Tim Unwin’s Advice for Aspiring ICT4D Professionals

A few days ago I commented on Tim Unwin’s blog and posed a question: “I was just wondering, what are you looking for in students who are coming out of IDEV or ICT4D programs – what do you think the field needs from academic training? What advice would you give to aspiring ICT4D professionals?” To my surprise not only did he answer me but he did so in a new post on his blog that was later circulated around twitter. The response was essentially made up of ten different things that he looks for, and explained each one. The first was “a willingness to cross boundaries”. He said that this was important because ICT4D is such an interdisciplinary field that professionals need to be able to draw from many different fields. His second piece of advice was “understanding the real needs of users” because the poor people in the developing communities are really the only people who know what they really want and what will work for them. I thought this was an especially useful piece of advice and one that, as we have seen from case studies in class, is particularly true. Next, he said that he looked for “humility” and explained that “far too many ICT4D projects are invented by academics who have little clue about what the real needs of users actually are” and that an ICT4D professional needs to be humble enough to really listen to the people and allow them to help in designing and implementing the projects. When I read this I thought of the One Laptop Per Child initiative and how the creators of that project were extremely smart individuals from MIT but they did not even bother to take the time to research developing countries and therefore their project was unsuccessful. Maybe if they had read this new post by Tim Unwin they would have had more success in designing and implementing their project. The next thing he looked for was individuals who are “technically sound” which makes sense because ICT4D is essentially about technology and people going into this field need to know a sufficient amount about technology. The fifth thing he looked for was individuals with “a focus on really understanding ‘development’” and how it is about decreasing the inequalities in societies rather than just about economic growth. I found this very interesting and something that I had not thought much about. But this makes sense. If people really do want to be morally invested in international development then they will work to decrease the inequalities rather than simply focus on economic growth, since many times these two are not the same. Next, he suggested, “get some real ‘development’ experience”. He explained how important that had been for him because after 20 years of researching and teaching about development he admitted that he did not learn as much as he did in the six months he spent working for a bilateral donor agency. The eighth quality he said he looks for in people getting into ICT4D is, “an ability to engage in critical analysis” because this is what should “lie at the heart of all academic enquiry”. I thought this was great advice, especially for the people that want to design and implement development programs because in order to have a successful program you’re really going to have to analyze and evaluate it in order to see how successful it is and what you can change to improve parts of it. Finally, the last two suggestions he gave were “freedom to fail” and “be a good team player”. He says that in failing, people generally learn just as much, if not more, than they do in their successes, and that failing is okay as long as you make sure to learn from it. Finally, he says that it’s important to be a good team player in ICT4D because the whole field is essentially about teamwork, which I thought tied nicely into his previous points about including the community members in any project you are implementing. All in all I thought that every one of these things he looks for in aspiring ICT4D professionals were amazing pieces of advice that I have taken a lot away from. I really appreciated that he took the time to respond and did so so thoroughly.



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