Author Archives: cgalley

AZERBAIJAN National ICT Resources

1. National ICT Strategy for the Development of the Republic of Azerbaijan 2003-2012, Published by United Nations Public Administration Network; Language: English

2. General Information Published by the Azerbaijani Government (English)

3. 2009 UNDP Human Development Report featuring Azerbaijan (English)

U.S. Department of State Background Note on Azerbaijan (English)

Freedom House Report on Corruption in 2009 (English)

UN Public Administration Network: Azerbaijani Law on Electronic Digital Signatures (English)

News Articles from Azerbaijan Business Center (English)

U.S. CIA World Factbook Section on Azerbaijan (English)

4. While it was easy to find Azerbaijan’s National ICT Strategy, updates on progress and case studies were much more difficult to come by. I relied on news sources, especially those from Azerbaijan Business Center, then used the information I found there to run further searches. Fortunately I was able to find enough data in English.

 


ICT4D Reflection: Theories and Frameworks

We covered a wide variety of case studies and materials in this highly interactive course, but one of the components which I appreciated most was the early focus on different theories of development approaches. The theories were more clearly presented in this course than they were in my experience with the introductory IDev course, and I would have enjoyed getting into them even a little deeper. The prompt for this post said to explain which theory or framework was most useful, but what I took away from the course was that there are valuable components of each theory/framework, and they should all be cross-pollinated, utilized and tailored to the local context in order for an ICT development initiative to be successful. We saw how post-developmentalism’s focus on local knowledge systems can increase community buy-in and participatory sustainability, how the capabilities approach informs projects to be people-centered and flexible, and how the neoliberal approach allows ICT to naturally– and efficiently– integrate itself into a position to change a market, such as mobile phone use in the African fishing industry.

The field of development is much more controversial than other traditional academic disciplines, and I’m sometimes frustrated with recurring stereotypes and assumptions we associate with development projects and practitioners. A broad theoretical base tied to real-world case studies can help us move past those images to a more nuanced, balanced approach to addressing important issues.

Building off this hybridization-of-theories approach which I advocate, I’d like to see this course cover social innovation and social entrepreneurship initiatives with ICT4D components in the future. The field of social innovation markets itself as the “citizen sector,” where the private, NGO, and government sectors meet. Louisiana is moving forward with a new legal structure (the Benefit Corporation) which encourages initiatives which generate profit (enough to be financially self-sustaining) and also create public good or social change. I’m sure this model is at least in the beginnings of being utilized abroad– international Ashoka Fellows might be a good starting point for gathering resources. I’d love to learn more about specific examples where ICTs facilitate these models and also build a skill set for designing more of them.


Facilitating Cooperation by Mapping NGO & Aid Org.s

We’ve discussed the challenge of coordinating the efforts of individual aid and development organizations in both ICT4D and IDev 3200, and the challenge is especially salient in the context of emergency response on the ground. We’ve also learned that crisis mapping is a useful tool for development and disaster response. InterAction has launched a program called the NGO Aid Map to track and display various NGO and aid groups doing work in the same region. You can read more about the initiative at this site. The project aims to make organizations visible and traceable in order to do the following:

  • Promote transparency
  • Facilitate partnerships and improve coordination
  • Help guide decisions about where to direct aid resources
  • Inform advocacy and influence policy

InterAction’s NGO Aid Map is limited to its member organizations at present, but I can see the potential for expansion to provide a more comprehensive picture of the development field. This may not be the only effort at using mapping technology to coordinate development, and I’m curious how multiple versions could be consolidated into one resource accessible across sectors and institutions. I think the UN could take on a leadership role in streamlining this initiative to a point where it is truly useful.

 


Summary: ITU National Cybersecurity Strategy Guide

We were assigned the following sections this week from this report published by the International Telecommunication Union, the specialized agency of the United Nations responsible for information and communication technologies.

 #2 Global Context of Cybersecurity (pgs 13-17)

  • Compares & contrasts cybersecurity and information security. Both seek to uphold security properties of integrity, confidentiality, and availability. Info. security originated with the military in the age of stand-alone systems and focuses on confidentiality within specific jurisdictions (limiting its practicality in an internet age). Cybersecurity addresses threats to and from a global network & emphasizes integrity and availability.
  • Increasingly sophisticated cyberattacks threaten much of our data systems which are becoming more and more dependent on online systems. Even reputable companies like Google have become vulnerable, and inability to attribute attacks to specific actors makes cybersecurity even more difficult to maintain.
  • Threats can be launched far from the locations of victims and in states with weak legal/enforcement systems. Defense against attacks is made more challenging by fast connection speeds. There are no jurisdictional or proportional norms for behavior in cyberspace, and this threatens confidence in ICTs.
  • Cybersecurity is a major concern of the international community.
  • See p. 15-17 for descriptions of particular types of cyberthreats and cyberattacks.

