Author Archives: brookekania

ICT4D Professional Profile: Tim Unwin


Born in England in 1955, Tim Unwin is an ICT4D professional who has done an incredible amount in the field. He spent 20 years doing research and teaching about development, and spent six months working for a bilateral donor agency. This past year, he received the “Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, UK-China Fellowship for Excellence”, became a visiting scholar at Peking University, became an honorary professor at Lanzhou University, and received an “apple for the teacher award” from the Student Union at Royal Holloway. He has written and edited fifteen books and over 200 papers and other publications, including his most recent book “Simply ICT4D” which was published by the Cambridge Press in 2009. His work has taken him to over 25 countries, and impressively, this is just the short version of his professional training. Tim Unwin is currently the Chief Executive officer of Commonwealth Telecommunications Organization (CTO), the Chair of Commonwealth Scholarship Commissions in the UK, an Emeritus Professor of Geography and director of the ICT4D Collective and UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London. Unwin is also currently on the Steering Committee “Online Educa Berlin,” a Fellow of the Education Impact, on the advisory committee of eLearning Africa, and on the editorial boards of Third World Quarterly, Children’s Geographies, Aurora Geographical Journal, and Triple-C.

Within his ICT4D work and research, “in recent years, his research has focused especially on the uses of ICT’s by poor people in Africa and Asia, especially those with disabilities and young people at risk of living and working on the streets”7. He has written many papers and done much research on education and poverty alleviation in the developing world. Unwin explains that, “for me, development is about addressing the appalling inequalities that exist in our societies, and this is something very, very different from the hegemonic view that development is actually mainly about economic growth”. Based on various comments he has made on ICT4D this seems to be one of the reasons he chose to get into the field. Furthermore, he believes strongly in giving the people in developing areas a voice when implementing projects. He suggests that when implementing a development project, “really discover what would… make a difference in the lives of poor people, and then work with them to develop technologies that can really serve their interests”1. He also suggests that it is “much better to contribute to expanding and existing successful initiatives, rather than starting up something from scratch”1 and that “those who determine our research agendas should be the world’s poor and marginalized,”1 which is something I strongly agree with.

Tim Unwin has done an incredible job of sharing his ideas in a widespread and accessible way, and uses ICT very effectively to do so. Most formally, he shares his ideas through countless publications he has written. He also uses social media and has both a blog and a twitter account. Through these more informal ways of sharing his ideas, the reader really gets a sense of how personable he is, and he seems rather down to earth as well. In his social media pages he talks about projects he has worked on, comments on books that he has read, shares discussions that he has been a part of, talks about personal experiences he has had, especially about his travels, and much more. In taking the time to write blog posts on topics that he thinks a wider audience should hear about, it is clear that he truly believes in a wider access to communication and information that is available to all who wish to access it. Not only is he someone that talks about being a proponent for giving everyone in the world, including those in developing countries, access to technology and information, but he puts his beliefs into practice by sharing information on blogs and twitter, with links to other videos and websites with even more information, rather than just sharing his knowledge via publications that are only available to a limited audience. Furthermore, he shares many of his ideas through other special projects, debates, interviews, and keynote speeches.







