Linda Raftree is right… “There is “So. Much. To. Think. About.”
This week’s readings propel us on a multifarious journey, as we are to deconstruct a seemingly harmless four letter word—ICT4D. As we explore her intricate and dense post, The field [formerly known as?] ICT4D is messy, we are prompted to consider an overflow of opinions. I would like to focus on the work of Wayan Vota in particular, as he picks apart the “blog bomb” Erik Hersman dropped on the scene a little over a year ago. (His work is entitled, The Challenge of Defining ICT4D Or Why Erik Hersman is ICT4$).
After exposing his initial reactions to Hersman’s work, (frustration–>a state of productive reflection), Vota prompts an important question. How would ICT4D look to the average African? And how to we ensure that “ICT4D” carries benefits to those who need it most?
In considering these questions, we must reflect upon the similarities and differences between ICT4D and ICT4$. According to Vota: (1) ICT4D and ICT4$ are two who different industries, (2) Projects can be ICT4D and ICT4$, and (2) ICT4D and ICT4$ should be symbiotic.
When we look at the Tech start up world, ICT is seen a means to make money. We have explored the success of such pursuits such as M-Pesa (which are intended to be sold at a profit to venture capitalists and people under served by the market place). I cannot help but think back to the overly smily M-Pesa video we watched in class. But even though the aim is financial, the intention doesn’t undermine the positive effects the program is having in the context of Kenya.
But if we move to consider the international development world, ICT is used to deliver services such as healthcare and education at very low costs to those under-served by the government. Impact is the focus. But as we have seen, this more altruistic (and less capitalistic) aim doesn’t always succeed. Many of the projects we have explored in the course are failures and there are endless lessons to be learned.
As Vota so clearly outlines, projects can be a combination of ICT4D and ICT4$ and neither one is perfect. Vota counters Hersman’s claim that we need to focus more on ICT4$, although he contends that focusing on financial sustainability is key. And when sustainability does not occur, we should celebrate failure. It is difficult to find the balance between development and business goals. So do we side with Hersman’s cynicism and think less of ICT as something that’s about development? Is it right to focus on ICT4$ > ICT4D?
It is readily apparent that Hersman’s ‘blog bomb’ has successfully disseminated a wide-range of responses. This discourse is critical in the ICT4D field.