 #5 National Cybersecurity Context (pgs 25-33)

  • 5 UN Resolutions warn that failing to secure cyberspace will have grave consequences for all states.
  • “The reliance of States on cyberspace for daily tasks, commerce and national security underlines the domain’s strategic value.” (p. 25) 
  • Cyberspace supports & constitutes critical infrastructure (health, water, transport,communications, government, energy, food, finance and emergency services sectors).
  • “Critical information infrastructure protection programmes (CIIP)”= “cybersecurity”
  • Strategy offered to help national leaders engage stakeholders on topic of creating cybersecurity
  • An effective national cybersecurity strategy: 1. treats cyberspace as a strategic domain, 2. provides a basis for a national programme, 3. builds capacity beyond security.
  • National leaders should engage as many stakeholders as possible to take ownership of the strategy and lend their expertise in its implementation.
  • Stakeholders include: executive & legislative branches of government, critical infrastructure owners & operators, judiciary, law enforcement, intelligence community, vendors, academia, international partners, and citizens.
  • See p. 31 for flowchart depicting the national cybersecurity strategy process & its stages 0-5.

 #7 Cybersecurity Ends (pgs 42-46)

  • Cybersecurity is not an end in and of itself, but rather a means by which we should protect critical infrastructures supporting national interests.
  • Effective strategies appeal to a broad audience and utilize clear titles for objectives (ends).
  • see p. 42 for chart depicting some nations’ articulated cybersecurity ends.
  • Cybersecurity supports economic well-being and promotes national values and a favorable world-order (macro-level). It also enables e-governance.

Activist Bloggers in Vietnam

This article from Bloomberg Businessweek opens with a personal anecdote from one of Vietnam’s growing number of activist bloggers using social media and online resources to criticize the Communist government and its human rights abuses. Activists like Le Quoc Quan can face up to 12 years in prison for their “crimes” against the government, but the article discusses how a burgeoning “thirst for democracy,” growing online civil society, and the government’s flimsy censorship firewall prevent their deterrence.

This blogger activist example closely parallels the themes from the article we read for class on the “Zapatista Effect,” and it demonstrates how imitating that model is even easier now than before because of advances in social media. There is a growing consensus that regulating anti-government activity on the internet is outside the capacity of a small developing country like Vietnam, and activists are realizing the organizing and mobilizing capacity of online networks.

Because I (and many development practitioners) personally view communist policies and oppressive regimes as a worthy enemy of activist bloggers, its easy to applaud the ICT as a great tool for progress. I am concerned however that it is one which could just as easily be harnessed to destabilize and compromise the legitimacy of burgeoning democracies (with little verifiable evidence against them) which might otherwise contribute to positive human and economic development.

Its also interesting that the article mentions how some Western countries, (the U.S. included), are quietly supporting the activist bloggers  by criticizing proposed laws meant to restrict them, and at the same time attempting to form economic partnerships with the government working against the activists. This case highlights how state self-interest and human rights agendas continue to come into conflict, on or offline.


Can the Private Sector Use ICTs to Reach the “Tipping Point”?

I attended the latest NewDay Speaker Series installment this Thursday and listened to Martin Fisher, founder of Kickstart, discuss his experience building a social enterprise which sells low-cost, durable agricultural equipment (designed specifically for the target market) to subsistence farmers in Africa. The idea is that the equipment increases the farmer’s production capacity to the point where they are no longer subsistence farmers, but instead are able to actually generate consistent profits from their crops. Fisher’s model is heavily based on market theories in the private sector, and the core philosophical bases of his company ring true to me in ways that most development program missions do not. They include statements like “The poor are not victims,” “The number one need of the poor is a way to make money,” “Giveaways create dependency: sell don’t give,” and “Good governance comes from a thriving middle class.”

In essence, Fisher is running a for-profit business with one hell of a positive social externality: the vast majority of his sales result in the marginalized poor consumer exponentially increasing his/her income to the point where his or her family becomes integrated into the middle class, with more  time and monetary resources to devote to education, healthcare, and further entrepreneurship. Thus far the model has been so effective that even given the consumers who do not pull themselves out of poverty with their equipment purchase, Kickstart averages a $10 return in income increase for the consumer for every $1 they put into production, marketing, or sales (figure taken from Fisher’s powerpoint presentation)… Let me pause for a moment & meditate on how it feels slightly strange, but also somehow much more morally comfortable to refer to an impoverished person in the developing world as a(n) (empowered) “consumer” instead of a “receiver,” “member of the target community,” or “beneficiary…” ok. Moving along.

