Monthly Archives: September 2012

Summary of the New York Times Review of FailFaire Party

New York Times Review of FailFaire Party

The Oscar Night Syndrome in development is the need to “always look good,” meaning that donors do not want to admit to failed programs and wasted money, but rather will try to spin their failure into a success.  Our last class, we learned about an initiative, FailFaire, which aims to bring to light these failures in order for the community as a whole to learn from them.  The New York Times recently attended a FailFaire party, which was an opportunity for those in the field to discuss development programs that had not worked, and why they were not successful.  The article highlighted two specific development programs.

  • Tim Kelly, working for the as a technology specialist for the World Bank, was highlighted at this party for his failed attempt to foster the expansion of the Internet in developing countries.  His failure was attributed to too many different donors with their own priorities working for the project.  The article stated that, “Next time he would advocate for an initiative that matched specific donors to specific projects and not work so hard to be all things to all people”. Although it was embarrassing for Kelly to be highlighted for his failures, this lesson learned was important, and could be useful in ensuring success for future projects.
  •  Mahad Ibrahim was a Fulbright Scholar working in Egypt, who was trying to work with the Egyptian government to create telecenters throughout the country in order to provide greater Internet access.  However, due to the rise of Internet cafes across Egypt, this program ended up as a failure.  This was a useful lesson in remembering to not just provide technology that works int he country the donors are from, but rather to look at what is being used in the country that needs the service currently, and expand on that.

In the end, the worst failure was awarded the O.L.P.C, which is named after the One Laptop Per Child program that many in the development community view as a failure.  This article showcases the lighthearted nature of the Failfaire initiative, but also explains how important it is, in that it provides a platform for those in the ICT4D field to learn from each other, and not keep repeating the same mistakes.


Failures in ICT4D

This article relates to our class on Tuesday in detailing the high rate of failure of ICT4D projects. The high rate of failure has been well documented. The article points to a Harvard study from 2011 that details one in six projects overran their cost by an average of 200% and a schedule overrun of 70% on average. This article is different from most that simply detail the many failures of ICT projects without pinpointing definitive reasons for failure. It points to investigation by George Brouwer of ten ICT projects in Australia that went past their timetable or went over-budget or both. The report points to some concrete reasons for project failure. Some of his reasons overlap with those we talked about in class but he also points to several other possible downfalls. These include poor planning and development of goals, poor understanding of businesses and other actors that would be affected by the project, failure to define roles and responsibilities, and a lack of involvement from leaders and senior officials in the project.

Each of these factors would be detrimental to the success of a project, causing a lack of oversight and accountability among those responsible for the project and racks up costs and delays. I thought this article would be an interesting read for those who were interested in finding out more about the different factors that contribute to project failure and provides a framework for looking at both failed and potential development projects moving forward.

Mobile Phone App Educates Younger Generation about Gender Violence

In addition studying how the usage of ICTs differs among the gender, I thought it could be interesting to examine potential ways to use ICTs to bridge the gender divide. When it comes to social issues such as gender inequity or gender violence, this is no easy task. Gender violence is a complex issue, and it has been getting a lot of attention in many African countries because of the relatively poor state of human rights. However, a woman in Kenya has created a mobile phone app that aims to counter negative ideas about gender stereotypes that may contribute towards gender based violence.

The app is called ‘Moraba’, and is essentially a game that teaches the user about issues related to gender based violence. The developer, Anne Shongwe, interviewed children and teenager in her community and concluded that misunderstanding and misinformation is a huge part of gender violence. By teaching them about what constitutes abuse, and what they can do to stop it, Shongwe hopes to stem the level of gender based violence at an early age.

I was actually rather surprised that a children’s game was used as a platform to educate younger people on gender violence. I’ve never really heard of any similar programs before, so I wonder how schools or parents will plan to incorporate it, if at all, into the children’s education. It would probably be most effective if used in conjunction with their regular schooling. However, I’m unsure of how many schools might include teachings on gender perceptions, inequity and violence in a health class, or any other class. It’s certainly an interesting concept, and leads me to believe that as time goes on there will likely be new ways and new innovations that allow us to use ICTs to address social issues.

