Ken Banks is a noteworthy thought leader in the field of ICT4D. For our recent short paper I chose to profile him because I used his work often in our sector presentation – he does a lot of work with conservation organizations and develops mobile platforms for them (including Frontline SMS). When prompted about what he looks for in recent ICT4D/IDEV graduates, he referred me to a blog post he wrote back in 2009 after meeting students and faculty from various universities on the west coast. He wrote that he enjoys talking to people who aren’t tech experts, and that he’s noticed that what these young people generally look for are stories – the experiences, what brought professionals to where they are now, what inspired them, etc. He complains that too often programs and academia focus too tiredly on metrics – “This world centres on business models, the quest for data, for metrics and an obsession on measuring impact”. He says that we need to foster passion and big ideas- the creative juices that build the foundations of powerful initiatives, because the technical stuff can always be worked out later.
Luckily my interview subject was someone who believes strongly and passionately in helping other people, and that includes young start-ups; in a different blog post he writes, “In the mobile world we talk a lot about project sustainability, but little about human sustainability. If we’re to have any chance of ongoing success then we need to attract the brightest young minds to the ‘mobile for development’ field, and then give them all the support they need to keep them there. Empowerment isn’t just something we do in a distant land. There’s plenty we can be doing on our own doorstep.”
So if this guy believes more in passion and big ideas to get off the ground than logistics, is he right? Recently we’ve been discussing about emotions driving the platforms of some organizations, whether it’s ethical, whether it works, etc. I think that discussion is so reasonable! I find that I have to be a bit of a pessimist in response to Ken’s words because so many people have big ideas, but sometimes for the wrong or misguided end-results. Do we want a professional field saturated with dreamers whose dreams might run short? I can’t say much in argument to a guy who literally invented Frontline SMS, but I do wonder if, academically, passion is the highest focus.