Author Archives: dsafyer

ICT4D Professional Profile: Richard Heeks

Richard Heeks is a Professor of Development Informatics in the Institute for Development Policy and Management, at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Development Informatics located at the University of Manchester. He attended the University of Cambridge where he studied the natural sciences. He fulfilled his MPhil at the University of Leicester and later completed his PhD at the Open University. His experience in the ICT4d field began with him working as both a volunteer science teacher and software developer in Nigeria. He would later take up research positions at first the University of Leicester followed by the University of Manchester.

His contributions to the ICT4d field are long and varied. He is one of the pioneers of the Software Export Success Model, which came about through his research and study of the Indian software industry. This model is used to evaluate the software sectors in developing countries. He also created a widely used model called the Design-Reality Gap model. This model is used to evaluate ICT4D initiatives.

Links to his:

–       U Manchester Profile: Here

–       Twitter Account: Here

–       Linkedin Account: Here

The Importance of Addressing the Digital Divide

     For this final blog post I will be reflecting upon the concept of the “DIgital Divide.” Personally, I see this is as one of the most crucial takeaways from this class. I find this concept most important because I believe every potential ICT4D initiative/program needs to be created with this idea in mind. Each of the modules following our learning about this concept, bring in the idea of the Digital Divide at some point or another.

     Module 2 of our studies focused around our Sector project; ICT’s in business/industry in my case. The use and ability of ICT’s to be implemented into the business sector to help boost economic output critically hinges upon the Digital Divide. For example, companies cannot hope to increase their market/number of consumers through online advertising, if the country their target consumers don’t have the know how or capabilities to utilize the web. Similarly, businesses cannot effectively implement ICT’s into their production processes and/or day to day business operations if their workers aren’t properly trained or at least familiar with the technologies involved. Along the same lines, people are inclined to stick with what they know, and react adversley towards change especially if it is something that they don’t understand– technology. One of the leading causes for SME’s not using internet to supplement their business is because they don’t believe that it suits their type of business. This could be because they don’t understand how it could be beneficial, or because the necessary internet market infrastructure just isn’t there (could be poor internet capabilities/use in the country, lack of web security and regulations that are necessary for online financial transactions, etc.). EIther way, the digital divide strikes again. The other sectors include Health, Education, and Governance. Once again, all of the potential ICT’s and programmes that could be utilized in these sectors to push development forward need to be formulated with a lot of concern given to the Digital Divide. Programs just wont work if the necessary technological infrastructure and know-how is in place in the target area of a potential initiative.

     Module 3 of our course centered around our hands on Open Street Mapping project. The potential for these systems to be used in many areas of the IDEV and ICT4D is outstanding and to me is very important moving forward. For us, living on the positive side of this theoretical Divide, we were a valuable resource for filling out these maps. However, any time that data is supposed to be collected/self reported from the ground, these people need to know how to use the necessary technology involved. One of the major uses of this ICT is disaster preparedness and alleviation. For example, if OSM technology is used to put in place an amazingly intricate and complete early warning system and disaster relief plan, it would be completely useless if the target population/are is not equipped with the necessary technology or knowledge (radios, internet, cell phones). Even if part of the population is equipped, the other portion of people need to be taken into consideration for this to be effective.

     Overall, the digital divide is a monumental issue in the study and practice of ICT4D, and is an issue that needs to be addressed/considered in pretty much all conversations surrounding pushing on the development of this field and the target countries/peoples themselves. Personally, the study of this issue has reinforced in my mind the importance of infrastructure both at the technological level (power lines, internet access, telephone lines, etc.) and the human level (human apacity/capital). Initiatives that can bridge the divide of actual hardware and/or human know-how will be the most successful in instilling sustainable long-lasting development outcomes. I would like to explore in the future which development programs have been the most effective in helping to bridge this divide, and these programs can be applied to the rest of the developing world.

VoIP Drupal: Internet for all

According to MIT’s Center for Civic Media (the inventors and current caretakers of the software)  VoIP DRUPAL is a, “unified communications framework that brings the power of voice and Internet-telephony to Drupal sites. It can be used to build hybrid applications combining regular touchtone phones, web, SMS, Twitter, IM and other communication tools in a variety of ways.” In other words VoIP Drupal is an open source program that aims to link cellphones and websites in a variety of ways. Designers can build applications using the VoIP Drupal platform that can be accessed in ways that do not require internet access or even literacy.

