for ICT success stories, the pickings are slim, and every success is countered with a heavy but. However, through all of the negative stories I found one that made me rethink how people are defining failures.
Earlier in the year our class had previously discussed the M-PESA development project that allows cell phone users in Kenya to have mobile money services. The project deemed to be a huge success, and students in previous years have discussed in lengths about the benefits of this mobile banking program (See blogpost ‘Further Information on M-Pesa‘). With the undeniable benefits of this business in my mind, I was intrigued when I came across an article detailing of this projects failure.
In the article “Mobile Phones Will Not Save the Poorest of the Poor” authors Zimmerman and Meinrath discuss how projects such as M-PESA are ‘leaving a substantial portion of the nation’s poor in even more dire straits.’ They mention high costs and the resistance of mobile phone companies to expand infrastructure to the rural parts of Kenya, as reasons for M-PESA’s failure. However I found it hard to agree with them, leading me to question the extent as to why some projects are deemed failures.
In my mind M-PESA is a success, and although its services fail to impact everyone in Kenya, it is having a huge impact on those who are capable of using it. It is illogical to claim that this project is a failure, and the authors’s expectation of a development program to affect everyone is far-fetched. This article made me realize that just because some projects are labeled as a failure, it doesn’t mean that they truly are.
After reading Abraham’s research article “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India” and our classes discussion on how ICTs can impact developing economies, I became really interested in other ways mobiles can help foster development. Throughout my research I stumbled across the Grameen Foundation, who has recently partook in the Community Knowledge Worker (CKW) initiative. This program “helps poor, rural farmers in Uganda by providing them with up-to-date, accurate information” through the use of smart phones (Grameen Foundation).
Community Knowledge Workers are local Ugandan natives who are equipped with smart phones in order to give ‘fellow farmers vital information on treating their diseased crops and sick animals, the best crops to plant and when to plant them based on weather forecast, and market prices at different locations (Grameen Foundation).” Much like the Farm Radio International initiative, CKW hopes to increase farming efficiency and productivity in order to advance Uganda’s developing economy.
In addition to financing these Workers, the Grameen Foundation is introducing the Ready Set, a solar panel that can charge up to ten phones per day or provide the village with up to ten hours of light. By adapting to such infrastructural drawbacks and recruiting native Ugandans, it seems that the CKW program will prove to be a sustainable development project. The video below highlights Grameen’s project and shows how the CKWs can help rural farmers fight ‘information poverty.’
An installment from the National Geographic series Digital Diversity that shows how “mobile phones are being used throughout the world to improve, enrich, and empower billions of lives” greatly coincides with the report by Farm Radio International, “The new age of radio: how ICTs are changing rural radio in Africa”. Both the report and the article state that radio is extremely important for agriculture and increases awareness productivity and knowledge. The article stated an interesting point that having other farmers speak on the radio creates a sense of community as well a larger impact. Rural farmers are more apt to take advice from people they can relate to and trust (like a fellow farmer) than a radio producer or radio host. The FRI report stated that there were some concerns about the availability of the shows since they are not always accesible, but the article states there is a higher chance of the farmers listening if they air them at night when they are relaxing in their homes.
The “two way” versus “one way” communication was also mentioned in the FRI report, letters being the only option for farmers to contact the hosts or programs, though the article shows that many are utilizing their mobile phones and texting in questions and comments (around 20 texts a week per program). The FRI report states that there are more listeners when the program sends out text alerts around 30 minutes before hand. Both these usages of SMS are beneficial, quick, and painless. The benefits of radio are not only seen in agriculture, many could be seen seen in other sectors such as health. For instance, how farmers find out how to prevent or treat poultry disease can be transferred for human diseases and treatments. Overal the widespread penetration, accessibility, and affordability of radios’ make them great for less developed nations and should be utilized more often.
Télécoms Sans Frontières or TSF is a telecommunications humanitarian aid organization that works in distasters areas to set up satellite-based telecoms centers that offer broadband Internet, phone and fax lines. The need for an organization of this sort was made evident to its founders after their visits to the former Yugoslavia and Kurdistan during the first Gulf War. They saw that large numbers of people were being displaced without any way to contact their families. With this in mind TSP was founded in July 1998, with the use of their first satellite phone, and worked almost exclusively in refugee camps providing the means for those effected to contact loved ones. After a number of years of working face to face with individuals to help them contact other individuals they opened up their first telecommunications center open to larger actors in humanitarian aid in 2001 in northern Afghanistan.
