Author Archives: ddipietro216

ICT4D: course lessons

Based on our readings, lectures, guest speakers, and presentations in this course, the most salient topics for me were: the dos and don’ts of ICT4D, appropriate technologies, why ICT4D projects fail, the relevance and role of ICT4D in the major sectors of development, mapping and emergency management/ disaster relief, social media, and cyber-security. The discussions and material from these sessions will stick with me the most as I move on in development. I learned several important lessons about ICT4D that will definitely contribute to my professional career in development, including the importance of:

1)   Ensuring that projects are demand driven

2)   Using local knowledge and power

3)   Taking the local context into highest consideration: the citizens’ current lifestyle, behaviors/ tendencies, the existing infrastructure (or lack thereof), most frequently used ICTs, their motivation towards the proposed idea (which should be created mutually) etc.

4)   Ensuring that the infrastructure that is required for your project is in place or in progress (electricity, Internet, etc)

It’s also important to realize that with technology and development comes a responsibility to protect individuals in the digitized world. Cybersecurity is an essential compliment to ICT4D.

The topics that resonated most with me, and the ones that I think will be most useful to me moving forward are the implications for ICT4D in the health care sector, and the potential for mHealth, mobiles, and radios for development in general. I hope to go into the field of maternal and child health in my future, and this class exposed me to the supporting role that ICTs can play in health care, which is something I had not considered in depth before. Through research for blog posts, our second paper, and our sector projects, I uncovered some fascinating ICT4health initiatives such as the Taru Initiative radio entertainment-education campaign in Bihar, India, the WHO mCheck project for maternal and child heath, the eMocha health app for smartphones that facilitates health care in developing countries greatly, and others. My eyes are now open to many more possibilities to improve health in developing countries via ICT solutions including distance learning, radio- based health campaigns, SMS texting interventions, and many more.

The implications for social media as a platform for ICT4D also spurred an interest in me. I think it was great that we had the opportunity to work with some of these platforms such Twitter and WordPress on a regular basis. It allowed me to become more ‘digitally literate’ and gave me a hand into the ICT4D community online. Now I always know where to go to access breaking news or general information, stories of ICT4D trials and errors, and current initiatives in the particular sectors of ICT4D which are most interesting to me (namely health). Getting to do real mapping with HOSTM was also undeniably a great learning experience; it was awesome to get the chance to contribute to real ICT4D work. In addition, crowdsourcing as a platform for ICT4D was a very new and intriguing concept for me that seems to have a lot of promise in our digital world.

In my opinion, the most useful framework presented in this class was Human Centered Development. I liked the report that we read a lot and I very much agree with the project design and implementation process that it promotes. It clearly proposes needs assessments and grassroots development, which I think are essential to development projects. It supports demand driven development, considerations of local context, culture, and peoples, monitoring and evaluation, sustainable human development etc; all of which we have established as “DOs” for development. The topics covered in this class gave us a great overview of an entire field in international development. I especially enjoyed module 2 where we reviewed several case studies, because that allowed us to take broader theories and frameworks and zoom in on the specifics. I think that we touched on all the right things, and our discussions were supplemented greatly by some amazing guest speakers that we had the opportunity to hear from.


US-Israeli Stuxnet Cyber-attacks against Iran: info and implications

Our guest speaker in class today, Professor Ralph Russo, briefly discussed the US-Israeli Stuxnet Cyber-attacks against Iran. With the topic of class this week being cybersecurity, I think that a deeper look into this event is warranted.

In 2009-2010, the US (in collaboration with Israel) used malware, specifically a Stuxnet worm, to invade the control systems in an Iranian nuclear plant so that it’s centrifuges would spin at incorrect rates. Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility was the specific target. This cyber-attack successfully caused major technical problems with the centrifuges at this site and stalled nuclear production in Iran.

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The cyber-attack qualifies as “an act of force” using “cyber weapons” under the Tallinn Manual on the International Law Applicable to Cyber Warfare, which states: “acts that kill or injure persons or destroy or damage objects are unambiguously uses of force” (A). This event is also widely acclaimed (by Professor Russo and other professionals) as “an act of war.”