Capitalizing on Technology Across Africa


This article touches on being innovative with regard to technological advances, not simply relying on technology itself. The author fields the question: is providing mobile phones a sustainable way to instill social change, or is it a band-aid solution? Providing mobile phones does, in fact, increase the ability to share and receive information about important things that may be happening, but for people who cannot afford a phone (or sustain the payments) does it really make a difference? The author cites the fact that many women within one project being done in South Africa prefer to talk about pertinent issues face to face. So while this technology is providing them the ability to communicate on a larger scale they aren’t necessarily taking advantage of that (one of the differences between ICT4D 1.0 and 2.0).

I understand that this article was about how mobile phones affect the way women approach ICT, but I feel the author left out a huge factor. One of the most significant mobile features I noticed in Kenya this summer was the mobile banking (or mPesa). You can quickly and easily create an account and send and receive money in an efficient manner with this feature. I think this adds an incredible amount of independence to women’s lives and feel that if phones were marketed on this basis it may actually get the phones into the hands of these women. Once they see a tangible benefit these phones can provide, it will increase the security it will provide (by, hopefully, making them use the phones more).

India Builds Digital Library of Traditional Knowlege

This blog post from American University’s Washington College of Law website describes an ICT innovation with interesting implications for intellectual property law and indigenous rights in a legal context of international development. A three-day conference in March of 2011 debuted India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s new Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which serves as a resource for documenting traditional knowledge forms like plant medicine. The TKDL could also serve as a model for other countries seeking to capitalize on–or protect– the knowledge of indigenous cultures. The library will be accessible by patent examiners and will hopefully provide a more nuanced and utilizable understanding of Sanskrit knowledge.

It remains to be seen how and for what purposes this database will be used. Much of the legal implications of such an ICT project will depend on which parties have access. One can also question whether most traditional knowledge may be efficiently and comprehensively presented in such a format. Full understanding of ancient concepts and traditional knowledge may require a significant investment of study time, and certain knowledge bases might be prerequisites for understanding others- a difficult obstacle to overcome in organizing and presenting such data.

Still, this is a notable first step in acknowledging the value (monetary, legal, or cultural) of traditional knowledge and a commendable attempt to provide a platform for its use in the modern world.

“Tech Needs Girls” and the Mobile Lady

While searching ICTs and Gender, I found an award site that recognizes innovative and effective projects by women to use ICTs to promote gender equality and/or women’s empowerment. Curiously, it seems as though the last awards were given out in 2005, however, the winner’s project in Bangladesh is very relevant to our discussion in class on Thursday. The Pallitathya Help-Line project uses female mobile phone operators to answer calls from rural populations that lack access to information about health, education, legal procedures or administrative hassles.


As outlined by the Help-Line’s website, the major components of the project include:

– Mobile Lady

– Help Desk with an expert panel

– Directory database

– External expert panel

– Community members

– Monitoring successes

– Modes of information delivery through Help Line


Similarly, ITU (International Telecommunication Union), which is the United Nations agency for ICTs, has created a campaign called “Tech needs Girls.” This campaign seeks to increase female participation in the technology sector via awareness events, training sessions, work opportunities, etc. in the developed and developing world.


Rwanda Digital Baskets

The Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions (Spider) is a network organization that brokers innovative ICT4D initiatives to support democracy, education and health in rural regions of the global south.  SPIDER has done various work in Rwanda, a country committed to using ICTs to leapfrog industrial economic stages and become a knowledge-based, middle-income society.  One particular project (link) in the Kamonyi district of Rwanda used ICTs to highlight female culture and create e-business opportunities.

The project supplied 8 women with laptops and digital cameras.  The women were taught how to use the technology and were instructed to document themselves weaving baskets –an everyday practice in their community.  They then were taught to upload the pictures on the Internet and essentially created a basket-weaving tutorial.  The project had several outcomes.  First, it empowered women by showing the power of their craft and its appeal to a much wider audience. By documenting their practices, it also captured their weaving processes, ensuring these traditions can be passed down to future generations.  Lastly, these women learned technical ICT skills and can share this knowledge with other members of their community.  The ultimate goal of this project was for women to design their own websites and create an online business. I was unable to find information about the long-term sustainability of this project; however, I found this initiative an interesting way to incorporate traditional culture in a developing community with ICTs.