They operate out of three international bases in Thailand, Nicaragua, and France that monitor satallites 24/7 and can deploy teams to effected areas in a matter of hours. These teams set up telecommunication centers that provide phone lines and access to broadband internet. According to their website these telecomm centers allow people, “to send and receive information on logistics and urgent needs of the population in the early hours of a crisis” and “to strengthen coordination on the ground between local authorities, humanitarian agencies and organizations in the seats of the world.” (Translated by Google for easy reading). Their services also allow people to get personalized assistance and psychological support, facilitate family reunification and contact family abroad.
(Woman using a TSF phone at a telecommunication station.)
One of the characteristics of this program is to provide aid only when necessary and to to only stay until UN agencies or the local governments can set up more permeant lines of communication, which usually takes 45 days. Since their inception they have worked in over 60 countries, 600 NGOs and numerous UN agencies and governments.
TSF works on a different platform form that of Mission 4363 in that TSF provides both the service and the tools, such as laptops to access internet and phones to place calls, while Mission 4363 utilizes the technologies already present in a community. In providing the technologies those who use TSF as a way to communicate have to count on those they are trying to reach to have access to those same technologies. They also focus more on intracountry communication, unlike Mission 4363 that uses people from outside the effected areas to provide more information on locations and such that may not be available in the effected areas
Though the article title is perhaps optimistic, Salon’s recent “Smartphones Bust up the Digital Divide” provides a succinct outline of some numerical evidence of the recent global explosion of smartphone usage as well as its potential benefits in the developing world. The article cites data which states that in December of 2012, 23% of global website visits were conducted via mobile device, and this number continues to climb. Though it’s difficult to establish the exact effects that smartphones have had on the digital divide to date, Andrew Leonard points out the incredible advantages in efficiency offered by mobile devices and suggests that these benefits can and will be exploited on an ever-more-global scale. The article also cites Bill Clinton’s recent speech at the Consumer Electronics show (which has drawn negative attention for statements regarding gun control) in which he emphasized the economic and social benefits of Internet access via smartphone in developing countries. Though the William J Clinton Foundation has not previously demonstrated a focus on ICT4D, public endorsement by such a widely respected figure marks an important step for the field.
Another important statistic to note is that holiday PC sales fell this winter for the first time in 5 years, highlighting the ongoing paradigm shift in the field of computing and info tech. Indeed, the article mentions several times the “implosion of the now ancient desktop/laptop regime.” That being said, I’m not convinced that pocket-sized smartphone devices will ever fully eclipse the use of larger desktop computers for things like word processing and textual research. Cool stuff, though.
One of our assigned readings for class (The Economist Intelligence Unit Digital Economy Rankings 2010 http://tinyurl.com/a4f4k2k) piqued my interest and made me think about how much technology is accelerating and its effects. The EIS report made a point to speak about how due to the rapid changes in technology, the methods in reporting the significance and usage of technological indicators have to be adjusted in order to stay accurate. In this case monitoring not just the quantity but also the quality of technology.
This point made me think about the giant strides the world has made in terms of technology. My generation is one of change, innovation, and entrepreneurship. We grew up along side the technology of the telephone, transforming from a giant block with bad reception to mp3, phones, calendars cameras, and so much more all in one. The cellular phone has become so ingrained in urban and parts of rural culture that you can see people in remote developing areas with cell phones like below.
Just as the the methodology of measuring indicators of technology needs to be adjusted so does peoples usage of technology. Previously home phones or land lines were a huge part of the means of communication but now are turning obsolete due to the more efficient mobile phone. I agree that a big part of innovation is change and small adjustments in order to keep up. The EIS has the right idea of change for efficiency and accuracy and hopefully other reports and studies have reflected on their methodology in relation to innovation as well!
This week in our ICT4D class, we discussed different indicators for ICTs, such as accessibility. One of our main focuses was on the fact that technology is a dynamic field, continuously changing. These changes lead to what is known as the digital divide, or “the growing differnces in access to and use of ICTs at a range of scales, from local to international” (Unwin, p. 26).
