Plan International’s four strategies for ICT enabled development are useful when predicting the future and implementation for ICT devices in specific areas. The blog Will the Ubuntu Phone Rock the African Software Development Market? published on ICTworks.org tries to predict the future of the Ubuntu phone in Africa. The Ubuntu phone is similar to typical mobiles in the U.S. because they have computer capabilities. The phone is comparable to Apple’s iPhone and other Samsung phones. Using the following four Plan International ICT strategies allows us to gain better insight into Ubuntu’s possible success or failure:
1)Understanding the Context for ICT Work
2)Finding a Match Between Priorities and Possibilities
3)Planning and Implementing Concrete Initiatives
4)Building a Culture of Systematic, Sustained and Strategic ICT Use
Understanding the context for ICT work (strategy 1) in Africa is extremely important. Mobile phone ownership is on the rise as well as access to the Internet. There is a growing market for mobiles and an increase in competition in the mobile phone field in Africa. However the cost of mobiles vary and the Ubuntu phone is more expensive than most. If consumers are also interested in the phone component, viewing access to calls as a priority, then they will likely buy the cheaper phone (strategy 2). However if consumers find the dual capabilities important they may go for the Ubuntu phone. According to the blog, “smartphone penetration is swinging up and may actually outpace mobile. Having the ability to write not only apps but full-blown applications may be where African software developers finally get traction.” This is a great incentive for Ubuntu that gives them a leg up on the competition. Both strategy 3 and 4 are more applicable to the ICT environment and less on the specifics such as the Ubuntu phone.
Overall, the future of the Ubuntu phone in Africa is unknown until shipping begins in October 2013.
As part of her internship with Food Tank, former IDEV4100:ICT4D (Fall 2011 semester) student Suzannah Schneider authored this blog entitled “Five Ways Cell Phones are Changing Agriculture In Africa.” The post lists some familiar ideas, such as using mobile phones to access market prices and weather information, as well as receive useful information via SMS messages. However, it also mentions some more specific and innovative ideas such as iCow and micro-insurance. Based on your experiences in our class, what are your thoughts on these 5 applications of mobiles for agricultural development?
More information about Food Tank can be found in this video: “The Food Think Tank Trailer“
Neustar, a provider of real-time information and analytics for the Internet, telecommunications, entertainment, and marketing industries, published mGovernment: How Government Agencies Can Use SMS , a paper on the benefits of SMS for governments to communicate with their citizens. They argue the availability of SMS is a key component of its value. Citizens do not need expensive data plans or smart phones to communicate. Additionally, because mobile phones have taken the place of land-lines, mobiles are an incredible tool to use as a means to provide information. The final argument Neustar makes is “since most consumers have their mobile phone within reach and keep the device always on, government agencies can make public information and government services accessible to the population anytime and anywhere”.
A crucial component for governments to use SMS is for disaster management. Neustar provides case studies of disaster management implementation through SMS. The paper mentions Oman, a country that is mostly desert, and ways they use SMS for disaster management. Oman sends out texts to citizens when it is raining heavily via The National Committee for Civil Defense. An example of a text is the following:
“’Despite the low precipitation yesterday, some casualties were recorded due to some people’s venturing through wadis. We exhort you to be extremely cautious. NCCD.’”
The idea of disaster management is different from disaster relief, however the use of ICTs is one in the same. Spreading knowledge, whether that be pre or post disaster is important. Allowing citizens to understand conditions of disasters prior to their occurrence can help prevent relevant dangers to citizens. Oman is just one of many countries using SMS for disaster management. It is evident this concept is universal and should be implemented across the globe.
When approaching development and the use of ICTs in development it is important to keep the reality of gender at the forefront of your activities. This process of gender mainstreaming, or the conscious inclusion of how development projects effect men and women differently and how men’s and women’s needs also differ, has been the topic of discussion this week in IDT4D and there is some interesting data and gender divides present in the use of ICTs. Through the discussion of a policy paper we were confronted with the data that proved our hypothesis that there is indeed a gender divide present in the use of ICTs in development, and in particular in the use of mobile phones. For the most part women were less inclined to own a mobile phone and that when they do own them they are often gifted and that women do not use them as often, or in the same manner as men. With this information there are a number of organizations that are trying to bridge this divide and provide women with the means and skills to use mobile phones to empower themselves. There are four organizations featured in an article that, in 2010, received grants to implement projects that will help women in rural areas of Uganda build awareness about and learn to report domestic violence through the use of ICTs. One organization, Mahyoro Rural Information Centre (MARIC), appears to be making great strides in enhancing women’s lives through ICTs.