Tim Unwin’s Advice for Aspiring ICT4D Professionals

A few days ago I commented on Tim Unwin’s blog and posed a question: “I was just wondering, what are you looking for in students who are coming out of IDEV or ICT4D programs – what do you think the field needs from academic training? What advice would you give to aspiring ICT4D professionals?” To my surprise not only did he answer me but he did so in a new post on his blog that was later circulated around twitter. The response was essentially made up of ten different things that he looks for, and explained each one. The first was “a willingness to cross boundaries”. He said that this was important because ICT4D is such an interdisciplinary field that professionals need to be able to draw from many different fields. His second piece of advice was “understanding the real needs of users” because the poor people in the developing communities are really the only people who know what they really want and what will work for them. I thought this was an especially useful piece of advice and one that, as we have seen from case studies in class, is particularly true. Next, he said that he looked for “humility” and explained that “far too many ICT4D projects are invented by academics who have little clue about what the real needs of users actually are” and that an ICT4D professional needs to be humble enough to really listen to the people and allow them to help in designing and implementing the projects. When I read this I thought of the One Laptop Per Child initiative and how the creators of that project were extremely smart individuals from MIT but they did not even bother to take the time to research developing countries and therefore their project was unsuccessful. Maybe if they had read this new post by Tim Unwin they would have had more success in designing and implementing their project. The next thing he looked for was individuals who are “technically sound” which makes sense because ICT4D is essentially about technology and people going into this field need to know a sufficient amount about technology. The fifth thing he looked for was individuals with “a focus on really understanding ‘development’” and how it is about decreasing the inequalities in societies rather than just about economic growth. I found this very interesting and something that I had not thought much about. But this makes sense. If people really do want to be morally invested in international development then they will work to decrease the inequalities rather than simply focus on economic growth, since many times these two are not the same. Next, he suggested, “get some real ‘development’ experience”. He explained how important that had been for him because after 20 years of researching and teaching about development he admitted that he did not learn as much as he did in the six months he spent working for a bilateral donor agency. The eighth quality he said he looks for in people getting into ICT4D is, “an ability to engage in critical analysis” because this is what should “lie at the heart of all academic enquiry”. I thought this was great advice, especially for the people that want to design and implement development programs because in order to have a successful program you’re really going to have to analyze and evaluate it in order to see how successful it is and what you can change to improve parts of it. Finally, the last two suggestions he gave were “freedom to fail” and “be a good team player”. He says that in failing, people generally learn just as much, if not more, than they do in their successes, and that failing is okay as long as you make sure to learn from it. Finally, he says that it’s important to be a good team player in ICT4D because the whole field is essentially about teamwork, which I thought tied nicely into his previous points about including the community members in any project you are implementing. All in all I thought that every one of these things he looks for in aspiring ICT4D professionals were amazing pieces of advice that I have taken a lot away from. I really appreciated that he took the time to respond and did so so thoroughly.

CNN: KONY 2012

This CNN article lists many criticisms against the Kony 2012 video. The article starts out by saying that the video was essentially fifteen years too late and had it come fifteen years ago, it potentially could have saved many lives. Evelyn Apoko, a woman abducted by the LRA in 2001 who was held captive for three years says that Kony does need to face some type of justice and hopes that the Kony 2012 video will somehow help to make this happen. But, at the same time, she stresses her concern that this military campaign that the video calls for will just drag out the conflict and hurt more kids that have already been through enough. She also comments that the video was very powerful but that it did not sufficiently explain the conflict at all, it only talked about Kony when the issues in northern Uganda go way beyond one man. She says that the video should have found a way to open peoples eyes to the people affected by the war “and the children – they need to find a way to protect them. They have no hope, no way to escape” and that’s what the video should have emphasized, a way to help the children, not a way to start another military campaign against Kony. We had essentially discussed all of this in class with the speakers but reading about it from Apoko who was a first hand witness to the conflict really affirmed the parts of our discussion where we talked about the need for working towards peace and helping those afflicted by Kony rather than starting more violence. What Peter Pham of the Atlantic Council criticized about the Kony 2012 video in the article was also extremely interesting and not something we really touched on in our discussion in class. He said that all the media attention that Kony is now getting will most likely hurt the efforts to catch Kony rather than help them. When the video was released, there had been a covert military operation going on for a while to try and find Kony and if he relocates after the video, all their efforts will be lost “once and for all”. The article then goes on to explain how “Invisible Children has manipulated facts in the past” and that many things in the video were factually incorrect. The article explains what we talked about in class about how while the video makes it seem like Kony is for sure still in Uganda, that in 2006 the LRA was for the most part pushed out of northern Uganda and most likely moved to the Democratic Republic of Congo and Central African Republic. They think the LRA is currently there because the UN refugee agency has received displaced people because of LRA attacks in Congo, and they are still being said to be using children in their armies and brainwashing. Another point the article made that I found interesting was that Invisible Children puts most of their money towards the Ugandan government’s army and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army which are both “riddled with accusations of rape and looting, but Invisible Children defends them”, while only 30% of their money goes towards helping Ugandan children. When I read this I felt like the video was almost like false advertising. The video seems to be all about doing good and helping the children of Uganda, but rather than directly helping them, the organization is choosing to use the majority of their money to simply create more violence for these kids to live in. Another quote that stuck out to me in the article was when Fred Opolot, a Ugandan government spokesperson, said that, “Invisible Children’s campaign reflected Africa as a dark continent of incessant trouble”. When I read this I immediately thought of the video that we watched about the woman in the Ugandan government talking about the Kony 2012 video and saying how it made Uganda look terrible and could really injure not only their reputation as a country but also investments to their country and the tourism industry. Furthermore, a quote by Richard Downie, the deputy director to the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, reminded me of the article we read that discussed the white savior industrial complex. He said that “I think by portraying Westerners as the only people who can crack this problem of Joseph Kony – it’s simplistic, it’s naïve, and it’s a little bit condescending as well”. I completely agree with this, like Cole I don’t think we should keep ourselves from intervening just because we have a different skin color, we shouldn’t just assume we know what’s going on and think we can fix things without really knowing or understanding the problem at all.

