Author Archives: ecowle

Burkina Faso National ICT Resources

National ICT Policy/ Strategy

Below is a link to Burkina’s official National ICT Strategy:

This document was created in October of 1999 and is written in French. It has not been updated since its creation. The plan was developed by the national government in collaboration with the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Research Centre for International Development (IDRC). I advise using Google translate for the entire webpage as this tool provides a cohesive translation of the page.

Government Resources

The National Telecommunications Office in Burkina Faso is the lead authority on Burkina’s development strategy:

Government resources were difficult to locate. The website above was created in 2008 and is written in French. It is updated regularly and was most recently modified on December 12, 2012. I was unable to translate much of this site, thus it was more time consuming than useful.

External Resources

Non-Government resources proved to be very valuable tools:

  • Burkina Faso ICT Sector Performance Review– This policy paper was written by Pam Zahongo in association with Research ICT Africa. It was published in 2010 and is written in English. This paper evaluates Burkina’s performance in the ICT sector since the country’s national strategy took effect.
  • Analysis of Information and Communication Technology Policies in Africa– This document was written by Joseph Tamukong in association with the Educational Research Network for West and Central Africa (ERNWACA). It was published in August 2007 and is written in English. This document analyzes national ICT policies of 28 African countries, including Burkina Faso.

Overall, resources for Burkina Faso were a little difficult to locate. This was partly due to the fact that all official government websites and documents are in French. The most useful information came from documents found on websites off existing NGOs.

Lessons Learned: ICT4D

ICT4D has such potential, yet often fails due to poor planning and implementation. The most important lessons I have taken away from this course are as follows:

1. You must focus on a bottom-up, collaborative approach. ICT4D projects will fail if outsiders simply hand in technology and expect communities to be receptive. The time and effort it takes to properly utilize an ICT is going to deter users unless they can immediately see the benefits. Successful projects thoroughly account for the local context and emphasize participatory interaction.

2. Proper monitoring and evaluation measures must be implemented at the start of the project to ensure sustainability. For example, in handing out laptops, what is going to happen when one breaks and there is nobody with the skills to fix it?

3. Partnerships provide networks of resources that can be combined to more effectively implement ICT4D projects. However, these partnerships must be built on trust, honesty, openness, mutual understanding and respect or they serve no purpose.

4. You must learn from past failures. Many projects implement previously failed strategies thinking that for some reason their organization can get it right. FailFaire is a groundbreaking resource that can help us understand the whys of project failure and the hows of changing failure to success.

Over the course of the semester, we studied many ICT4D projects– most were failures. This was discouraging to me for a while until I conducted my own studies on Burkina Faso, a little known country in West Africa. Here in Burkina, where 80% of the population relies on subsistence farming, opportunities are scarce. I saw a project, built at the grassroots level, that enabled these same farmers to triple their selling prices by taping into technology required for an online marketplace. Globalization like this is going to be key to the future of struggling countries. We all have resources that others can benefit from– the challenge is creating accessibility, which can be done through the right combination of ICTs.

I see the capabilities approach as the most useful framework for ICT4D projects. As the old saying goes, “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force it to drink.” (or more applicable for us, you can lead a person to a laptop but you can’t force him to Facebook)  ICT4D needs to be by the people and for the people, with some help from outsiders guiding the way.

Cloud Computing: Who Dominates the Field?

Cloud Computing: Who Dominates the Field?

Guest speaker Adam Papendiek spoke about cloud computing as one of the top five emerging trends in the ICT field. Cloud computing is essentially a way to deliver software and hardware without the traditional hassles of installing and maintaining the specified program(s). Cloud computing uses shared resources in a complex infrastructure to deliver IT services at significant fractions of historical costs. Computing power has entered a whole new era of large scale capabilities as witnessed through the various platforms that are capable of connecting billions of people. While cloud computing has made sharing and accessing information easier, it has also made maintaining security harder- an issue that needs to be thoroughly investigated, especially in developing worlds. Cloud computing is broadly divided into three categories: Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Check out this diagram to see which companies currently dominate the cloud computing field in their respective categories. Learn more about cloud computing here.

Jared Cohen: Top 40 ICT4D Professionals Under 40

Devex is the world’s largest community of aid and development professionals. The organization, which delivers business information and recruitment services to the international development community, recently released its list of the Top 40 International Development Leaders Under 40. The selection criterion for the list was based on each individual’s impact on the development agenda along with his or her impact on development results. In order to receive a nomination, the professional had to have been based out of Washington DC, and each had to be under the age of 40. Despite their youth, these leaders have made significant advances in the ICT4D world and deserve to be recognized for their contributions to society. Among these leaders are some that we have encountered over the course of the semester, like Wayan Vota, and many more that we have not. One leader that caught my eye was Jared Cohen, a public policy expert, social media adviser, and director of Google Ideas.