What contributes to the digital divide that can lead to hindrances in development programs based around ICTs?
Countries around the world have been developing programs based around ICTs to improve their countries. However, a number of skeptics are asking whether technology can create progress in development. For example, last week, in the Philippines, their Department of Social Welfare and Development launched a program that uses tweets from users to find kids from the street. This program is an innovative way for the government to be more aware of what is going within their cities. However, the main issue that the department has been having is that the citizens do not trust the government. While these kids probably are homeless, without a means to get by, and do need help, users have sent tweets in that illustrate their belief that these children will not be helped, but rather hidden from the public view. If the users do not trust their own government, how can anything be changed? If they did trust the government, would this program actually succeed in helping people?
This semester in IDEV4100 ICT4D at Tulane has been a wonderful experience. It was great to learn about applicable resources in the development field and be a part of the information dissemination process through twitter, blogging and mapping. The most valuable lesson I learned in ICT4D and something that I thing is crucial in the overall study of the field is the concept of Digital Divide. I have visited and researched the country Morocco a lot over my collegiate career and have always been amazed by the gap between urban and rural areas in terms of development, income, and resources. Through this class, I have realized that a large part of this problem could be attributed to the digital divide and lack of ICT infrastructure in those rural areas thus restricting development in other areas such as economics and health. With G8 countries being home to 15% of the world population and 50% of world Internet users, this is a crucial area of ICT4D that needs attention. This can be addressed by tackling access (technology and bandwidth), skills (personal and professional), policy (use and filtering), and motivation for individuals. By limiting barriers to access such as gender, age, geographic restraints, education and economic status, development projects could uncover a whole new potential in available populations who have access to the NECESSARY resources.
Outside of the area of the digital divide, the most important lesson I personally learned that I feel will help me in my (hopeful) career in development is that importance of using what populations already have. In previous classes when I have been tasked with creating development solutions, I have always had exorbitant budgets bring in all new people, equipment and ideas. After this class, I realize that it is beneficial to the developer and the target populations to use what people already have to ensure education/learning curve, affordability, and acceptance of the development project. Mobile phones are already are being used across the globe at an increasingly high rate and development projects should take advantage of this incredible resource already in place. It would be much more efficient to create programs that people can access via mobiles than trying to set up computers in internet cafes and get Internet connection. By the same token, the “leapfrog effect” is very important to consider here. Areas such as sub Saharan Africa have skipped many previous technological developments and are now steadily picking up the use of mobiles. This illustrates the important of knowing your target population and where they are in the ICT line of development.
This was a great semester to see development in ACTION and learn some valuable lessons that could be applied in areas outside of ICT. It seems to me that the idea still stands that some of the most important things are knowing your target population, creating accessibility for all, and working for a true knowledge society across the globe.
In class this week, we discussed cloud computing as one of the top emerging trends in Information and Communication Technology today. Broadly, Cloud Technology is using computer resources that are delivered over a network, without needing the necessary hardware or software making it a great option in developing countries. I was interested in looking at how this was specifically applied in developing countries and came across this blog describing a pilot project in Vietnam. This project was developed to help sugar cane farmers communicate with factories about deliveries and payment. Due to the sensitivity of time between the time the sugarcane is harvested and when it is received at the factory, it is crucial for farmers to communicate with the factory to discuss pick up times and amount of cane needed. Previously, farmers were attempting to call the factories and had trouble with their calls going through or not getting the information in a timely manner. Cloud computing allows the farmers to receive a response in 1-2 minutes. By beginning their texts with a keyword such as NATL, the SMS messages are routed appropriately and can be responded to with the requested information. The diagram below details the exact mechanism of the message response and delivery.
Fred Chong, the author of the blog and one of the main computers on the project identifies SMS messaging as being critical to the success of a project like this in developing areas due to the remaining spottiness of service making phone calls difficult, low costs of sending SMS, the large availability of cellular network infrastructure in rural areas, long mobile battery life as opposed to computers, and suitability for rugged, roaming lifestyles of farmers. This program has led to higher quality sugar cane and greater profits for these Vietnamese Farmers. Chong looks forward to a bright future in this work and calls it “one of the most fulfilled computing project I’ve ever done”. Check out the video in the blog for more information and to hear from the farmers themselves!