Improving Existing ICT initiatives- A cowpath worth following

This past week in class we discussed a number of issues related to the way ICT initiatives are designed, implemented, and run. One of these issues, brought up by Surmaya Talyarkhan’s paper, Connecting the First Mile discusses the idea of the design-reality gap, in which ICT projects are developed, anecdotally of course, by a group of people outside the socio-economic sphere of those for whom the project will be implemented, in a way that is much more, “we made this for you”, rather than, “we made this with you”.  An anecdote to this problem, which we have seen in floundering NGO projects across the globe, is to better pre-existing initiatives, another theme we discussed in class. But does this really work?  I vote yes, and I have a few reasons why:

  • Taking grassroots initiatives designed by and for a community and adding in ICTs that they didn’t have before would drastically improve the agency and capacity of the initiative.
  • ICTs would make these organizations and initiatives much more efficient, while being able to “hit the ground running” so to speak because the initiative would have already established rapport with the community in question.

In my participation as a delegate for the Model Organization of American States I’ve been working with my co-delegate on a policy resolution meant to take Talyarkhan’s words and apply them to a real life situation. I thought this would be an excellent forum to discuss our resolution and its relation to ICT4D and let commenters say what they think- after all, our resolution has to be absolutely air tight before we depart for the conference in Washington in March.

In a nutshell, our resolution adds onto the pre-existing government conditional cash transfer program called Bolsa Familia in Brazil. Qualifying low income families receive monthly cash transfers as well as additional supplies in exchange for regularly sending their children to school and getting regular health checkups. This is an effort to keep kids in school, as well as bring children and families out of poverty through education.  Our resolution will bring basic ICTs into the program, as well as enrich desire to learn about ICTs, engineering, science, and mathematics among children.  Our project piggybacks off of the Goldibloxs idea, which is designed to help get little girls interested in STEM academics. Instead, this version of the project (to be titled Building Boxes) will send a small box to each girl in the program (roughly ages 9-14) every six months that they successfully maintain the required attendance. Each box will have a different STEM related theme, and comes with an engaging book and activity catered to the child’s age. These range from a plant-your-own garden and picture book for the youngest age group to a build-your-own-basic-cell-phone and novel for an older age group.  The hope is that through these activities, young girls will acquire interest in these areas and a desire to pursue higher education in these fields.

Anyway, please comment and let me know what you think, or if you have any questions/loopholes.  The MOAS program is theoretical, of course, but I think we need to start seeing more initiatives like this one, which take pre-existing programs and beef them up using ICTs to improve quality, function, and efficiency.

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One response to “Improving Existing ICT initiatives- A cowpath worth following

  • dthunell

    I know about the Bolsa Familia project used in the favelas and I think it is a great idea to include ICTs. Learning basic technology skills can only improve these childrens’ chances of making it out of poverty and getting jobs rather than continuing the cycle of poverty and violence.

    The problem you refer to about people making technology for an impoverished group rather than with them is definitely a real issue. From my perspective, it often feels like the “do gooders” feel that the people they are helping might not be smart enough to fix their problems since poverty has enveloped their communities for generations. But I think it’s more that they don’t have the means rather than the capability to fix these issues. So, I think it would be great if you were able to add this ICT idea onto the Bolsa Familia and if implemented properly, I think it could be a real success.

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