Jared Cohen was born in Weston, Connecticut. As a child, Jared’s family vacationed in Africa, which is when Cohen’s interest in development first began. Cohen took a 5-week service trip to Tanzania during High School and went on to receive political science and history degrees with a minor in African Studies. Cohen later studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University where he received his master’s degree in international relations. During college, Cohen held an internship for the US State Department that landed him a full time position as the youngest Member of the Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff- he was only 24 years old. After being kept on the Policy Planning Committee by Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, Cohen began to shape counter-radicalization strategies while advising on US policy in Iran and the Middle East. Cohen traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, where he interviewed Hezbollah and al-Qaida terrorists to better understand the nature and root causes of radicalization.

In April of 2009, Cohen started leading technology delegations that focused on connecting technology executives with local stakeholders in countries such as Iraq, Russia, Mexico, Congo, and Syria. Shortly after undertaking this position in technology delegations, Cohen played an instrumental role that marked the turning point in technology’s role in disrupting the status quo. During the 2009 reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, thousands of Iranian were taking to Twitter to protest. At this time, the Twitter server was scheduled to be shut down for scheduled server maintenance. However, Cohen changed that with one phone call to Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, in which he requested that the popular micro-blogging site stay running. Cohen argued that because many other outlets had been blocked or shut down by the government, Twitter was one of the few ways for people inside of Iran to get information to the outside world. He considered it an important way for people around the world to join the protests and convinced Dorsey that this was the proper decision. This phone called essentially changed the course of the Iranian election.

After working for the State Department for a number of years, Cohen left the position to take on a new task as the director and founder of the new think/do tank, Google Ideas. Says Cohen: “We need to move towards providing tools and creating space for local people to develop local solutions.” Google Ideas focuses on places in the developing world where challenges are significant, technology solutions are underexplored, and Google can make an impact. The focus areas include counter-radicalization, illicit networks and fragile states.

In addition to his professional roles, Cohen has authored numerous publications and has appeared on different media outlets. Cohen’s book, Children of Jihad, won a spot on the “Best Books of 2007” list. He has appeared as a guest on CNN, BBC, The Colbert Report, ABC, CBS, MSNBC, and many more. It will be interesting to see the impact that Cohen and Google Ideas will have on the world in the years to come.

Uncovering the Economic Advantages of ICTs in Business

Understanding the Economic Benefits of ICTs

There is no question that the IT revolution has had a huge impact on the business world. ICTS in business affect many people. They influence internal operations of businesses, transactions between companies, and transactions between individuals. ICTs create tools that manipulate, organize, transmit, store, and act on information in new ways and organizational forms. ICTs have significantly enhanced the ability to develop new business models (i.e.., outsourced business processes, e-businesses, new logistics systems, etc.), ICTs have enabled business to offer new products and services (i.e., smart phones, the iPod and digital media services) and design and implement new processes (i.e., self check-in at airports and self check out at grocery stores).

Using ICTs can circumvent common communication barriers like illiteracy by displaying concepts in visual and accessible ways. ICTs have impacted businesses using many types of devices. From telecommunication devices to PCS, ICTs act as aids in facilitating communications while allowing for the better diffusion of information. Today about 11.5 million websites are accessible to the public; many of those are online shopping website where businesses sell their products directly to the consumer, eliminating travel costs and the need for a middleman. But ICT in business is not just limited to PCs and phones, it includes the applications of the same technologies in things like radio and television that can help keep consumers and suppliers updated; SMS, voice mail, and email to facilitate communication, GPS devices to track products and shipments, credit cards to increase convenience, online banking tools, online bill pay, machines in factories, and the likes. These devices boost growth indirectly through creating larger markets and enabling better decision-making. Also, higher quality goods and services become attainable through software that allows for quality monitoring and mass customization.

As demonstrated by the info-diagram above, ICTs enhance the quality of life in many ways. IICs increase efficiency by facilitating communication, which ultimately leads to enhanced livelihoods. ICTs boost competitiveness because they allow access to a global economy in which businesses can tap into global trade. They help establish self-reliance and exponentially increase both business and consumer convenience. The enhanced flow of data allows people to compete in today’s society. The diffusion of ICTs has shown to be a significant impact on economic growth. In fact, IT capital impacts productivity at about 5 times that of non-IT capital (Digital Prosperity). ICTs create faster productivity growth, which leads to lower inflation, increased economic competitiveness, more jobs, higher wages, lower prices, more consumer spending, and higher government tax revenues. They allow people to create innovative products and services that lend to better quality of life for everyone.

Of course, the potential for ICTs in businesses throughout the developing world is huge, but the introduction of ICTs must be done with care. Government as the front line need to acknowledge the need for IT as a key component of the modern economy and actively encourage use in the private sector. The tax code should be used to spur investment, and digital literacy should be a priority. Necessary policies should be implemented to hedge the risk to privacy and community that results from things like identity theft and measures should be put into place to prevent displacement of current workers.

The positive benefits outweigh the downsides of ICT, and it is of growing important that governments take the necessary steps to make sure the digital divide does not further increase.

