Lessons Learned: ICT4D

Throughout the course of the semester one of the most important lessons that I have learned is that sustainability is a key component necessary for creating and implementing a successful development project. As we have discussed in class, ICT projects and initiatives can be crafted to address and improve countless problems in a wide range of sectors – health, education, socioeconomic development, human rights, etc. – yet regardless of the situations these various technologies hope to improve, success is only possible if long-term sustainability is granted a warranted amount of attention from the get-go. In order for projects to be sustainable and effective several criteria must be met. Areas of focus should include financial sustainability (the lack of adequate funding is one of the most pressing issues facing ICT projects), technological sustainability (ability of the technologies utilized to “hold up” for a long period of time without substantial shifts in hardware or software), social sustainability, user/ local buy-in and participation, institutional sustainability, and environmental sustainability.

I feel as though social sustainability in particular is of the utmost importance, especially when focusing on international projects. With international projects sustainability becomes a bit more difficult. Local support, participation, and investment in the project and the technologies introduced are crucial components to success. Without this local involvement, projects are likely to fall apart once volunteers from abroad leave, and as a result the goals the project will never be realized. The demands of the users and the issues faced must be met and addressed through the technologies adopted, and it is important that the locals feel as though they are better off with the new technologies than they had been without them. Local support and involvement is needed so that the project can eventually be placed in the hands of the locals.

For me, this was made extremely evident when Dr. Murphy came and discussed the project she had been working on in Kenya. Dr. Murphy, after spending a considerable amount of time with locals in a rural village, addressed a problem they were facing and implemented a solution by introducing solar technologies. Without local buy-in and support of these solar cell-phone chargers, Dr. Murphy’s project, and the problem she hoped to fix, would have gone nowhere. Success in this case was contingent upon social sustainability and the project was only able to continue and grow once this was achieved.

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