‘The Subtle Condescension of “ICT4D”‘

http://whiteafrican.com/2011/11/02/the-subtle-condescension-of-ict4d/

This article, written by Erik Hersman, a co-founder of Ushahidi, is about the negative impacts of using the term “ICT4D”. Hersman argues that the term “ICT4D” is hypocritical in that it is often used to describe technologies and projects which, if implemented in lower income regions or communities in developed nations, would use a different descriptor such as ‘civil society innovation.’ He claims that technology in the developing world is automatically labeled as ICT4D and that this terminology sets technological innovation in the developing world as somehow different than technological innovation being used for social good in the developed world. This, he maintains, is problematic because it undermines technology start up businesses and prevents the growth of the tech industry in developing regions (he discusses Africa in particular). If technological innovation is labeled as ICT4D, it is dismissed as something other than a legitimate business, which can attract investors, create value, and make money – and perhaps more importantly for the interest of development, might be more sustainable than projects implemented by NGO’s and development organizations. The article concludes by supporting a focus on ICT for profit rather than development, in order to promote the tech startup culture and the viability of technological solutions.

I agree that there can be condescending connotations to the term “ICT4D” where it concerns tech start ups who would be more effective as legitimate businesses. I think that the growth of a strong tech industry would be positive for development in Africa, that grassroots efforts can be realistically more sustainable than efforts organized an implemented solely by ‘outsiders’, and that bias against for-profit companies can be counterproductive. If technological solutions are helping people and meeting real needs within communities, then that is development whether or not it is labeled as development. However I also think it would be problematic to make “development” a negative word; the problem, in my opinion, isn’t that the field development or development efforts are actually condescending but that there are unfair perceptions of the word itself; if the meaning of “development” and the connotations associated with development efforts were to broaden to include for profit growth as well as ICT for social good in what we consider ‘developed countries’ then “ICT4D” wouldn’t necessarily be a condescending term.

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One response to “‘The Subtle Condescension of “ICT4D”‘

  • dlach

    This seems like a nice article to start with, as it questions the basis of ICT4D itself. I agree with the notion that “ICT4D” and even “development” have stigmas attached to them that can be detrimental, but I wonder how these perceptions arose. Do you think the relatively recent propagation of NGOs (and their subsequent involvement in ICT4D) has any connection to the idea that tech-centered development efforts don’t provide valid business potential?

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