MARIC appears to be project under the Women of Uganda Network and it works to enhance the exchange of information and experience of ICTs through out communities in Kitagwenda. They have implemented several ICT projects since its inception in 2006. These projects include the production of puppet shows that educate about the importance of women’s rights and the use of ICTs and the Enhancing Access to Agricultural Information project. The project that they received the funding for is a more gender based ICT campaign designed to combat violence against women using ICTs. This campaign trained 34 grassroots women’s organizations use ICTs to address violence against women and girls. The training included learning to set up hotlines and use mobile phones to spread messages about events. At the end of the training 21 Community Resource Persons were given phones to implement their ideas and spread information about their program as well as information about sexual health and resources available to victims.
(Community Resource Persons receiving training)
This project seems, in theory, to be very beneficial in educating women about their rights as well as the use of ICTs, but there are many questions left unanswered. After scouring the Internet for information about the success of the project I ended empty-handed. Other than the information on the Women of Uganda Network from November 22, 2011 there is nothing. There was not information about many of the women that the project was targeting had access to mobile phones to receive the information, based on the policy paper I assume that it is not many. The lack of monitoring, or information about the monitoring, taking place also makes me wonder how the 21 Community Resource Persons were able to reach out to the women of Kitagwenda.
Gender inequality is not a new concept. Particularly, gender inequality is high in areas where women are restricted due to societal norms, cultural practices or religious beliefs. Robin LLyod’s article,Mobile Phones for Women: A New Approach for Social Welfare in the Developing World ,outlines how decreasing this divide can increase opportunities. He tells the story of a Palestinian girl, looking for employment, who has had trouble finding work due to the fact she is unable to leave her home without the accompaniment of a male. With use of her mobile phone she “posted a “mini-resume,” browsed for suitable jobs via text messages, and then interviewed in person after an appointment was set. On September 22nd, she started a data-entry job with the German aid agency GTZ.”
The use of mobiles greatly influenced her employment situation. The article continues to explain that though Salameh had access to a mobile phone this is not typical. Gender inequality when it comes to ICTs (in this case mobile phones) is even more extreme in restrictive cultures. The London-based telecom industry advocacy group GSMA (for Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initiated the mWomen Program which plans to “half the number of women in the developing world who lack mobile phones within three years by putting phones in the hands of another 150 million women.” They believe this initiative is important not only because of Salameh’s story and the resources mobile phones can provide, but also because women with phones tend to feel safer, more empowered and independent and more connected.
Although I believe ICTs and mobiles can provide all of the above, I hope their plans have instilled protections against the issues we’ve discussed in class with mobile phones. What about theft? Cost? Reception? Providing phones is only one step; who will be paying for the minutes?
I spent this past summer interning at a tiny NGO in rural Southwestern Nicaragua and while there I lived in a homestay with a Nicaraguan family. One of the things that initially struck me as odd regarding the familial situation was that despite not having access to running water or basic sanitation in the household, the family of four owned seven cell phones between them. I soon learned that this was not at all uncommon in the region; many of the adults I met in this extremely impoverished area owned between 2 and 4 cell phones. It was explained to me that the nature of cell phone companies in the country made it more affordable to carry phones from multiple carriers rather than just one. Phone companies favor (or in some cases, exclusively offer) “in” calling, and cell phones are extraordinarily cheap, while minutes are purchased in increments. All of these factors combine to create a hugely wasteful tonnage of cellular tech. The immediate concern that comes to mind is the environmental consequences of both the production and the subsequent discarding of all of this mobile technology. Since most of this manufacturing is done in developing countries half a world away, we’re sheltered from the consequences of the pollutants and waste produced by manufacturing so many pieces of technology. To get into the sub-human working conditions at many of these factories is another issue entirely, but the mass suicides in Chinese factories leading up to the release of the iPhone 5 are only a recent example. Many of the minerals that go into producing cell phones, such as tin and tungsten, are mined in conflict areas with methods that are detrimental to both the local environment and the local population. Cloud servers and the recent phenomenon of “big data” require staggering amounts of electricity. Of course I’m not arguing that we shouldn’t have cell phones—I love mine—but a system in which each person needs many is neither sustainable nor efficient.
