This semester I have learned an incredible amount about the pros and cons of ICT4D, and their importance in development. The main lesson that I have learned is that the best projects are those that are the most realistic and specific to the people they target. Throwing 100 laptops at a group of people struggling to survive a drought in Africa is helpful to no one and a waste of time. Thoroughly researching the location you are trying to provide with aid is a necessary step that is often skipped over in the process of providing “help” to those in need- what works for a village in Rwanda may not work for city-dwellers in Bangladesh. There is no one size fits all solution in ICT4D. What does work is educating those who live in the area being addressed on how to use the technologies provided, and making sure that this technology is suitable for the people to use- giving smart phones to a village with one DSL internet connection is nowhere near as effective as placing funding toward pre-existing structures to improve what is already existent in the community. The desire to create “flashy” projects that look good on paper should be superseded by the desire to fund projects that actually work.
Something specific I have personally learned this semester is that Twitter can be a valuable resource in the ICT4D community. While this may sound trite, I had never used Twitter before my week in this class, and had no idea how interactive it could be. I had previously viewed Twitter with disdain as a form of social media where people could shoot off short, random thoughts into the atmosphere with no real depth or meaning- I had no idea how connective the resource can be, or how useful it could be in disaster and development situations. The ability to get news out fast and provide different organizations to communicate with each other, with experts in the field, and with those in need is incredibly important.
The most useful theoretical framework I learned from this class regarded the top-down/supply different approach and how it differs from the bottom-up/empowerment focused approach. I believe that the people centered model, which advocates access to information for all groups in the population, is an extremely important message that should be perpetuated in all ICT4D endeavors. Information and communication technology needs to be used as a tool to build self-reliance and empowerment in developing nations- if they are reserved for the upper classes or those with access to wealth (perpetuating the digital divide) they cannot succeed. Something I would like to learn more about is how organizations are handling this issue- what factors are changing in new and impending projects to increase sustainability and self-agency?
1. ICT Policy last updated January 8, 2010, “Policy and Procedures for ICT Usage in Government (e-Government Policy). Written by the Information and Communication Technology Agency of Sri Lanka (ICTA), published in English. This policy outlines the application of ICT4D for development via Sri Lanka’s government endeavors.
2. “e-Sri Lanka: Smart People Smart Island” ICTA
3. “e-Sri Lanka: Transforming a Nation through Information Communication Technology”. Published by ICTA in 2010. PDF linked article, “e-Society and Researching the Rural Poor through Tele/Knowledge Centers- Nensalas”. Project conducted through “e-Sri Lanka” involving installation of telecommunication centers throughout rural Sri Lanka and other ICT4D endeavors in the nation.
4. World Summit Award Article, World Summit Award: Smart e-Content for Smart People.
Kevin Donovan’s “ICT4E in India and South Asia- Sri Lankan Country Study.”
5. I found it very easy to find resources on Sri Lanka thanks to it’s extensively published e-policies online. Sri Lanka has partnered with the World Bank to create a well-developed “e-agenda” that has been a great success over the past 8 years, and is a good example of a nation working towards development through ICT4D successfully.
This blog post I’d like to draw attention to WIEGO, or Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing. WIEGO is a “global action-research-policy network” seeking to improve the status of the working poor in the informal economy, especially women. The concept of “informal economy” is defined as a diverse set of economic activities, enterprises, and workers that are not regulated or protected by the state, leaving them vulnerable to rights abuses and unsafe working conditions. The informal economy constitutes half to three quarters of the non-agricultural labor force in developing countries. When agriculture is incorporated, that number rises to as high as 90% of economic activity in certain African nations. The core of WIEGO’s mission is to empower these workers, under the belief that equal economic opportunities and rights should be available to all.
After hearing Keshet Bachan’s lecture on the impact of ICT’s on adolescent girls in developing nations, I began to realize how vulnerable women in particular are to injustice and malpractice in the informal economies they generally occupy. While informal economies are linked both with poverty and economic growth, human rights regulations are incredibly necessary in these fields to ensure that abuses do not go overlooked, and exploitation can be avoided. WIEGO’s particular focus on “waste pickers”, or those who do the primary collecting and sorting of waste materials in developing countries, provide a great example of laborers who suffer in the “informal economy”. While waste pickers provide widespread benefits to their communities, municipalities, and environment, (in many countries providing the only form of solid waste collection), they face low social status, poor living and working conditions, and little support from their local governments.
Dr. Stephen Ward’s lecture to our class on the importance of crowd-sourcing really opened my eyes to ways the technology could be used in ICT4D. While in the western world crowd-sourcing has been used to improve websites but also provide controversial marketing information to advertising agencies and corporations, the concept as a whole was repurposed by “DigitalGlobe”, which uses GIS and satellite imaging technologies, to launch their crowd-sourcing platform “Tomnod” in an effort to assist locating the lost Malaysian plane in early March. Developments in crowd sourcing and GIS satellite technologies opened up the information source to thousands of users who were able to provide up to date information on the whereabouts of the plane. Applying crowd-sourcing to other endeavors in ICT4D to provide up to date and accessible information to those in the developing world on their surroundings could be endlessly useful in the coming years not only in disaster prevention but also in instituting projects who’s success depends on the nature of the landscape. DigitalGlobe’s five high-resolution imaging satellites were able to capture more than 3 million square kilometers of earth imagery each day, providing an incredible volume of imagery that would have been overwhelming were it not for the “Tomnod” crowdsourcing mechanism. The efforts of millions of online volunteers around the world helped DigitalGlobe rule of some of the major oceanic areas in order to hone in on more likely locations, leading to a more efficient search process.
In the article we read this week for class, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence From the Fishing Industry in India”, author Reuben Abraham discussed the impact of mobile phone technologies on developing rural populations in economic terms. While the distribution of mobile phone technologies in the Indian fishing industry did not yield spectacular results, the fact remains that mobile technologies allow for the improved dissemination of information in developing economies, and, as stated in the article “information is power”. One area where this aphorism rings especially true is in the new e-Policies of Sri Lanka, instituted in the early 2000’s- before the insertion of telecenters throughout the small island country, rural populations had very little access to information of any kind.
Now, there is technology information in place that allows anyone in possession of a mobile telephone or landline access to information from 77 government organizations in any of the country’s three main languages, Sinhala, Tamil, or English, simply by dialing 1919. This online “Government Information Center” is part of the e-Sri Lanka project, which is one of the first World Bank projects designed to bring ICT to “every village, citizen, and business, and transform the way the government thinks and works”. While there have been drastic increases in mobile phone use in the country since the implementation of this program in 2004, the government’s investment in “nensalas” or tele/knowledge centers has resulted in the most beneficial impact for the rural poor. Access to these telecenters has allowed for farmers, students, and small business owners in rural areas the ability to gain information for themselves, even without a mobile phone or landline.
The nensala (nen meaning knowledge, sala meaning shop), provides easy access to computer technology, the internet, and IT skills training, as well as basic telecommunications- these nensalas have greatly improved literacy rates, computer knowledge skills, and economic flow for Sri Lanka’s rural population through an investment in information access. The nensalas provide local radio broadcasts of market prices and crop/agricultural info to farmers, e-health and telemedicine facilities to rural patients, audio books for the visually impaired, and visual hearing aids for the hearing impaired, all through access to telecommunications and the online government services.