For example, a blog based website that uses this technology, can be accessed and edited solely through a regular old-school cell phone (one with only a number keypad). The user would call the number linked with the website, the blog in this case. A voice would then read out a menu that will bring the user to different sections of the website. Once a section of the website, once again in this case a blog post, is selected, a voice will read out the contents to the user. The user can then reply by selecting the correct option and recording their own voice message. This message will be translated into text by the VoIP software, and then uploaded online.

Just a few of the many possible applications for this technology:

  • Voice- and SMS-based Go Out to Vote campaigns
  • 2-1-1, 3-1-1 and other information hotlines
  • Phone-based community surveys
  • Interactive reminders
  • Story recording / playback
  • Group voicemail
  • Language training
  • Audio tours
  • Interactive community radio programs
  • Geo-based callblasts aimed at specific streets or location

The massive potential VoIP Drupal has for development efforts really excites me. It is an open sourced, sandbox technology, enabling potential website designers the freedom to easily create the kind of website they need (using the right VoIP applications). Summarized in the words of the VoIP Drupal Factsheet, “VoIP Drupal comes with an extensive collection of ready-made modules that provide voicemail, click-to-call, phone recording, audio blogging, dialplan scripting and other high-level functionality, dramatically simplifying application development.” This platform can allow communities without internet to access key websites. It can also allow development workers to organize automated text-campaigns among other potential uses. Overall this seems to be a great technological platform and it will be great to see how and when this really takes off.

Link to MIT Center for Civic Media: Here
Link to VoIP Drupal fact sheet: Here

The WFP and GIS

The World Food Programme or WFP is the branch of the UN associated with food aid. It is currently the largest humanitarian organization focusing on ending world hunger, by delivering food aid to people who, for a variety of reasons, cannot obtain their own food. They provide food to over 90 million people annually, over half of whom are children.

The WFP is not a stranger to using GIS systems for aid initiatives. The organizations Operation Department of Emergency Preparedness, or ODEP for short, considers GIS “an invaluable tool for both the mitigation of natural disaster and the coordination of response operations.” according to Adrea Amparore ODEP’s GIS analyst.

ODEP uses GIS technology to create a better picture of the dangers among people living in disaster prone areas. They analyze a variety of factors including historical occurrences of disasters, food security/insecurity, famine and hunger, and environmental degradation. Growing seasons and crop production are also monitored by satellite images to help the ODEP identify when times of decreased production/low crop yields etc. This ongoing monitoring and analysis enables the WFP to be able to intervene to prevent/lessen disasters when needed.

The WFP is constantly monitoring the four stages of the “disaster cycle,” and does this with the help of GIS’s. The four steps as stated by Aparore and the way GIS’s are used throughout are:

  1. Prevention: “includes the evaluation of man-made features, such as dams and levees, to make sure they can withstand rising floodwater, as well as determining the structural integrity of buildings, the reseeding of hillsides after deforestation to reduce mudslides, the evaluation of building codes and land-use zones to make sure they meet current safety standards, instigating community awareness campaigns to help residents better prepare themselves in the event of a disaster, and so on.”
    GIS’s are used in this step to aid in the planning of projects/interventions, data collection and review, and implementation of these interventions.
  2. Preparedness: Preparedness includes risk identification and assessment; the development and maintenance of emergency communication services; stockpiling essential food supplies, water, and medicine; and the establishment of evacuation routes.
    GIS’s are used in this stage to evaluate risks, determining the best places for emergency food stores in accordance with evacuation plans and coming up with the most efficient and safe evacuation plans.
  3. Response: The response step is pretty self explanatory, it is the actual actions taken in the event of a disaster.
    GIS’s are used in this step to predict the ongoing effects of the disaster and how it will develop, monitoring human movements and interventions, tracking the efficiency of these interventions, and allotting resources.
  4. Recovery: This step includes the establishment of temporary relief and assessing the destruction followed by repairing and rebuilding.
    GIS’s are used in this step to increasing efficiency in aid distribution. More specifically prioritizing where recovery endeavors are needed most. Also, GIS’s are used to coordinate the placement of aid distribution centers and to evaluate the regrowth and rebuilding until on the ground operations return to normal and the cycle repeats itself.

