Author Archives: abernst2

Ariel’s Lessons Learned

Throughout this semester I have learned so much about the concepts, configurations, and frameworks of ICT4D. We have discussed general themes and ideas in addition to case studies in class, and I have been able to reflect on these class readings and discussions for my own country reports. From this, I have taken away that the most important thing to remember when dealing with ICT4D is not to over-design. As a society, we have this habit of always wanting what is shiny and new, thus causing us to throw out the old so we can get the new. But when dealing with ICT4D, we cannot have this same philosophy. We cannot crowd developing nations with complex hardware and software that, though they may have good intentions, are complex. These complexities in ICT have greater potential to fail, thus putting a society right back where they started, yet with lower self-worth, less hope, and piles of useless e-waste that is unable to be recycled in their environment.

In addition, during this course, I was able to reflect on what types of project I am personally drawn to, and how I can utilize my own personal set of knowledge and skills in the field. And, not to my surprise, this course has only reaffirmed my passion of bridging the rural to urban gap. Yet, because I did not know much about ICT4D before this course, my ideas to do this were much different. With the tools and opportunities that ICT provides for development, I feel that this is a great asset for bridging this gap in many countries. The one thing that is important to remember, though obvious, is that models vary based on time, place, and overall relevance. As IDEV students, we are told that the “one size fits all” approach is garbage and to always take into account local conditions, but this is often easier said than done. If a project is attractive and successful in a certain instance, it is so easy to say that the same thing should be done elsewhere without really thinking about the nature of the model and potential implementation site. I know that I am only reiterating what IDEV students hear over and over, but I still feel that it is the most important concept in the development field.

Ecuador ICT4D Resources

1. ICT Policy layout written in 2007 in English by Valerie Betancourt from GIS. Note: This is an analysis and lay out the policy, the White Paper, but I am unable to find an online link of this specific document in Spanish or English. The White Paper Was written by CONATEL in 2006.

2. CONATEL and SENATEL wrote the White Paper in collaboration with each other.

3. Case Study: Conserving Ecuador’s Mangroves with ICT’s, project by C-CONDEM, and the project has already gone through a phases and is currently in independent continuation with GIS.

4. GIS analysis of policy (linked above), ITU’s National e-Strategies for Development Global Status and Perspectives Report 2010

5. There were certain thing that were pretty easy to find for Ecuador, but this was mostly broad statistics and information. My biggest struggle, however, was not necessarily finding information, but finding current information. I really did not find much after the year of 2007 or 2008, making it difficult to evaluate the current ICT situation of the country.

‘Cuban Twitter’: For Undermining or Communication?

Recently, details about USAID’s social media project in Cuban have come into circulation, causing many to speculate the covertness of this operation. For years USAID has publicized that they do not take part in such operations, but details of this investigation have the potential to prove otherwise. This ‘Cuban Twitter” titled ZunZuneo was in circulation for over two years, and had thousands of subscribers, none of whom had any clue the the US government had anything to do with it. It was financed completely through foreign banks, leaving little to no trace of any connection to Washington. There was no involvement by any intelligence services, and USAID was primarily responsible for entirety of the campaign. Many different documents and interviews are showing USAID’s extensive efforts to conceal its involvement in the project. USAID has also said that stopped the project in 2012 when the government grant ended.

The way ZunZuneo works was through SMS messages that subscribers sent to update the site. At the beginning, the content was to be all about sports and entertainment. But, according to the information that is recently being uncovered about USAID’s intentions, they would eventually transition the discussion to be more politically centered, eventually bringing up existing issues in the Cuban government and leading to the potential undermining of the government as a whole. Executives of USAID are responding to these accusations by saying that their goals were to stimulate communication with Cuba due to the restrictions the country has in place in terms of US communication as a whole. However, USAID has not completely rejected the idea of stimulating political conversations. They have noted social media’s role in various global uprisings, elections, etc. where the beginning conversations as well as the spread of awareness has stemmed from the internet.

As more information is slowly being revealed about ZunZuneo and how covert or not covert its operations are, it is interesting to see both sides. Many Congress members are dissatisfied with their lack of knowledge about this project and the government funds it was using. Yet, the idea of “undermining” the Cuban government is not something many people involved in the US government are opposed to, whether it is by means they agree with or not.

Articles about ZunZuneo: link, link, link

One Laptop per Child: Quality Primary Education for All?

