Author Archives: jbenno2013

Failures of ICT4D : The Lesson

Although Tulane makes us take a number of development classes, this was the first time I had the opportunity to learn about ICT4D. I found it interesting how, while projects may be different, the overall concepts are still the same. The concepts that we discussed related to ICT4D projects and why they fail will be very helpful with anyone’s future professions, but especially in the development sector.

When we discussed the reasons why ICT4D projects fail, I felt like the reasons were so obvious and questioned why more people weren’t listening to them. Two of these that really stood out to me were that the projects weren’t relevant to local context/ strengths/needs and that projects were supported only by short-term grants. These ideas are important to apply to development jobs as well as any other job that you choose to do. The most important concept is to focus the project on the group that you’re doing it for and give them a say in the matter. Many people in the development world think that they know what is best for the people that they’re trying to help. However, without asking them what they want, you have the potential to spend a lot of money on something fails miserably. Second, it is important to always think about something in the long-term. It is great if you are given a grant to build a computer center in a rural village, but it is important to think about what will happen to the project when you leave. It isn’t just whether it looks good when you leave, but about whether it makes a difference in the long term.

In the future, I want to work internationally in the health sector. For health projects, it will be important for me to create a project that will make a real difference in a community. That means I need to create a project that will be accepted in that culture and will make a difference in the long term, not just when I’m there with my grant. Many organizations create health projects that don’t work with cultural norms. For example, handing out condoms for men who have sex with men in an area where being gay is not allowed. This automatically creates problems with the culture and results in no progress being made. I also know that just giving someone a project with my grant money won’t make a difference in the long-term. Health projects that go into a community and build a health clinic to stop people from dying of disease don’t consider what will happen to that health clinic when they leave. While the failures were originally related to ICT4D projects, I think that no matter what sector you choose to go into, they are important to keep in mind to create a sustainable, beneficial project for a community.


Social Media — Helping and Hurting Egypt

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While social media can play a big role in a revolution, it also has the ability to be detrimental to a population. This has been seen in Egypt, where social media such as Facebook and Twitter originally allowed people to find out about mass rallies and provided platforms for their ideas. However, now social media has provided a platform for rumors and creating anger in the population.

Facebook, Twitter, and even Youtube have become platforms for false reports in order to create anger in the population. There have been anonymous posts done to incite violence between groups in the population, such as Muslims against the Christians and vice versa. On Facebook and Twitter there have been posts such as “security forces are firing on unarmed protesters” or “Muslims are attacking the Christians”. While these were later found to be false, the social media platforms were able to get large groups of people to certain areas to direct their anger at the other group. There have even been Youtube videos posted to create the same sort of anger. They would use old videos out of context to make it seem worth fighting over. For example, a video posted in 2011 showed an Egyptian policeman throwing a protestors body into a rubbish heap resulted in public outrage. However, it was later discovered that the incident hadn’t even taken place in Egypt. Since the Internet is not as widely checked as other media sources, such as TV or radio, it makes it easier for people to use them in negative ways.

Social media has the potential to be a revolutionary tool. However, if not used correctly, it can create more problems than solutions. People want their freedom of expression and therefore wouldn’t agree to social media being regulated. That means that there is no way to know if what you are reading is credible, unless it is from a credible source. Since anyone has the ability to post on the Internet, it is important for people to take the information with a grain of salt.

Read the article here.


Mapping to Decrease Maternal Mortality

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Maternal mortality rates in India have been high over the past several years. This resulted in the government providing free maternal health services from governmental health facilities. However, there has been a problem with women being charged informal fees. This means that when a woman goes to a health facility, she is still getting charged for services that are meant to be free. This has especially been a problem in Utter Pradesh, a state in northern India. As a result of these informal fees, a campaign called Mera Swasthya Meri Aawaz (My Health, My Voice) has been launched. This program uses mobile phones to monitor informal payments in the Azamgarh and Mirzapur districts. People just have to use their mobile phone to call a toll-free number and report an out of pocket expense. These reports are then reported on a map, a deployment from Ushahidi, showing the facilities where informal payments were demanded, the amount charged, and the types of services that the informal payments were charged for. This information is being used collectively by community based organizations, women’s groups, and government health officials to try to end the practice of charging informal fees.

