I think the most important lesson I took from this class is that understanding the local context is critical for the success of ICT4D initiatives. “One size fits all” initiatives will not help anyone, and they will probably fail. However, it happens too often that well-meaning individuals or organizations don’t consider local contexts and challenges. We saw this in the case of One Laptop Per Child.
There are a few different things to keep in mind when considering the local context. One is local language. Many people living in remote areas do not speak the “national language,” which is typically the colonial language. In many countries, there are few people beyond educated urban dwellers that speak the language of the government. Therefore, it is essential that initiatives use local languages. Related to this is local content. Initiatives should focus on giving people information that they need. An example of this would be an initiative aimed at fishermen that gives information on tides, currents, and any impending bad weather. Finally, it is important to remember local capacity. Many rural areas don’t have sufficient resources to support computer-based initiatives, or the electricity to keep phones charged. It is important, then, to work with pre-existing technology and resources. Keeping these things in mind will reduce the probability of failure.
National ICT Policy:
National ICT Policy – 2009
Published by: Ministry of Science and Information & Communication Technology
Ministry of Science and Technology
Language: English & Bangla
Ministry of Posts, Telecommunication, and Information Technology – ICT Division
English in Action
Date: 2008 – 2017
Agency: Governments of Bangladesh & UK
ICT4E in India and South Asia: Bangladesh Country Report
It was not particularly difficult finding resources, though it was definitely easier to find government resources.
It is well established that, properly planned and implemented, ICTs can help improve educational outcomes for youth and also empower girls. They help increase access to information, improve communication, and allow for new methods of learning. For girls, they can reduce barriers to access in receiving important information about things they might not be able to ask their families or elders about, such as birth control. ICT initiatives in education, therefore, can be enormously beneficial in development.
However, many of these programs are gender neutral. They don’t make specific distinctions between the needs of boys and of girls. In many parts of the world, gender neutrality inherently favors boys. For example, one Cameroonian school has five working computers for 1000 students, and there is a great deal of competition among students to use them. This means that boys are usually the ones who gain access, thinking “why should [the girl] be holding a computer mouse when at the end of the day [she] will be hold a baby’s napkin?” Boys will often restrict their girl classmates’ access to ICTs by monopolizing the available tools and ridiculing girls who are trying to learn how to use them.
ICT4D initiatives, then, should not and cannot ignore gender. Boys and girls have different needs, different levels of access, different positions in society. For ICT4D initiatives to succeed and have a truly innovative impact, they must factor in these differences. Safe public spaces, such as libraries, with access to ICTs could help improve girls’ access. Also, schools could separate “computer time” by gender so that girls would be better able to access the tools and feel more confident using them. Initiatives focusing specifically on girls could also be helpful. Whatever the solution, though, ICT4D initiatives need to make specific concessions for girls or the programs will be biased against them.
Across a variety of indicators, a gender gap exists in favor of men. Mobile phone usage/ownership is no exception. In the developing world, men are 21% more likely to own a cell phone than women. This translates to roughly 300 million women.
As we spent a good deal of this week discussing the many benefits of mobile phone technology, one might note that these 300 million women lack access to these benefits, including improved communication, better economic opportunities, and increased access to information. Of women that do own cell phones, a large proportion (around 50%) use them to search for employment.
The mobile phone, as other technologies, is a tool for economic development. And, as we have learned throughout our IDEV classes, empowering women is an essential tool for economic development. It then comes as no surprise that Wayan Vota posits that women + mobile phones + mservices = economic development.
In this article, Mr. Vota considers the best way to translate female cell phone usage into genuine economic and social development. The solution: mservices. It has been found that women often do not have cell phones because they do not perceive a need for them. However, through improved mservices, women will likely more likely adopt this technology. The most important of these are mBanking, which would help women save money and improve their financial independence; mEmployment, which would help connect women with employment opportunities; mHealth, to help provide care to themselves and their families; and mAgriculture, because women make up most of locally consumed production. Access to services such as these might help lead to female empowerment and a good deal of economic growth and development.
A problem that is encountered fairly regularly in not only international development but also across different fields of social science is a lack of accurate data. As an economics and international development major, I’ve discussed this in many of my courses. How can you come to accurate conclusions to questions or problems without accurate data?
For development issues particularly, it is a momentous challenge, because these conclusions can directly impact the quality of life of various groups. And it is so difficult to conduct surveys in developing countries given the various infrastuctural shortfalls. This is especially arduous in rural areas, but it isn’t exactly easy in the cities either. When I studied abroad in Ghana, I interned with a micro finance organization, and it was my responsibility to conduct customer satisfaction surveys. The first and most obvious difficulty was actually finding people. Will they be at home, at their place of business, somewhere else? Next came the language barrier. In addition, getting around took a lot of time. This experience showed me how challenging it actually is to collect data in developing countries, and I realized that the data used by countless organizations and for so many projects is probably off.
I learned about GeoPoll for my tech tools presentation, and I’m glad I did. It’s revolutionizing the way that data is collected by using mobile phone technology. Surveys are sent via SMS messages and receive responses within a week. Data is accurate and almost real-time. It saves those conducting the survey lots of time and lots of money and it improves data quality. This can bring about improved interventions and promotes bottom-up approaches to development. It gives a voice to hard-to-reach, often marginalized communities, allowing those conducting the survey to learn more about the conditions of their lives. And important example of this is DRC Speaks! in which 4 million Congolese were send 10 questions via SMS asking about their quality of life, the effects of war, how they would change things, etc. I think a tool such as this one has the potential to make a huge difference in development, human rights, environmental conditions, fair governance. Really, the options seem endless.
Bangladesh will celebrate the 50th anniversary of its independence in 2021. Currently, the country is one of the poorest in the world, with its exceptionally high population density and vulnerability to flooding and other disasters. Around a third of the population is living below the poverty line and there are huge divides between the urban and rural areas. In 2006, the government published what it hopes the state of the country will be by 2021, Vision 2021. These goals are largely in line with the MDGs, including things like poverty eradication, improvements in health and education, increases in accountability/transparency, and better business practices. A large part of this vision focuses on the adoption of technology to achieve the stated goals. They hope to see ICTs integrated into health, education, businesses, etc. This blogger points out that Bangladesh needs to fully adopt ICTs and become a “Digital Bangladesh” because societies only develop through the creation of knowledge.
As I researched statistics about Bangladesh’s ICT usage, I quickly learned that Vision 2021 is unlikely to become a reality. Internet penetration rates are below 10% and less than 5% of households own a computer at this time. It’s good that the government realized that adopting ICTs would be beneficial to the country’s development. It’s important that technology’s potential in boosting living standards is recognized. However, without the proper social and political will, this cannot be achieved. The goals set out in Vision 2021 are lofty; it would be better to start small, set more achievable benchmarks, and work both at the government and grassroots levels.