Obama recently stated in an article in the Wall Street Journal: “cyber threat to our nation is one of the most serious economic and national security challenges we face” (B). On the same note, just two weeks ago, the president of Estonia stated in the New York Times: In a modern digitalized world it is possible to paralyze a country without attacking its defense forces” (C). In other words a country can virtually be brought to a halt by cyber-attack.

Clearly, the world understands the potential devastating outcomes of a cyber-attack as one of the most serious threats to a country, its economy, public health system, safety, etc. So was the US cyber-attack against Iran warranted? Are we promoting the ‘use’ of cyber-attacks by carrying them out ourselves, even if the intention of the cyber-attack against Iran was (arguably) harm reduction, disaster mitigation, or self-defense? Are we just asking for/ should we expect a strike back from Iran now that we’ve initiated this cyber-war? Professor Russo argues that we can’t really complain when Iran turns around and does something like this to us, and I have to agree with him.

Sources: A, B, C


No Facebook?! — Social Media in China

An article on Fobes.com written by Henry Fong, the CEO of Yodo1 (a company that helps developers enter the China mobile gaming market) gave me some insight into the social media situation in China. My favorite quote from the article is Fong’s statement: “Facebook and Twitter will never dominate China (even if they were allowed there)” – so I will dissect this a little bit for you.

Yes, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook are all blocked in China. Although China has it’s own set of state-approved versions of these networks, you must wonder, why can’t they just use Facebook like the rest of us? Fong argues that Facebook is not conducive to China (or, rather, China is not conducive to Facebook) because its two main sources of revenue are advertisements and gaming; but both of these activities are highly regulated in China, and would require government licenses at every turn. With such strict monitoring, the system would be slow and inefficient, and therefore, unpopular.

Fortunately, China seems to be doing just fine without Facebook in the way of social media. In fact, according to Fong, there are more social media users in China than there are Facebook users in the entire world. As of October 2012, there were approximately one billion social media users in a population of 1.4 billion.

China’s social media platforms share the spotlight more equally compared to the US—several of their networks exceed 100 million active users, while in the US, Facebook and Twitter largely dominate the social media scene. The following Chinese social media networks have exceeded 100 million users (the parenthesis indicate the US ‘equivalent’ to these Chinese networks– also see picture below):

  • QQ/Qzone (Facebook): 700 million +
  • Sina Weibo (Twitter): 400 million +
  • Tencent Weibo (Twitter): 200-250 million +
  • WeiXin (WhatsApp): 100 million +
  • Douban (MySpace): 100 million +
  • Renren (Facebook): 100 million +

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(photo shows social media equivalents in China)

In China, there are many more popular social media networks to choose from, and therefore more competition. This would likely also prevent US networks like Facebook or Twitter from “dominating China,” as aforementioned.

On a slightly different note, given these high penetration rates, a lot of pressure is being put on the government and businesses in China to understand and utilize social media in order to effectively reach their citizens and clients, respectively. As the population of internet and social media users increases, more and more pressure is being put on the government to increase transparency, which could be a good thing for the citizens of China.

To close, a quote by Sam Flemming (Founder and CEO of CIC, the first and foremost provider of social business intelligence in China) : “China has the most complicated, fragmented and developed social media landscape in the world with a unique online culture that requires its own specialized understanding.”

Sources:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/ciocentral/2012/10/25/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-chinese-social-media/

http://globalthinkers.com/2011/12/social-media-in-china/


Using radio to promote safe motherhood: the Taru initiative

In our readings for this week, we learned about the power of a seemingly simple device: the radio. The Mary Myers article; “Why Radio Matters” made a case for the potential that the radio has to save lives and improve health outcomes by broadcasting health messages in form of radio soap operas. This may seem like a weird concept to us, but it has been proven successful in many developing countries around the world. I will share a case study from Bihar, India where a radio soap opera show was used to lower fertility rates, therefore decreasing maternal mortality.