To read more about Kony click here.

ATM design solutions in India

Click here for Youtube video of Saral Bank project in India

The Saral Bank in India resigned an ATM for users in rural India. Currently, a large amount of people in rural India do not have access to basic banking services and are cut off from formal financial services because banks do not think that these people are viable customers. However, the Saral Bank saw the need in these areas for banks, and decided to provide a bank for this population. However, they knew that in order to make their bank successful, they would have to cater to the local population’s needs. The current ATM’s that exist in most places require a certain level of ATM exposure and literacy. There are confusing buttons, inconsistencies in hardware, differences in interfaces, linguistic barriers, confusing slots, and many times they are in constrained environments. The Saral Bank recognized this and decided that they needed to change the design solution of their ATM’s to be more refined and interactive so that the people in the rural areas where they were setting up their services could use them more successfully. The bank spent time studying the behavior of the users towards the ATM’s to see what exactly it was that they needed in an ATM. After doing this, the Saral Bank came up with an ATM that catered precisely towards the rural Indian population. This ATM had different language and dialect options, voice based assistance as well as text, easy to understand visuals (such as pictures of the exact monetary bills), a simple and intuitive touch based interface, and a much simpler transaction process. Furthermore, it allows people to deposit smaller amounts of money into their accounts and uses cardless banking because it is a more secure system.

This project reminded me of the Tongia and Subrahmanian reading we did in class last week, Tongia and Subrahmanian pointed out that one common shortcoming of stakeholders in ICT4D is that “many of the targeted beneficiaries are “disconnected” from the mainstream… lack not only physical connectivity but social or political avenues for participation” (p.3). What they are essentially saying is that one of the main stakeholders in ICT4D projects are the people who the projects are being implemented for, and many times, these people have absolutely no voice in the project, when they should have the most voice because if the projects do not fit their needs they will not use them. One recommendation for success pointed out by Tongia and Subrahmanian is having the bottom of the pyramid be more of a focus for the ICT industry. Tongia and Subrahmanian say that “recognizing the bottom of the pyramid as an untapped market has not yet resulted in major, fundamental innovations by the ICT industry, though they are working on improving the size, scale, costs and robustness of their offerings.” (p.3).  This is exactly what the Saral Bank in India did. They studied the behavior of the rural Indian users towards the ATM’s, asked them what they would like to change about them, and then designed the ATM’s exactly for their needs.


ICT4D and Gender

This article was extremely interesting to read after reading the article “Gender Assessment of ICT Access and Usage in Africa” for class this week. This article talked about a USAID meeting on gender integration in ICT4D projects. The group gathered to discuss why gender integration in ICT is important, the costs of overlooking it, and how best to fix the gender inequalities in ICT projects. Siobhan Green said that, “without any kind of mitigation, IT reinforces existing inequality. It is amoral in that it follows the pathways of existing inequality or equality… and its up to us, development experts, to try to mitigate against that common pathway”. This relates really well to the article we read for class that talked about the fact that women often do have less access to ICT but it is not directly because of their gender, but because of opportunities or rights they do not get because of their gender, such as education or equal salaries. Both articles suggest that development experts need to take this into account and find some way to solve the problem so that both genders have equal access to ICTs. However, this article went further and listed the five major differences that contribute to women’s ICT usage which are “access and opportunities to use ICTs, social expectations and roles, time and resources, education and economic growth, and business growth”. So, in order to somehow make access to ICTs equitable for women, development experts need to take all five things into account. Siobhan Green also suggested that developers “start with the assumption that different genders will experience the ICTs differently” and realize that ICT’s aren’t gender neutral when coming up with ways to integrate gender into ICT4D projects. I found this interesting because yes I think it’s true that women and men see technology differently, however, I think it is going to be hard for developers to figure out how each gender sees it differently in different cultures and areas of the world.