But Fisher’s “for-profit-esque” business model is not technically for-profit: it is very heavily subsidized (and sustained) by donations, because the market in which he is operating has not yet reached the “tipping point” where producing, marketing, and selling the equipment results in a return on investment- he simply hasn’t sold enough equipment yet. During his talk, Fisher explained that this economic “tipping point” is reached when virtually everyone in the target consumer population is familiar with the product. He provided the example that while Coca Cola now draws in regular profits from sales in Africa, it took them ten years of marketing and losing money to build up the brand power and familiarity within the consumer base to do so. And one key reason why most for-profit businesses do not try to sell to developing world markets is that until this “tipping point” is reached, demand is too low and supplying costs too much for firms to bite the bullet and be patient.

I am interested in whether there is any evidence that the dissemination of ICTs, particularly internet access, can shorten the time span between a product’s introduction into a developing world market and the “tipping point.” It follows logically that if a significant portion of the population has access to product information through online communication (social media, product websites, online ads, etc.), it should be much much easier for companies to market their products to them and more quickly reach a point where sales are viable- especially when they are targeting remote populations who would be less exposed to traditional marketing methods like billboards. This would imply yet another way that ICTs could help create a climate where international businesses can profit from investment in the developing world consumer base and subsequently invigorate the economies of poor countries.

Any idev & econ double-majors out there? Am I on the right track here (or just re-discovering the wheel…), and do you know of any country case studies (besides India & China) which might support this “theory?”


Divide or Provide? Mobile Phone Technology & Grain Markets in Niger

Jenny Aker of UC Berkeley published a case-study entitled “Does Digital Divide or Provide? The Impact of Cell Phones on Grain Markets in Niger.” The themes emerging from her research parallel those in the case study we covered in class on mobile phone use’s effect on fishermen in India.

“Cell phones have a greater impact on price dispersion where travel costs are higher, namely for        markets that are more remote and those connected by unpaved roads. The effect is heterogeneous across time as well: cell phones have a larger impact upon price dispersion once a higher percentage of markets have cell phone coverage. Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that there are diminishing marginal returns to cell phones on price dispersion…We find that grain traders operating in markets with cell phone coverage search over a greater number of markets, have more contacts and sell in more markets. This underscores the fact that the primary mechanism by which cell phones affect market efficiency is a reduction in search costs and hence transaction costs (p. 4).”

Aker emphasizes that increased mobile phone use correlated with an increase in trader welfare and a reduction in grain prices for consumers, even in years of localized food crisis. However, as we saw in the fishermen example, it is not clear exactly how much the poorest producers benefit from the technology in comparison to the intermediaries. She writes,”…access to information technology can lead to welfare improvements, although how the gain is shared among traders, consumers and farmers is ambiguous (p. 5).”

This is a particularly important issue in terms of considering development throught ICT use in the  business and industry sector. As we have discussed many times in class, the fruits of economic growth do not always reach the marginalized poor. Because thriving business and industry is one of the most sustainable sources of capital and resources which create a favorable climate for development, the sector is clearly a high priority target for ICT4D intervention. But the digital divide, existing power structures, and insufficient labor laws and policy can lead to the sector’s growth  furthering income inequality instead of reducing it. In essence, mobile phone technology is clearly a great asset in providing information and stabilizing prices, but the division of benefits are not guaranteed to be fair.


Azerbaijan: OLPC in the conflict region

As I discussed in more depth in my paper, Azerbaijan is a unique case study country for ICT4D because it has a strong incentive to transition from an oil-based economy to a technology-based economy; its oil reserves will be depleted in approximately 30 years, and the small post-soviet world country is located such that it could become a tech hub between Eastern Europe and Western Asia. To add to that, its government has laid out a greatly publicized strategy for ICT use, and the nation enjoys high literacy and (relatively high) education levels.

On the other hand, Azerbaijan is known for its widespread corruption in government and bureaucracy. There is a strong digital divide, largely between the urban population and remote rural population. Perhaps the most serious obstacle standing between Azerbaijan and a tech-based economy with positive effects on development is the political instability created by the ongoing conflict over the Nagorno-Karabakh region, which comprises a large portion of territory and is coveted by both Azerbaijan and Armenia for its oil reserves.