Bihar is the poorest state in India and has the highest fertility rates. The average fertility rate in India is 2.6, yet the rate in Bihar remains above four. Only 34% of single females in Bihar reported using contraception of any kind, according to the 2001 Census in India. High fertility rates contribute greatly to maternal. A local NGO, Janani (which provides reproductive health care), a non-profit “Population Communication International,” and researchers from Ohio University paired up to address the dismal maternal health situation in Bihar. They produced and entertainment-education campaign targeting about 190 million men and women living in rural Bihar and three neighboring states. They reached their target audience through a radio program soap opera that aired once a week for a year. This 52- episode series was about the life of a fictional woman named Taru. As Vijaykumar (2008) states, the campaign sought to, “motivate listeners to take charge of their own health, seek health services, and better their living” (p. 182).

The campaign was a great success. Baseline vs. follow-up surveys of 1,500 households in Bihar showed that there was an increase in awareness family planning and an overall greater approval from people’s social networks about the use of family planning after the radio series. Utilization of family planning services also increased which portrays a great success; not only was this campaign able to educate and inform its audience, it actually caused behavior change which is not always an immediate outcome of mass media campaigns. In addition, condoms and other forms of contraception and pregnancy test sales increased “exponentially,” in several villages according to Vijaykumar (2008, p. 184). The study even found that there was an overall increase in gender equality beliefs among the respondents, which is a huge step in the right direction for maternal health because maternal mortality stems from the general lack of value placed on women’s lives in many developing countries. The fact that there were changes not only at the individual level, but also at the community and service-demand level highlights the extent of the success of this campaign. It was also able to influence social norms and behaviors, which is a huge barrier to public health movements and is especially important in a destitute area like Bihar where traditional cultural beliefs often persist and present themselves as barriers to modern public health campaigns. The only obvious downfall of this campaign in my opinion is that it only used one channel to attempt to reach a population of 190 million, but clearly, it still worked.

Radios can do more than you thought, huh?

Reference: Vijaykumar, S. (2008). Communicating safe motherhood: Strategic messaging in a globalized world. Marriage & Family Review, 44(2-3), 173-199. doi:10.1080/01494920802177378


Case Study: Bangladesh. An impressive plan for disaster risk reduction using ICTs

Bangladesh is very vulnerable to natural disasters like floods, river erosion, tidal surges, tropical cyclones, and earthquakes due to the vast network of rivers and channels, the geographic location of the country, and the monsoon climate. Over the past 30 years, frequent natural disasters in Bangladesh have taken the lives of thousands of people and cost the country millions of dollars in damage. About 200,000 people are displaced each year due to river erosion alone. In order to prevent more tragedy in the future, Bangladesh has put much effort into developing effective “early warning systems” for disaster management and prevention.

Under their National ICT Policy, the following action agendas have been identified for disaster management:

–       Protect citizens from natural disasters through ICT-based disaster warning and management technologies

i. Utilize remote sensing technologies for disaster management and mitigation.

ii. Web-based environmental clearance certification system

iii. Promote cell phone/SMS-based disaster warning systems targeted to the population likely to be affected

iv. Utilize Geographic Information System (GIS)-based systems to monitor flood and cyclone shelters (including equitable distribution in vulnerable areas)

v. Promote efficient relief management and post-disaster activities monitoring

–       Utilize GIS-based systems to ensure equitable distribution of relief goods with special focus on the hard-to-reach areas (Halder & Ahmed, p. 55)

The Comprehensive Disaster Management Programme (CDMP) is leading the charge on these initiatives, in collaboration with the Government of Bangladesh and over 100 technical and academic institutions and NGOs at all levels. Their main goal is to strengthen the disaster management system in Bangladesh, but more importantly to focus more heavily on risk reduction (largely through technical assistance) via community risk assessments and mapping, earthquake and tsunami storm surge mapping etc. The National Disaster Management Information Centre (DMIC) has been a key instrument for the CDMP. Together, they produced a very specific list of DMIC information products and media suited to support their disaster management objectives. (It was created based on the CDMP-DMIC needs assessment survey report, so it takes into consideration local ICT profiles, and penetration rates, and individual’s preferences).