Eight years ago, MIT graduate Nicholas Negroponte developed a hardware, software, and worldwide organization to target widespread primary education around the world. This initiative, entitled One Laptop per Child (OLPC) is one of the boldest technology and ICT4Edu initiatives the world has ever seen. The laptop, called the XO, and the software it comes with, Sugar, are distributed to countries and school districts in bulk to make sure each student in a school or community has a laptop. Negroponte believes that in our modern society and with the unstable, unreliable school systems of many rural and underdeveloped areas, the best way for a young child to receive a quality education is through the use of a laptop, not only allowing the students to teach themselves the software, but also how to utilize its programs for positive educational outcomes. He has faith in students around the world, more so than he does on teachers’ abilities to provide them with the education they deserve.

This program has definitely received a fair amount of criticism, often described as a one-size-sits-all utopian program that does not effectively address the target issues nor is it worth the cost for the outcomes it may produce. In Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames’ article “Can One Laptop per Child Save the World’s Poor”, they highlight four main issues with OPLC: affordability for targeted countries, flawed expectations and effects of implementation, design issues with the XO, and the reality of student usage. An interesting topic they brought up was Negroponte’s purposeful decision not to test out the product before implementing it. He believes that there is no need for a pilot program, staged implementation, and a designed monitoring and evaluation program. This is somewhat of a development taboo, for all development literature stresses the importance of such ailments in any project or program. I believe that his philosophy of intentionally neglecting these aspects of a project were interesting, yet flawed, for though it takes more time and money to test out a program in a smaller scale environment, it is still important to get an impact assessment before making a project widespread in order to prevent any potential detriments it could inflict on targeted populations.

Just a few days ago, OPLC News released an article entitled “Goodbye One Laptop per Child” announcing that the initiative is essentially history. Though there have been advancements in the XO hardware, few are still coding for Sugar, the software. Offices are declining and OLPC organizational support has been dying out. However, this does not mean that the goals and vision of OLPC are dead, for the energy in using technology to for educational development is a continued effort. In my opinion, many of the flaws of OLPC overrule the positives, and its outcomes were not necessarily what were expected. Thus, this fading out of OLPC has the potential open other opportunities for educational reform worldwide, especially if OLPC enabled countries want to attempt to stay sustainable.

Bitcoin Advancement: Appropriate or Inappropriate?

In talking about appropriate technologies, this issue is often put forth in situations where new technology is introduced, but deems to not blend well in or create positive impacts for the community in which the ICT project is implemented. However, appropriateness is also an issue when it comes to the extent to which certain technology is implemented and how far it is advanced. In this day and age when efficiency is a number one priority, advancements can get to a point where a once appropriate technology can overstep social, physical, or political boundaries and revert to creating more problems than fixing them.

A recent example of this is the collapse of Mt. Gox, the world’s largest exchange for trading bitcoins. Bitcoins are the virtual currency that has grown in popularity for buying products and services online, often used on an international scale. They started on somewhat of a smaller scale but quickly grew and are now being used in some of the world’s largest exchanges. The recent collapse resulted in an exchange with Japan where almost 750,000 bitcoins were stolen, which is worth more than $300 million. Clearly, critics see this as a major detriment to virtual currency, despite any past successes. Many investigations have been launched in order to uncover details about the collapse of Mt. Gox, or if it is even a final downfall. Some say that it is only temporary while others dispute that Mt. Gox could very easily not recover.

The Mt. Gox shutdown as it results from a major security breach has started a much a larger discussion about virtual currency as a whole, and whether it is a viable way to be making large international exchanges. In its earlier days, bitcoins were appropriate in that they did not sum up to be extremely large amounts of money, nor did companies solely rely on them for their  exchanges. Yet, just as most technologies do, bit coins transformed into a large scale monetary entity. Mt. Gox was able to use the growing popularity of bitcoins and the trend of technological advancement as tools in creating a multi-national, multi-billion dollar company. Then, events such as this recent theft of almost $300 million takes place, bringing to light the potential inappropriateness of bitcoin advancement and large-scale reliance on this virtual currency. I see this as a clear example of a technology advancing itself from appropriate to inappropriate, even if the goals were progression and efficiency in the new technological age.


Transforming Traditional Knowledge Systems: Progressive or Not?

During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a clear top-down approach to development in involving the transfer of information. Information was viewed as something to be transferred from “experts” to “peasants”, creating a power dynamic that resulted in little to no effect for the targeted population. Cultures and practices of these populations, many of which are indigenous populations, were neglected in this process. As more development research continued to take place, academics and development practitioners began to realize the insufficient methods of this simplistic approach, and began to place more value on traditional knowledge systems. Such systems are embedded in the culture and society of these populations, so failing to recognize them seemed to create more problems rather than fix existing ones. Researchers began to study the diverse ways in which information is produced, stored, and transferred in these indigenous societies, placing much more value on these systems. On the surface, this shift in focus is extremely progressive in that fact that development, specifically involving ICT, is becoming more of a bottom-up, participatory approach as opposed to a an elitist framework deriving from ethnocentric principles. Tim Unwin, in his book ICT4D presents this transition in a very positive light.