Internet Hackers: Anonymous

This article talked about the recent arrest of 25 people in the loose-knit hacker group called “Anonymous” that were arrested in Spain, Chile, Colombia, and Argentina with the help and information from Interpol. The people who were arrested were “suspected of planning coordinated cyber-attacks against institutions including Colombia’s defense ministry and presidential Web Sites, Chile’s Endesa electricity company and national library, and other targets”. During these arrests authorities seized a total of 250 different mobile phones and information technology equipment. Four of the people arrested were a part of the attacks on the Spanish political party websites who had defaced the websites, put up data online about the police, and carried out “denial-of-service” attacks. Anonymous has no real structure to it and the different members all have different principles for why they hack. While Interpol has done a lot to aid in these investigations, Interpol itself cannot arrest or investigate anything, “it facilitates intelligence sharing to help police forces around the world work together” only.

This was an interesting article to read after reading about the South African e-Government initiative. One of South Africa’s main challenges it faces and one of the things it is most worried about as it implements it’s e-Government is security. Clearly, this article on Anonymous is proof that South Africa’s worries are real. While organizations like Interpol can help them investigate hackings into their e-government, it is ultimately the responsibility of South Africa to catch and deal with hackers, as Interpol can do nothing more than provide information. This means that the South African police force and investigative units need to be ready and trained in such activities as the country goes further with it’s e-government. Another interesting part of the article was when it said that Anonymous responded to Interpol on twitter by saying “Interpol, you can’t take Anonymous, it’s an idea”. I found this to be interesting because I think it’s something that every country beginning to implement e-government needs to think about. There is no way to completely get rid of or avoid hackers; they will always exist. Instead of focusing attention on trying to avoid them, the country needs the right people and structures in place to find and stop each source of hacking when it starts and deal with the perpetrators.

Cellphones Help Maternal Health in India and Literacy in Niger

According to Professor Sachs, from Columbia University, “extreme poverty is almost synonymous with extreme isolation. Mobile phones and wireless Internet end isolation and will therefore prove to be the most transformative technology of economic development of our time”. The Catholic Relief Services projects in India and Niger have taken full advantage of this through use of the cell phone. The Sure Start Project in India uses cell phones to report on child health and maternal health in the Gorakhpur district. In this poor rural area of India maternal and neonatal mortality rates are very high. The trained CRS workers work in the area to help council women and bring them to clinics in emergency situations. In addition, they collect a lot of information on things such as births and maternal health. Before the use of cellphones, they would have to travel an average of 30 kilometers to report this information to their supervisors. However, now with the use of cellphones, they can send in their data which is much more efficient. They also hope that the cellphones will help them in other ways. They hope to start getting telephone alerts about things such as disease outbreaks so that they can respond faster and in better ways. They also want to receive data via their cell phones on how they are doing in comparison to other districts.

CRS also has initiated Project ABC in Niger.  This project uses cell phones to teach adults in rural areas how to read and write, and helps households use information on the market to sell and buy their crops. This project works by using smartphones with interactive lessons to teach literacy in their languages. Data proves that this has helped improve literacy rates 28% in villages that use cell phones to teach literacy as opposed to villages that teach literacy in traditional ways. Furthermore, the continued use of these cell phones after people have learned to read has helped them to continue practicing through texting and the digital textbooks on the phones. The cell phones have also helped families do better in the market because it also has digital textbooks that teach about agriculture, health, and natural resource management. The phones also provide information on market trends, which has proven to be extremely helpful as well.

While both of these projects seem to be extremely beneficial in theory, after the readings we have done for class and our class discussions this week, I can’t help but wonder how well these projects have actually worked. The post never mentions complications these people must face with these phones such as battery life. Seeing as they are in extremely remote and poor villages they most likely don’t have much access to reliable electricity to charge their phones frequently enough to spend hours every day working with them. Furthermore, in a video we watched a few weeks ago in class, a man brought up the issue that knowing market prices is great and all but when your crops are about to go bad if you don’t get them to market, how is knowing the market price supposed to help you since you have to sell them right then no matter what. Furthermore, I can’t help but wonder how expensive these phones are with these extra programs on them and whether they are really all that affordable to the people in Niger that need them most. However, I do believe that if these people using the cell phones have solved the problem of battery life, and are not too costly, then these two projects indeed can be very beneficial.