The Failure of Labeling ICT Projects as Failures

When viewing ICT4D projects, it is easy to point out the flaws and failures that plague the majority of them. Whether it be infrastructure problems or improper assessment of the target population, it is disheartening to say that even the greatest ICT projects are unlikely to reach their goals. When you go online and search for ICT success stories, the pickings are slim, and every success is countered with a heavy but. However, through all of the negative stories I found one that made me rethink how people are defining failures.

Earlier in the year our class had previously discussed the M-PESA development project that allows cell phone users in Kenya to have mobile money services. The project deemed to be a huge success, and students in previous years have discussed in lengths about the benefits of this mobile banking program (See blogpost ‘Further Information on M-Pesa‘). With the undeniable benefits of this business in my mind, I was intrigued when I came across an article detailing of this projects failure.

In the article “Mobile Phones Will Not Save the Poorest of the Poor” authors Zimmerman and Meinrath discuss how projects such as M-PESA are ‘leaving a substantial portion of the nation’s poor in even more dire straits.’ They mention high costs and the resistance of mobile phone companies to expand infrastructure to the rural parts of Kenya, as reasons for M-PESA’s failure. However I found it hard to agree with them, leading me to question the extent as to why some projects are deemed failures.

In my mind M-PESA is a success, and although its services fail to impact everyone in Kenya, it is having a huge impact on those who are capable of using it. It is illogical to claim that this project is a failure, and the authors’s expectation of a development program to affect everyone is far-fetched. This article made me realize that just because some projects are labeled as a failure, it doesn’t mean that they truly are.

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