Summary: The Subtle Condescension of “ICT4D” Erik Hersman

 This article/blog post is about how Erik Hersman does not approve of the terminology ICT4D as he finds it condescending. First, he has a problem with this terminology because he says this is what NGO’s do in Asia and Africa but if it is done in the US it isn’t called development it is called “civil society innovation or a disruptive product.” He then goes on to say that he is a proponent of getting technology into the hands of “ordinary people,” which is why he does not admonish OLPC, as he thinks the dissemination of technology is a positive thing. He specifies this point, when saying that he is not against the spread of technology to places like Africa and Asia he is just against the baggage/ condescension that the term ICT4D carries.

He then brings up the point again about whether or not development is considered ict4d if it done in the US; He references an ICT program that combats violence in Chicago called PeaceTXT.

His next point is that ICT4D is a way to name interesting/innovative products from Africa/Asia as something different than if the same thing were to appear in the western hemisphere. Furthermore, he proposes the question, are programs still considered ICT4D if they are profitable and the same time as helpful?

His next point is that when people from the developing work thing about ICT4D they automatically think of the UN coming in an installing toilets. He says that this is a main problem as there have been numerous years of failed aid projects, especially in Africa. He says this triggers the “begging bowl” image, and strips away dignity away from the aid program.

He then claims that ICT4D is the way that NGO’s are trying to stay relevant, that private donors will support. He asks how many ICT4D initiatives a more than starter projects, and how many have the effect of westerns coming in, giving supplies, and then leaving.

Furthermore he states that there is a two fold problem occurring. First, the tech scene in Africa is ready to be treated as a legitimate money making industry. When individuals in this industry hear the term ICT4D connected to a project they get turned off of it and consider it a “special needs project.”  He says that start up companies who are trying to get their start in underdeveloped places are automatically “pigeonholed” in the international community as ICT4D.

The other side of the problem is, NGO’s are undermining the fact that people could be creating the same technologies/ICT initiatives in that country and chagrining for it, but because NGO’s are providing things for free it is stunting the growth of ICT in developing countries.

He closes by saying that the terminology ICT4D should not be used in Africa as it has negative conations in terms of the tech stat up business. There needs to be more of a focus on local initiatives and think less about the development aspect, and more of “commercial value”.


Original article can be found here.


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