Moving forward, the WFP is looking to standardize the data it collects with GIS’s in order to make it usable for organizations around the world. Amparore says, “Standardization is the key to the continued growth of GIS at the WFP. This will allow us to expand our analytical capabilities and adopt an even greater scientific approach to data analysis.” Throughout my study of ICT4D and development in general, a unfortunately glaring theme that I have noticed is the lack of efficiency in relief and development efforts. GIS looks to be a great way to increase efficiency of aid efforts at all steps of the disaster cycle. Bringing a more scientific approach into the planning, implementation, coordination, monitoring and evaluation stages of development seems to me to be the way forward. Just like farmers who bring GIS onto their farms to lessen product runoff/crop wasting, aid programmes and relief efforts can use GIS to work towards decreasing error and increasing efficiency. This should lead them to also see a higher “yield” in people saved/positively effected by aid relief.

Link to the WFP website: Here
Link to the GIS WFP article: Here

e-Health International

e-Health International

In it’s own words e-Health International is an “innovative project that aims to significantly improve the health of individuals across the world in areas poorly served for health care.” e-Health International is trying to create an efficient web based platform that can facilitate access to education and telemedicine services to a myriad of health care providers, professionals, teachers and the public in general. The website is accessible from any web enabled device, but is intended to be especially helpful for users accessing the web from a mobile device/internet capable cell phone.

e-Health International has four main components:

  1. A community Portal providing a single online access point
  2. A e-Learning platform for awareness, education and training
  3. A geo-Health service using geographic information system technologies to improve monitoring and surveillance
  4. A telemedicine service including remote diagnostic and consultative tools

e-Health International recognizes the increasing global trend of m-Health, the use of mobile technologies to convey healthcare solutions (especially in the developing world). Their response to this trend is to combine these new technologies in e-Health, health education, geo-Health tools, and social networking to “promote health and develop solutions to tough health problems worldwide.

e-Health International is a really exciting concept to me. By acting as a facilitating hub for these developing technologies, they can provide cutting edge health services to anyone with a web capable cellphone around the world.

Link to the website: Here

Malawi National Bank Introduces New Communications Platform

Malawi’s National Bank, the largest bank by assets in the country has recently revealed its plan to use newly integrated communications technologies to urge consumers to begin to use debit cards when paying for goods. The use of debit cards or “plastic money” was initiated in 2006, but they have yet to really catch on among Malawi’s citizens. The bank believes that the way the current financial culture is going debit cards are the future of economic transactions, and is advising that Malawians “keep up with the changing times.”

These new communications technologies will be used to facilitate the back and forth between the bank and its patrons.  The bank wishes to use these improved technologies to aid costumers and its various stakeholders with a wider range of services which it hails as user friendly. The first step in this plan, which has already taken place, was the redesigning of the bank’s website. Along with embedding various social media sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, the new website makes use of real online banking and mobile banking services.

“This will help our customers save time and money, and find banking with us easy,” said the bank’s Chief Marketing Officer, Wilkins Mijiga. He also outlined that the new [communications] platform would not only see the bank creating sustainable value and wealth for its stakeholders but it will also bring the bank closer to them.

The bank envisions Malawi as a paperless transaction country, and aims to achieve this goal going forward.

Link to the Malawi National Bank Website: Here

The Burka Avenger

This week in class we talked about ICT’s in relation to radio and video. One of the most unique uses of video that I have seen comes in the form of the television cartoon “The Burka Avenger” in Pakistan.


The Burka Avenger is the brainchild of Pakistani Popstar, Haroon, who invented the character as a sort of response to numerous instances of extremists shutting down girls schools throughout the country. The Burka Avenger is about a female schoolteacher named Jiya. During the daytime Jiya dedicates her time to educating children, but once night rolls around she dons a special burqa and fights crime using the martial art of Kabbadi – a fighting style that uses books and pens as weapons.