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(Halder & Ahmed p. 64)

Today, “The DMIC generates time-sensitive information items such as early warnings, situation reports and other real-time data, and presents them in information products delivered through communication channels that cause the least delay, and are consistent with the capacity of users to receive and comprehend them.” (p. 67). One way in which they are acting today is through an alert subscription system which allows individuals to receive early warning messages via email, SMS, or fax. Messages are even tailored to the subscriber’s specific location and local hazard concerns. The work that Bangladesh is doing to re-vamp their disaster management and prevention program is impressive, and their commitment to using ICTs to achieve their goals is paying off.

For more information on this case study (p. 52- 74) and others, click here.


Profile: Economist Intelligence Unit

The Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) is an independent business that is know for its “unparalleled coverage of major and emerging markets” (eiu.com). They are the world leader in global business intelligence; they provide researching findings and market information on over 200 countries to business leaders, companies, governments, and universities around the world so that they can assess international market opportunities and risks, and make decisions with confidence. The EIU focuses on 6 key industries in their fieldwork and research: 1) Retail, 2) Energy, 3) Telecoms, 4) Financial services, 5) Healthcare, and 6) Automotive companies. (Check out a special EIU report with predictions and discussions of these industries for 2013!). Over 1.5 million people and corporations scattered throughout Europe, North America, Asia, South/ Centeral America, Africa, and the Middle East rely on the research and guidance of the EIU.

The EIU is comprised of “one of the largest and most experienced teams of country analysts in the world” (eiu.com). More specifically, they have 300 full-time professionals stationed in 39 offices around the world that specialize in economics, politics, risk, industry, and management. Many of their country analysts work in-country, so they can provide “an understanding of local nuances…about individual countries and industries that you cannot find elsewhere” (eiu.com). Most of their professionals live or have lived in the region they cover, so they know the culture, and in many cases the local language. An interesting fact about the EIU is that their expert team of 350 individuals speak a combined 25 different languages.

Their wide range of true global expertise allows the EIU to provide public ‘Global Forecasting Services’ on their website which includes world trade rates, exchange rates, information on hot commodities like oil, global news reports, and comprehensive charts and graphs.

In addition, with the help of outside partners, the EIU is able to provide data services for the public. Our reading “EIU Digital Economy Rankings” and other reports like “EIU Technology Indicators & Forecasts” are examples of the types of valuable reports that the EIU publishes. It’s great that much of their expertise and research is available to students and the general public.

In collaboration with their sister organization ‘The Economist’, the EIU assists in putting together over 100 events per year around the world on current issues and events relevant to their field of work. Examples of these events are: “the World Forests Summit” in Stockholm on “achieving sustainable forest management on a global scale”, the “Ghana Investment Summit” in Accra, and “Technology Frontiers Moscow.”

The EIU’s activities are widespread and their contribution to the today’s global society is invaluable. Visit their website to learn more!


Women 2000 and Beyond: Gender equality and empowerment of women through ICT

“Women 2000 and Beyond” is a publication series produced by the UN. In September of 2005 they published an issue titled “Gender equality and empowerment of women through ICT,” which I found to be a great supplement to our discussions and reading for this week. According to their website, Women 2000 and Beyond brings to light “issues which have not been given adequate attention in global policy-making processes or addresses the gender perspectives of issues currently at the centre of global attention.” It is a very interesting resource to explore if you are looking for more information about the role that gender plays in development, especially in areas of development that you may not have previously considered to be ‘gendered.’