Before reading about this program, I had never heard of using mapping in this way. While this is not a disaster situation, it is important to stop the charging of informal payments in order to reduce maternal mortality in the long run. Not only will this map allow the government to track facilities that are charging informal payments so that they can put a stop to it, it also allows women to avoid going to facilities where they can see that informal payments are being. While it is already a big step that there has been reporting about informal fees, I hope that the government and community organizations will be able to use this map to put a stop to informal fees for good.


Intersexions — HIV Education Through a “Soap Opera”

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Intersexions is a TV show from South Africa that deals with HIV. It looks at how the HIV virus affects people’s lives, either by contracting the virus or how their relationships are affected by it. The show is shown in the local language and also has English subtitles in order to allow to it. Intersexions is produced by Curious Pictures in partnership with USAID and Johns Hopkins Education South Africa.

In order to see the effect that Intersexions has had on the people of South Africa, a survey was conducted in 2012. In response to this survey, it was concluded that nine million South Africans watched Intersexions. The survey also found that Intersexions decreased positive attitudes towards having more than one partner, increased attitudes towards condom use, and increased discussion about HIV testing.

Intersexions is an example of a very positive health intervention. It is shown in the local language with English subtitles because of the diverse culture of South Africa. It also doesn’t feel like the producers are lecturing. Instead, information about HIV is included into a story that is engaging and keeps watchers entertained. While creating similar TV shows may be expensive, it is no denying that there have been positive results in South Africa. More countries should jump on the bandwagon (with South Africa, Gambia, etc) and create these interesting shows that teach about tough subjects!


OLPC Turns to …. Tablets?

  

One Laptop per Child (OLPC) recently discovered that there was another market for ICTs and education – tablets! This new tablet aims to help children learn information and skills that will help them reach their aspirators and dreams. In addition to being able to find these tablets in pilot programs such as in Uruguay and Cambodia, you can find them at your local Target, Walmart, and online at Amazon for $150! My first concern with these tablets is why are they being sold at places in the US? I originally thought that it was similar to the give a tablet get a tablet idea (or in this case buy a tablet give a tablet), but this isn’t the case. As OLPC says on their FAQ page, “Proceeds from the XO Tablet purchases will be used to further develop the XO learning software and enhance it to address the needs of a larger population of children.” This shows it is definitely not directly impacting children in the developing world. Also, Walmart and Target must be making some sort of profit off of selling these tablets in their stores, which makes me wonder how much of this money is actually being used to work towards OLPC’s goal. Another concern that I have is the “dreams and aspirations” component. While in the United States (where this concept started) it may be easy to come up with universal dreams and aspirations, I can’t imagine this being so easy for other countries. The tablet opens up with “I want to be…” and examples such as astronaut, musician, artist, and mathematician. These just aren’t the same dreams that children in the developing world have. For example, in an article about children in Ethiopia getting tablets, a girl says that when she grows up she wants to be a truck driver. While OLPC says they are going to change the goals and aspirations based on country, I wonder how they are going to incorporate a dream like truck driver into their platform.


Social Media Gone Wrong

Social media has become the new “it” thing for our generation. While it was created to allow the public to voice their opinions, it has be said that social media is being taken too far. This influx of social media as part of our daily lives has created problems, especially in disaster situations.

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A recent major problem associated with this was the Boston Marathon bombings. Twitter and Facebook allowed everyone to get involved quickly. From the second the bombs went off, the American public was quick to post what they thought had happened. However, a number of problems arose from this. Without information, people posted that there were four bombs instead of two, that the death count was much higher, and that a library had been targeted. There were also posts that started naming people as potential bombers based on little or no evidence. This led to the New York Post posting a cover shot of 2 men who were the “prime suspects” when really, neither men were suspects.