Imagine my surprise when I read this article explaining that One Laptop Per Child has sent 3,300 laptops to children in the conflict region only. The ICT4Ds were deployed very recently– just in April of this year– and online information on the project is sporadic and tough to locate. I can understand the rationale behind the deployment to Nagorno-Karabakh to some degree: children in a conflict region undoubtedly have more obstacles to getting a quality education, and the article  adds, “Education is a key factor to breaking the vicious cycle of ethnic hatred and violence for children who live in conflict zones.” However, I can’t help but wonder how ICT4D interventions could influence political conflict situations and contribute to shifts in digital divides. I plan on doing some more digging and searching for the donors behind the OLPCs sent to  Nagorno-Karabakh. I’d also like to compare access to tech tools in education between students in the conflict region and other marginalized groups, like the rural poor, in the rest of Azerbaijan.


The Humanure Power Project and Grappling With Infrastructure Deficiency in Development.

Janine’s recent post about the high level “need” for mobile phones which people in the developing world express vs. the less voiced (or perceived) “need” for toilets and sanitation facilities sparked a memory of an experience and a moral dilemma in development which relates to this week’s topics and themes which I’d like to share and open for comments/discussion.

One of the most celebrated development projects to come out of Tulane recently is the Humanure Power Project (HPP), designed by Tulane undergrad and grad students. The group won a substantial grant from the Dell Social Innovation Challenge to implement their idea for a business which would simultaneously address the energy and sanitation needs of communities in rural India. Community toilets will be constructed for public use, and the waste generated by them will be used to power 12V batteries, which community members may purchase and recharge to replace commonly used (and far more expensive) kerosene lamps. Initially, I thought this was a brilliant, creative, and sustainable innovation, and I proudly integrated it into presentations when I needed to explain the concept of social innovation in development to unfamiliar audiences.

At one recent presentation, I showed the HPP video and touted its development potential to a group of Tulane students, then hung around to take questions or comments afterward. One girl came up and shared her critical take on the extent to which the project serves the energy needs of communities. She first expressed doubt as to the efficiency of using human waste for power production (her uncle collects it and runs a program to convert it to plant fertilizer and bolster the Indian agriculture industry instead), then raised another issue which struck a chord. “Why should they want tiny batteries for power?” she asked, “They deserve real energy infrastructure.”

While the connection of toilets and biogas generators is innovative and, in my opinion, a small step in the right direction for extremely disadvantaged communities, I have to agree with the girl’s concern. As Unwin mentions, energy infrastructure provides such a platform for further development, and how much of it are we giving up if we provide only handheld batteries? On the other hand, HPP is providing much-needed sanitation facilities and stimulating commerce in the communities where it will operate, and when funds are limited and in-debt college grads take to the stage of development, its tough to argue with, “Well at least we’re doing something!”

Much of the dilemmas in development come from the deficiencies in foreign governments- particularly when it comes to infrastructure, which we have discussed in class as an essential consideration (if not prerequisite) for successful ICT4D work. But development practitioners know from experience that often if you’re waiting for governments to “get the job done,” in many cases, you shouldn’t hold your breath. Small, private-sector initiatives may offer more efficient and quick solutions. The question is, where do we draw the line and say “this energy source is good enough for now, in these circumstances?” How do we balance limited resources and feasibility with the idea that everyone deserves a sufficient energy infrastructure?


India Builds Digital Library of Traditional Knowlege

This blog post from American University’s Washington College of Law website describes an ICT innovation with interesting implications for intellectual property law and indigenous rights in a legal context of international development. A three-day conference in March of 2011 debuted India’s Council of Scientific and Industrial Research’s new Traditional Knowledge Digital Library (TKDL), which serves as a resource for documenting traditional knowledge forms like plant medicine. The TKDL could also serve as a model for other countries seeking to capitalize on–or protect– the knowledge of indigenous cultures. The library will be accessible by patent examiners and will hopefully provide a more nuanced and utilizable understanding of Sanskrit knowledge.

It remains to be seen how and for what purposes this database will be used. Much of the legal implications of such an ICT project will depend on which parties have access. One can also question whether most traditional knowledge may be efficiently and comprehensively presented in such a format. Full understanding of ancient concepts and traditional knowledge may require a significant investment of study time, and certain knowledge bases might be prerequisites for understanding others- a difficult obstacle to overcome in organizing and presenting such data.

Still, this is a notable first step in acknowledging the value (monetary, legal, or cultural) of traditional knowledge and a commendable attempt to provide a platform for its use in the modern world.