Source: Digital Prosperity: Understanding the Economic Benefits of the IT Revolution, ITTF

FrontlineSMS: The Impact of Open Source Tools for Development

Through Mission 4636, 80,000 earthquake victims throughout Haiti were able to solicit help via text message. What’s most astonishing about the project is not the large number of people it was able to help, but the speed at which it was set into motion. From conception to launch, the Mission 4636 came together in a mere 48 hours. People from 10 organizations from around the world dropped everything to build the best platform possible. Among these organizations was one that caught my eye, Frontline SMS:medic, whose director was responsible for obtaining the short code “4636” for the project.

Frontline SMS:medic is one of many programs that utilizes the FrontlineSMS free software program. Through FrontlineSMS, users can text large groups of people anywhere there is a mobile signal. FrontlineSMS enables instantaneous, two-way communication on a large scale by utilizing computers and mobile phones—two technologies that are available to most NGOs. This means a laptop plugged into a cell phone can become a low-cost communication hub. Frontline SMS makes use of open-source software to support development services across the globe and provides easily implemented solutions to many communication barriers in developing countries.

FrontlineSMS:medic is one of the most successful initiatives of the 5 FrontlineSMS programs (others are credit, learn, legal, and radio).  It utilizes FrontlineSMS to improve and extend healthcare delivery systems by helping health workers communicate, coordinate patient care, and provide diagnostics using appropriate cost-effective technologies. The pilot program was launched in 2009 to great results: in six months, hospital workers saved 1200 hours of follow up time and an accompanying $3000 in motorbike fuel. In less than one year, FrontlineSMS:Medic grew to 1,500 end users who were serviced by clinics seeing approximately 3.5 million other patients. Growing from the first pilot at a single hospital in Malawi, programs were subsequently established in 40% of Malawi’s district hospitals and the software was introduced in nine other countries, including Honduras, Haiti, Uganda, Mali, Kenya, South Africa, Cameroon, India and Bangladesh.

FrontlineSMS demonstrates the importance of building upon and implementing open source tools to serve end users and achieve impact in the field of development. For complete information on FrontlineSMS click here. For complete information on FrontlineSMS:Medic click here.

OLPC Applications in Burkina Faso

Warschauer and Ames’s article, Can One Laptop per Child Save the World’s Poor?, provides insight into the many flaws of the OLPC initiative. Though the program has good intentions, “the poorest countries targeted by OLPC cannot afford laptop computers for all their children and would be better off building schools, training teachers, developing curricula, providing books and subsidizing attendance” (Warschauer and Ames, 34). In February of 2008, three years following the launch of the OLPC initiative, the national knowledge sharing platform on ICT4D (NTIC) in Burkina Faso held a workshop to discuss the possible implementation of the program in Burkina’s education sector. The workshop provided sector experts the chance to demonstrate and discuss the usefulness of the specialized XO computer. After much heated debate, it was decided that the OLPC could not successfully be integrated into the education sector at that time.

On the surface, the XO computer seemed like the perfect solution for connecting kids in developing countries– it was cheap, small, rugged, and efficient. Very little power was needed for it to run and it could withstand the harsh environmental conditions of countries like Burkina Faso. The open source software and content meant that users could alter programs and expand on existing software, but what the program failed to account for was the lack of capacity in the targeted countries to support, maintain, and rebuild various parts of the XO computers when they broke down. The problems encountered with this top-down distributing laptops approach brought about many questions for the Burkina NTIC to focus on. Would the OLPC meet the needs of the schools and people in the educational sector in Burkina Faso, what were the pros of the system, what were the cons, how would the program be introduced, and when would be the right time to introduce it?

It was determined that even though the laptop would increase access to knowledge, enable people to take part in the information society, introduce children to technology at a young age, and withstand harsh environments better than an ordinary computer, the OLPC could not be successfully applied in Burkina Faso because it needed to be adapted to local needs.

The OLPC would not be useful in Burkina Faso for many reasons. Foremost the current infrastructure, ie. bad connectivity, lack of energy, etc., could not support the OLPC. There are no resources available for technical maintenance of the laptop, and there are other problems within the educational sector that are much more pressing (lack of school rooms and bad working conditions for teachers).

In the end, the workshop led more to discussions about how ICTs might be used in the Burkina education system; the focus was on changing teaching methods rather than on the use of the OLPC itself. It was concluded that substantial efforts must be made to improve infrastructure, teacher training, curriculum development, and technical support networks before a program like OLPC could be successfully introduced to the nation. For the OLPC to work, both teachers and students should be trained to work with the software/hardware. OLPCs should first be distributed through community centers rather than just among children aged 6-12, and the content should be adapted to existing educational curricula. Further, the maintenance and life-expectancy of the computer parts also need to be improved.

Even “developed” countries do not have the means to buy a computer for every single child, so how do we expect the OLPC to reach everyone among the poorest of the poor? Only a few years ago, people did not ever think that a mobile network could be successfully implemented into countries like Burkina Faso, but look where we are today. Over 90% of people worldwide now own or have access to a mobile phone– maybe someday that same 90% will be able to own or access a computer and internet. It may be far off, but with some much-needed changes and re-considerations, the OLPC could provide a platform off which to grow connectivity around the world.

For more information and specific findings for the Burkina NTIC conference, follow this link.