The Boston Marathon Bombings allowed social media to be so problematic because there were thousands of people at the marathon, most of whom had smart phones. That meant that the amount of data available to the public was too much to ignore. Once information got to the Internet, everyone wanted a chance to play the game of “who is the Boston Marathon Bomber?”

The false information and tips released on the Internet created widespread panic. However, others argue that the access to social media allowed the public to stay informed faster than they would have through cable TV alone. For example, when the Boston Police Department engaged in a gunfight with the two brothers in Massachusetts, people were able to watch live streams of police scanners and read others’ ideas from Reddit and Twitter.

While the availability of social media may be good at keeping the public informed during disaster situations, there needs to be a closer watch on what information is released during disasters. Although it is difficult to monitor social media sites, there should be someone (or a group of people) hired to make sure that the information released is correct. While we were lucky that the false information on social media during the Boston Marathon Bombing did not have long-term negative effects, this may not be the case in the future. It is important to have tabs kept on social media so that the next disaster is not even more problematic.

Read more about The Boston Marathon’s social media response here.


Philippines ICT Resources

It was relatively easy to find the Philippines’ National ICT policy but additional resources were not as easy to find. It didn’t seem like there were too many other resources available related to ICT in the Philippines.

National ICT Policy:

The Philippine Digital Strategy

  • Written by the Commission of  Information and Communications Technology in collaboration with the government, the private sector and civil society stakeholders.
  • A roadmap for 2011-2016
  • Written in 2011 as an update to a previous ICT policy that was created by the National Information Technology Council in October 1997.
  • Language: English

Governmental Resources:

Information and Communications Technology Office

  • Provides information about all of the Philippines’ ICT projects/ information
  • Last updated 2012
  • Run by the Department of Science and Technology
  • Language: English

Non-Governmental Resources:

Freedom on the Net – Philippines

  • Updated in 2012
  • Part of Freedom House
  • Discusses obstacles to access, limits on content and violations of user rights
  • Language: English

ICT in Education

  • Created by UNESCO Bangkok
  • Updated in 2013
  •  Links to education and projects about ICTs and education in the Philippines
  • Language: English

Sometimes ICT Projects Fail

It is hard to admit when something doesn’t quite go as planned, especially when money and time are invested. ICT projects, for example, only succeed about 30 percent of the time. However, it is important to learn from mistakes and help the rest of the ICT4D community avoid the same errors. This is why it is important to say that you failed and discuss what went wrong. In December of 2012, Ben Taylor from Daraja gave a talk about lessons learned from an ICT project that had failed.

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In 2010, Ben and his colleagues set up a program in Tanzania that rallied citizens to put pressure on local authorities to fix broken water pumps by using mobile phones.  Local communities were asked to use SMS messages to report the state of the water supply to the authorities. They also informed local radio stations to observe any action that the water authorities were going to take in response to the text messages. This program received a lot of national attention before it was launched; however, after the launch only 53 text messages were received. This disappointed Ben and his colleagues, who were assuming that more than 3,000 text messages would be received.  When they looked into the reasons for the program’s failure they came up with 3 major problems. The first was for political reasons; since the relationship between the local communities and authorities was sensitive, the citizens did not feel comfortable reporting on their government. The second reason was gender-specific, as women and children were often the ones who were collecting the water and they did not have access to mobile phones. The third reason was that there was limited mobile network coverage and electricity in the villages. Ben and his colleagues shared the reasons for failure on the web and in leaflets in order to prevent others from making the same mistakes.

The reasons for failure in Ben’s project correlated well with the documentary that we watched in class.  For example, I do not think that sufficient research was done on the area where the project was going to be launched. The reasons for failure -politics, gender, and access- would have been noticed if time was spent researching the area. In development projects, it is common for people from the developed world to go into a country and decide what the country needs and how to do it without consulting anyone from the area. This is why many development projects fail. Without truly understanding a community, it is impossible to know what is best for them. I believe that the only way to implement a sustainable development project is to live on the ground and make yourself a part of the community. That way, you will be able to see and hear what would actually make a difference in their lives.