The issue of particular interest for this class, “Gender equality and empowerment of women through ICT,” provides an overview of gender inequality related to ICTs, and, in turn, how we can use ICTs to address gender inequalities. The article is 40 pages long, but in summary, the it states that ICTs have the potential to empower women by:

1)   Increasing their access to health, nutrition, education, political participation, etc. Technology like SMS messaging definitely has the potential to improve maternal health, for example. The article highlights an example of a successful effort to decrease maternal mortality in Uganda where birthing attendants were equipped with high frequency radios and were alerted when women needed their assistance at home, or when the hospital needed them. In addition, with access to email and the Internet, women can more effectively fight for their rights by contacting local or national governments with their concerns.

2)   Offering them a private place for to communicate with each other outside of the presence of men, their children, elders etc

3)   Providing an outlet for ‘freedom of expression’ and the opportunity to address women’s rights and discuss issues relevant to women. For example, the issue mentions a radio station that was created by women in Uganda called “Mama FM” where women discussed, and the listeners learned about issues such as human rights, motherhood, governance, health etc

4)   Expanding their access to producers, traders, markets, and…

5)   Creating economic opportunities for women (especially in rural areas). Employment opportunities in the ICT sector itself would provide women with steady jobs in the formal labor force. In addition, having access to ICTs increases women’s abilities to maintain/ start small business endeavors/ entrepreneurship. With their own means of communication, women can often bypass a ‘middleman’ in business transactions and avoid exploitation.

The article goes on and on. But essentially, ICTs offer similar benefits to men and women, but many women in developing countries are currently being left behind, and are experiencing a poorer quality of life than men as a result. Just as there is concern that the digital divide may exacerbate the inequalities that exist between the rich and the poor, this article points to the risk that “ICT may exacerbate existing inequalities between women and men and create new forms of inequality” (p. 3). Luckily, great hope lies in the opportunity for ICTs to help women, as long as they are given the chance to use them effectively.


Fueling the Failure

This week in class we discussed and read about why ICT4D projects fail. An article titled “Failed ICT projects, learning from the mistakes of others” offers an insightful response to the question: Why are we making the same mistakes over and over again, if we know why projects fail?

I must ask; do we really know why ICT4D projects fail? Sure, there are commonly-sighted reasons for failure like ‘not understanding the infrastructure capacity of the region’, but they are so general. We have a serious lack of case-specific evidence for why projects failed. The article’s main argument (which I agree with) is that there is a lack of direct evidence pinpointing which part or parts of the development project ‘caused’ it to fail. Too often, development agencies do not take the time to investigate and analyze their failures thoroughly, because it is easier to just sweep them under the rug and put a tally in the ‘loss’ column. And if/when the proper project evaluation is conducted, the article notes that the results are in-frequently publicized.

In response to their criticism of the handeling of ICT4D project failures, the article provides an example of what should be done when projects fail. The article presents a study conducted George Brouwer (the Ombudsman for Victoria, Australia) about 10 specific state-run ICT projects that have failed over the past decade. His detailed analysis of these 10 projects yielded interesting information about why ICT4D projects fail. In my opinion, the most relevant conclusions that Brouwer drew from his study were:

1)   Development agencies did not spend enough time on planning and project development

2)   Development agencies did not “give proper consideration and gain adequate understanding of the current state of the systems and business processes, which would be affected by the project”

3)  Roles and responsibilities within the agencies were not clearly defined, which made it difficult to hold people accountable for mistakes and/or failures

4)   Development agencies tried to take on “overly ambitious and complex projects”

In conclusion, the article argues that Brouwer’s report is invaluable because it provides detailed, case specific reasons for project failure (which I did not go in to fully above).  It is so useful for research like this to be published, because if it is not, development agencies continue to repeat the same mistakes.

I think that the importance of developing thorough impact and process indicators, and spending ample time and resources on project evaluation is completely underrated. This article validates the importance of analyzing projects after they are implemented, especially ones that fail. If we do not take the extra time and resources to investigate ICT4D project failures we are only making it more difficult on ourselves, and making it harder for us to succeed in the future. We can break the vicious cycle of failure by simply stopping and taking a close look at what went wrong, and sharing this research with others.


Telecentres: what are they and why doesn’t Heeks like them?