Seeing as our readings this week were fairly pessimistic regarding the role of ICTs in development, particularly on the consumption end, I felt the need to seek out some reassuringly positive literature. One of the better articles I found in the last few days covered some of the impressive (though oft-inflated) data regarding the spread of mobile phone technologies throughout Africa over the last few years. Two of the more staggering statistics include the fact that Africa is now home to 650,000 mobile phone subscribers (more than the European Union), as well as the World Bank’s recent report which attributed an estimated 5 million new jobs in Africa last year to the mobile phone industry alone. The article also highlights benefits stemming from the increasing prevalence of mobile banking technologies in Africa, which before the this class was the ICT development field I was most familiar with. The article goes on to quote Samia Melhem, the World Bank’s Coordinator for Information and Communications Technologies for Africa, as saying: “”More people have access to internet today in Africa than they do to clean water, or even sanitation . . . we can say this has been the most significant revolution in terms of changing the African landscape and how people live their daily life.” This quote is presented seemingly without a sense of irony, though it seems to point out a pretty obvious flaw in the current structure of foreign aid. On a basic human level, clean water and basic sanitation seem to be exponentially more pressing priorities than spreading cellular technology to rural areas. In Richard Heeks’ article “ICTs and MDGs: On the Wrong Track?”, he applauds Bill Gates for continuing to focus his investments in Africa on healthcare and sanitation issues, while in other large organizations we’ve begun to see a shift of focus to ICTs. Though he comes off cantankerous, perhaps Heeks has a point here.
On a final, less relevant note, it looks like the ever-more-rapid spread of ICTs in Africa has had a hugely negative impact on country-level postal services that only recently were booming. There’s always something.
An article titled “Health education and the digital divide: building bridges and filling chasms” argues that “lack of access to information technology can have profound negative implications for one’s economic, social and physical health and well-being,” and I agree with this point. They believe that ICTs have the capability to improve health outcomes for the world because ICTs allow people to access health information. Today, many people in the world get their health information from ICTs: they seek out information on the internet, or are sent health information by organizations/ services they subscribe to via email or SMS messaging. People often use this information that they find online to make educated decisions about their health care. The ideas presented in this article are consistent with what I have learned in my Public Health and International Development classes at Tulane.
This article opens up a conversation about how beneficial ICTs, especially access to the internet, could be for developing countries. Since many citizens of developing countries often do not have the resources to visit a doctor whenever they want to, it would be extraordinarily helpful for them to be able to receive or search for health information online to determine whether the symptoms they are experiencing are worrisome or not, so they can decide whether to access health services or not. Working to extend the internet and mobiles to under-served communities will give the poor an opportunity to improve their health. Failure to address the digital divide and get ICTs to the citizens in developing countries and under-served in developed countries will widen health disparities between the developed and developing world.
Although internet access for all is the desired goal to shrink the digital divide and improve health according to the article above, many organizations and countries are taking steps in the right direction by starting initiatives to provide health information to under-served communities via SMS text messaging on mobile phones. This idea has proved to be a great alternative for communities that have no access to the internet. For example, the World Health Organization came up with the “M-check project” which is a system designed to decrease maternal and infant mortality in developing countries. Essentially, when a pregnant woman accesses a health center her phone is registered with the “M-check project” and she is sent SMS messages containing ‘safety checklists’. These checklists include danger signs for mothers look out for in themselves and their infants in the week or two after delivery. The system also sends daily reminders to the mothers to check their safety lists. There is also a feature that allows women to call the ‘M-check’ info system, where they are connected with help to work through any questions or concerns that they have, and they can also be connected to an ambulance and taken to a local health service if necessary. This system is using ICTs to change the way that mothers are able to promote and protect their health. This project is contributing to the closure of the digital divide and health disparities by allowing people in need to access health information via ICTs. Clearly, even relatively simple ICTs can improve health outcomes for the developing world.
Click here to view NYTimes article on how mobile phone proliferation in India has been correlated with a rise in HIV/AIDS among sex workers.
There have been great efforts recently to help promote the proliferation of cell phone technology in poorer Indian populations. This policy has led to decreased costs and increased availability of cell phone technology, but ramifications of this increased access and use of cell phones are just being discovered. Policy has lagged behind the emergence of mobile technology, and thus, organizations find themselves struggling to keep up with updating their programs which have been becoming increasingly ineffective in many cases.
This article discusses a particular health issue within the population of sex workers in India. Cell phones have allowed prostitutes to branch out from traditional brothels and start their own business ventures. More individuals are also entering prostitution because the ease of access to mobile phones makes this a viable way for women in difficult economic situations to increase family income. Healthcare organizations have found this new technology very difficult to react to, STD and HIV prevention campaigns have become less effective as tracking and identifying sex workers has become more difficult due to the proliferation of mobile phones.
I found this an interesting case study demonstrating the need for new policy and ideas for combatting STD levels among sex workers in India. This example also provides an insight into the detrimental effects of technology proliferation if context and culture is not taken into account before widespread adoption of a technology by a population.