Guilty As Charged

A perfect testament to the constant argument of the inappropriateness of Western cultures invading developing countries with their ideas of improvement was my reaction to the following statement by Mchombu in Unwin’s text, “All traditional forms of information and communication (music, dance, poetry, theatre, and indigenous knowledge) were condemned because they sustained cultural forms of social structure and authority.” Unwin goes on to describe an intellectual elitism that affects the type and form of the transfer of information. After reading that I was stunned at myself that I had never even bothered to think ‘what are the present methods of communicating information in these developing countries?’  If I wanted to defend myself I would say that, where I am situated, cell phones and computers etc., are the dominant methods for information and communication technology of which I am aware. But rather I am angry in recognizing that my mindset is the exact top-down attitude of development that literature is scrutinizing.

Unwin describes how “supply-led rather than demand driven” initiatives focus too heavily on the actual technology instead of its space as a communication tool in a poor community. What development professionals are trying to move away from is not ignoring the traditional knowledge systems of indigenous people. Communication is an incredibly natural human thing and the technology we interact with often depersonalizes the connection. Methods of communication in some developing communities are rich with tradition from the history of the culture.

After reading the “10 things to know about how microfinancing is using tech to empower global entrepreneurs,” I have come to a comfortable place in my conscience that it is possible to appreciate local knowledge and utilize information technologies. The use of microfinance puts the enterprise and trust in the hands of the poor. These are the people who know their land and should be trusted to improve it with their own local knowledge. Thankfully, technologies introduced into the world of microfinance have had a positive effect.  The article discusses that, “Mobile technology and wireless internet make all the difference when it comes to microfinancing by using devices as banking channels and payment systems.” As well, using the web instead of intermediaries can lower interest rates. Empowering the local people is the best way to sustain and honor traditional knowledge (and communication) systems.


2 responses to “Guilty As Charged

  • emcdona1

    This reminds me a lot of the Tulane International Development class, Approaches to Sustainable Development. In this class we talked about the importance of knowing local stakeholders and the local community. It is especially important to understand their needs and desires while incorporating the culture and value systems. This is especially important with ICTs because it is wasteful to give resources that won’t be fully utilized.

  • briannasteinmetz

    I am currently in the Approaches to Sustainable Development class and I completely agree. Before this class I did not think about how an underdeveloped country’s culture and societal structure can affect ICTs and that this is one of the reasons that top-down development projects almost always fail. In this class, we are creating a project proposal, and this proposal must be demand-driven. I realized that most of my research is centered around the country’s culture and understanding the people instead of other projects or ideas. Once I understand the culture then I can better create a proposal that will fit the needs of the people.

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