Empowering Women Through ICTs

Millennium Development Goal 3 is to promote gender equality and empower women. This is very important because 50% of the world is women and they deserve to have the same power and opportunities as the men of the world. Empowering Women through ICT, a paper written by Stockholm University, discusses some ICT projects done in various countries throughout the world with the goal of empowering women. One project that I found particularly interesting was Casa de la Mujer. Casa de la Mujer is a consulting service for battered women in Bolivia. Because many women were too self-conscious to discuss their situations in person, Casa de la Mujer created an online component. This allowed women to anonymously share their stories without having to share them publicly or talk to authorities.

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Casa de la Mujer created 6 telecenters in the Santa Cruz region. 100 women were trained in legal issues related to domestic violence in order to help with the site. This project allowed women to feel secure sharing their experiences. One woman even said “I have more knowledge on how to defend myself and to assert my rights as a person”.

Casa de la Mujer had some positives and negatives. First of all, the Internet can be beneficial and allow women to feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics but it can also lead to cyber bullying and cyber stalking. In addition they realized that people who cannot read and write would have difficulty accessing the information. For this reason, they created audiovisual materials to integrate everyone.

I think this project was well thought out and an amazing idea. It is difficult for women in many countries to feel comfortable discussing sensitive topics, especially when they are worried about being judged or ostracized in their community. In addition, even if women didn’t want to share their personal stories, they would have been able to read what other women were saying and know that they weren’t alone. However, while this project was using the Internet to provide help to a lot of women in an anonymous way, it was not allowing more women to access the Internet. Therefore, many women in Bolivia who may have needed the help the most may not have even seen this site at all. Since the site was such a success and funding was extended in Bolivia, I believe that other countries should start using a similar program to empower women in their communities as well.


Connect 2 Compete

The Digital Divide is a in the developed world as well as the developing world. Within the US there are still millions of people who do not yet have access to the Internet. Connect 2 Compete is a non-profit organization that is working to close the Digital Divide in the US. The mission of this organization is to connect every American to the Internet. Instead of giving everyone Internet for free, which would be unrealistic, Connect 2 Compete makes low-cost options available. It simply asks you to enter your zip code and answer a few other questions to see if you are eligible for these options. The internet companies that give low cost options through Connect 2 Compete are FreedomPop, Comcast, Cox, Wilco, Bright House, and Mediacom. All of these companies require you to live in one of the 14,000 zip codes in which they work to be eligible for low-cost Internet. In addition to the zip code, all of the organizations with the exception of FreedomPop and Wilco require a child in the household to be eligible to receive free school lunch through the National School Lunch Program.

In addition to low-cost Internet options, Connect 2 Compete sells refurbished computers to qualifying users for $150 and allows everyone to find free Internet and computer training classes in their area. This helps people overcome barriers to not using the Internet, such as not having the money or not understanding how to use a computer or the Internet. I like that Connect 2 Compete is helping people within the United States get access to the Internet and computers. Although the Digital Divide is a problem internationally, there has also been a Digital Divide within the United States as well. Allowing everyone in the US to have access to the Internet may be able to increase the online market, increase work that small businesses can do, as well as make it easier for recent graduates or the unemployed to find jobs.

As Connect 2 Compete started nationwide in the Fall of 2012, evaluations about whether or not the program has been effective are not yet available. Time will tell if they have been able to make progress towards the goal of Internet access for all Americans. As of now, the only criticism that I have is that until I read about the organization in an article, I had never heard of it. Although there is supposedly a campaign to get the word out, I do not believe that the scope of the campaign has been big enough. Connect 2 Compete has a great mission and it is important for everyone to have the opportunity to become a part of it.

 

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