I, however, have some issues with this progression. I do agree that existing cultural and societal systems needs to be recognized and taken into account in development sectors, not only information transfer. Without sufficient knowledge a community and the embedded systems that are organically carried out in the community, there is no way to produce any positive impacts or avoid oppression of any kind. Yet, this newer approach discusses intentions of utilizing these existing systems to deliver contemporary development objectives, such as implementation of ICT. The World Bank initiated its Indigenous Knowledge Program for the purpose of aiding development practitioners to incorporate indigenous/traditional knowledge into the activities of development. In other words, development practitioners want to find a way to blend the MDGs and indigenous knowledge and culture together to produce development. My issue here is how transparent these motives are, and how indigenous knowledge (referred to by the World Bank as IK) is actually being taken into account. To what extent is adapting contemporary development activities, a main one being ICT implementation, compromise the integrity of a specific culture or society. If indigenous knowledge is so important to the practice of development, then why is it still altered and transformed to fit ICT and MDG standards. There are ways of using indigenous knowledge to promote development without necessarily changing it, or “modernizing” it. this “blending” of contemporary development objectives and indigenous knowledge does not seem like a bottom-up approach in my opinion. A bottom-up approach is using solely indigenous knowledge and systems and altering them according to the standards of that specific society, and not according to standards set up by the UN.

As Unwin states many times in his book, information transfer is a very important factor in development, for it is not only about transfer, but about production, storage, and communication. That is why societies have very clear systems for information communication. Though ICT can be seen as a progressive tool for development, it can easily undermine a culture’s existing information systems. For example, illiterate societies has very complex oral traditions and systems for which their knowledge is stored and transferred. Incorporating ICT into the inner workings of such a society ruins such traditions and undermines culture that has been developing for centuries. A bottom-up approach for ICT with such a society would be asking members of the community if they wanted their knowledge to be technologically stored for the future, thus allowing some sort of recording device for the purpose of preserving their culture, not changing it. I feel that too often, information transfer is valued over cultural preservation and integrity, using ICT as a hegemonic tool masking as development to essentially create an e-capable world. ICT can be extremely positive, but not when it is reduced to old modernization theory practices and fails to recognize that simply combining with indigenous cultures is not very different from neglecting it all together. Bottom-up development comes from putting MDGs aside for a brief moment to discover capabilities of indigenous knowledge and systems without immediate assistance from external sources.

From Small Local Business to Internet Success Story

Earlier today, an article was posted on SBWire about January’s Small Business of Month named by ITNow Magazine. It is a flower company based on San Jose, Costa Rica called For del Este, but has received this award and others like it based on its website and e-commerce success in The small business owner, Lorena Delgado, noticed that there was a declining market for this local business for a multiplicity of infrastructural and economic reasons. To revamp her business, she contacted a web marketing an development firm called MiWeb, whose CEO “proposed a service for Flor del Este that included developing an online presence, marketing the e-commerce website and providing digital analytics.” From this, Flor del Este has seen 80 straight months of continued growth and has won a few awards for this successful ICT venture.

It is interesting to me that a small local business with an owner who lacks”tech-savvy” skills simply made a promotion and e-commerce website that completely changed the business, for his instance for the better. Clearly, she has access to contacts, a computer, the Internet, and other necessary IT components for this project, but is still in a country where many others around her might not have that luxury. I question how the audience shifts after this Internet venture took hold of the company, and if that change expanded profit margins in addition to providing growth. Local business like Flor del Este often cater to their local audiences. But had the capacity to change that and create a new economic culture of the business.

To us, especially here in the United States, creating a website is a staple not only for business, large and small, but for essentially an venture people wish to promote. The Internet is less to a tool we utilize and more of a necessity for most business and entrepreneurial ventures. Yet, in other countries and for other business, like Flor del Este, creating a website and using cyber space for advertising and commerce is not automatic. As opposed to starting the business off with this ICT phenomenon embedded in the initial infrastructure of the business, such technologies are added and then integrated into the business. This is a very clear example of the digital divide we have been discussing: the difference between initial access and delayed access to technology, in this case between the formation of a website.

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