As we discussed in class, Richard Heeks is not a fan of ‘telecentres’.  Heeks makes it clear in his work “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?” that the focus of ICT4D should be on ICT production, not consumption. From this point he draws his motto “the data centre, not the telecentre,” meaning that back office applications of ICTs (ICTs for business management, planning etc) are more effective and have a greater impact than putting a few computers kiosks in rural India. Which brings us back to telecenters…but what exactly are they and what doesn’t he like about them?

According to “telecentre.org“, a telecentre is “a public place where people can find information, create, learn, and communicate with others while developing digital skills through access to information and communication technology.” In short, telecentres strive to give under-served populations access to ICTs. On a larger scale, telecentres are designed to: promote community development, reduce isolation for rural livelihoods, bridge the digital divide, promote health education, empower youth, and create economic opportunities for all.

This all sounds good and well, but without any computer training, or skills training in business management etc, small businesses aren’t just going to pop up, and money is not just going to flow into communities as a result of these technology hubs. Think about it; if you were given a computer, but had no instruction about how to use it, or any understanding of the potential gains that could come from using it, you would probably give up pretty quickly. Heeks mentions the abandoned computer kiosks in India in his article as an example of a failed ICT consumption development project. I think that a lack of digital literacy, motivation, and access to the telecentres contribute to failures like this one.

Plus, it’s not like most citizens of developing countries have a lot of free time to go experiment with the ICTs at the telecentre; most of them work hard jobs and long hours in order to survive. In addition, it is unlikely that many adults in the developing world have the resources and economic freedom to go be entrepreneurs, start small businesses etc, so the telecentres provided might not be very useful to them.

I think telecenters can work, if they provide formal training and certification, like this initiative.  But I understand Heeks’ distaste; telecentres come off as very top-down development, and we know that throwing technology at the developing world is not the answer.

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Shrinking the Digital Divide to Improve Health

An article titled “Health education and the digital divide: building bridges and filling chasms” argues that “lack of access to information technology can have profound negative implications for one’s economic, social and physical health and well-being,” and I agree with this point. They believe that ICTs have the capability to improve health outcomes for the world because ICTs allow people to access health information. Today, many people in the world get their health information from ICTs: they seek out information on the internet, or are sent health information by organizations/ services they subscribe to via email or SMS messaging. People often use this information that they find online to make educated decisions about their health care. The ideas presented in this article are consistent with what I have learned in my Public Health and International Development classes at Tulane.

This article opens up a conversation about how beneficial ICTs, especially access to the internet, could be for developing countries. Since many citizens of developing countries often do not have the resources to visit a doctor whenever they want to, it would be extraordinarily helpful for them to be able to receive or search for health information online to determine whether the symptoms they are experiencing are worrisome or not, so they can decide whether to access health services or not. Working to extend the internet and mobiles to under-served communities will give the poor an opportunity to improve their health. Failure to address the digital divide and get ICTs to the citizens in developing countries and under-served in developed countries will widen health disparities between the developed and developing world.

Although internet access for all is the desired goal to shrink the digital divide and improve health according to the article above, many organizations and countries are taking steps in the right direction by starting initiatives to provide health information to under-served communities via SMS text messaging on mobile phones. This idea has proved to be a great alternative for communities that have no access to the internet. For example, the World Health Organization came up with the “M-check project” which is a system designed to decrease maternal and infant mortality in developing countries. Essentially, when a pregnant woman accesses a health center her phone is registered with the “M-check project” and she is sent SMS messages containing ‘safety checklists’. These checklists include danger signs for mothers look out for in themselves and their infants in the week or two after delivery. The system also sends daily reminders to the mothers to check their safety lists. There is also a feature that allows women to call the ‘M-check’ info system, where they are connected with help to work through any questions or concerns that they have, and they can also be connected to an ambulance and taken to a local health service if necessary. This system is using ICTs to change the way that mothers are able to promote and protect their health. This project is contributing to the closure of the digital divide and health disparities by allowing people in need to access health information via ICTs. Clearly, even relatively simple ICTs can improve health outcomes for the developing world.