What’s so great about this show, is it completely throws traditional Pakistani gender rules out the window. Traditionally, women are required to wear a burqa during the day, and is seen as a symbol of traditional oppression of women in Pakistan. Jiya instead chooses only to wear her burqa at night, aiding her on her quest to right wrongs and fight evildoers. “By wearing a burqa she is showing she is a Muslim woman and superhero. And that she stands for all the good things of Islam and the real Islamic values — which are equality, woman’s rights, education and peace — rather than the way Islam has been hijacked by radical elements,” said Haroon in a CNN interview.

I am very excited to see this cartoon come to fruition, and it is a great use of ICT’s to empower women and spread the message of equality and education for all.

Link to the Burka Avenger Website: Here

Link to episode one with english subtitles: Here

Malawi National ICT Resources

1. Malawi’s National ICT Policy was updated in 2013 following seven years of using an ICT policy that was adopted in 2006.

  • Written in English and adopted by the The Malawi Cabinet as official policy on September 12, 2013.

2. Department of Information Systems and Technology Management Services:

  • e-Government department in the Office of the President and Cabinet of Malawi’s government. This policy is the focal point for ICT matters in Malawi and the mission of the organization is to promote, coordinate and support the utilization of ICTs.


Scaling Innovation at the World Bank Group

Scaling Innovation at the World Bank Group

The linked article is an interview of Aleem Walji, the Director of the World Bank’s Innovation Labs done by Skoll World Forum’s Rahim Kanani. Walji previously worked for google (a company well known for innovation), and was brought in by the World Bank to “help expand the space for experimentation, learning, and prototyping with an emphasis on emerging technologies.”

The feeling that I get after reading this interview, is that the World Bank recognizes that there are a vast number of shortcomings with the current approach to development, and that they are making positive steps towards finding a better way of going about it. The first success of the Innovation labs was the Open Data Initiative. The WB realized that by making these data/knowledge/analytical resources available for researchers, NGO’s, policymakers, etc. they would create value in ways that they didn’t need to have control over.

Probably the most interesting part of the article is when Walji discussed generally what their plans were to overcome challenges in development. He talks about how the world’s hardest problems to solve are “moving targets” and how initiatives and organizations shouldn’t over-analyze before we act. He believes that innovation is about risk management and traversing uncertainty wisely; “fail fast and fail forward. You learn fast and iterate. You document what you learn, share it with the world and look for insights wherever you find them.

Walji also goes on to discuss knowledge management and how it can help us to form solutions. Large amounts of data, information, and knowledge are created daily, “If we only knew what we knew collectively, and could find it when we need it, we would be so much smarter… It’s not about getting the answer right the first time or developing “cookie-cutter solutions but about using a process that gets us close to better solutions better adapted to end-users” By assessing everything we know about a particular issue we can move towards creating a solution.

I would highly recommend reading the full article as I could not include everything in this blog post. After hearing a lot recently about the shortcomings of ICT projects, it was nice to read an interview where someone has full knowledge of the problems, and an intelligent direction that we should go in for putting a stop to them.

Malawi Cabinet Adopts ICT Policy

On Sept. 12, 2013, Malawi’s cabinet finally officially adopted a national ICT Policy. Malawi first began being drafting the policy seven years ago. This process has been stalled due to “bureaucratic procrastination” and numerous government regime changes. The policy also had to be retooled due to the creation of an e-government department in the OPC or Office of the President and Cabinet. This e-government department had not been addressed in the original draft of the ICT Policy. The Malawi Cabinet recognizes the need to develop its ICTs. “In order to fully benefit from the information revolution, Malawi needs to modernize various sectors of her economy using ICTs,” the cabinet said.

This is an exciting time for ICT in Malawi. A country known for governmental corruption and instability in the recent past finally has a unified approach to developing their technologies. Also exciting to read is that this new ICT Policy is supposedly multi-faceted, and is looking to approach ICT from a variety of sectors to have the largest impact in economic and social development.

This new e-government sector seemed particularly interesting, and upon further research I came across the Department of Information Systems and Technology Management Services, or DISTMS for short, on the Malawi government’s website. This department aims “to promote, coordinate and support the utilization of Information and Communication Technology through the development of innovative ICT products and services in order to accelerate the implementation of the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy.”

This is a great direction for Malawi to be going, hopefully the country is able to build on this progress.