Author Archives: jessalynkunz

ICT4D Professional Profile: Linda Raftree


In a previous class period, we all broke down a blog posted by Linda Raftree on her blog “Wait…What?” Exploring her website sparked my interest and I came to find many interesting things about Linda Raftree. First of all the logistics; Linda has experience in a wide array of sectors from disaster response, youth engagement, translation, grant writing, development education and much much more. This life full of international development however, did not begin with a sure fire passion for the field. Linda received her degree from USC for anthropology. It was not until she moved to El Salvador with her husband that she by chance received her first job as a translator at a local NGO.  After this she began moving up in the IDEV world, something she contributes to her listening and writing abilities along with her organization and efficiency in completing tasks. Since her initial job, she has had positions with UNICEF, Oxfam, Lutheran World Federation and Department, and currently Plan International. At Plan, her main focus is on youth, especially girls and ICT. Linda wants to help youth be at the “forefront of their own processes rather than have outsiders dictating what they are doing with their lives.”

Some of the best information I received from Linda over our email interview was her advice for aspiring IDEV professionals. Linda personally looks for individuals with good writing and interpersonal skills who also show a sense of respect, humility, humor, and a willingness to jump into things. One of her biggest pieces of advice is that we must allow ourselves to become invisible and be willing to lead from behind. Sometimes our best role is in being facilitator and not the owner of a development project.  For ICT4D professionals specifically, her greatest piece of advice is that ICT is not always the best answer and should never be forced into a project.

Linda can be found all across the internet. Primarily this is through her personal blog “Wait…What?” which provides her take on all things Development and ICT happening in today’s world. She also has a prominent Twitter page that is worth checking out. Both of these resources give you a better glance into Linda Raftree’s personality but also has a wide variety of information about all thing ICT4D.

China’s Internet of Things

The idea of an “Internet of Things” is all about having virtual representation of actual physical things. There is big work happening around the world to have trackers on everything from books, oil rigs, to people themselves. Here comes the age where technology literally could become a part of us. Radio frequency identifications, barcodes, Bluetooth or GPS are the primary means that objects will be tracked. For an everyday individual, one argument for this technology is having a new ability to easily track lost or stolen items, or even people themselves.

For governments, the growth of this industry equals huge economic benefits. The “Internet of Things” helps companies become more efficient and has the capability to generate billions of dollars. The race to develop the “Internet of Things” is being compared to the space race, with the EU, US and China fighting to develop the industry. According to an article on Inventor Spot there is speculation that China is going to become the semantic web superpower as a result of their growing “Internet of Things.”

China is placing a priority on the development of a national “Internet of Things” plan. In 2009, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao presented this equation: Internet + Internet of Things = Wisdom of the Earth. Although the Internet is included in its success, the Internet of Things itself is expected to surpass the Internet market by over 30 times. With this prospect, all the world’s superpowers want a piece of the success. China however has some of the greatest potentials. Bureaucratic hurdles hinder democratic governments like the EU and the United States. The implementation of sensory technology poses a lot of privacy and ethical threats to individuals. People’s freedom of speech also hinders the EU and US, since citizen are allowed to openly voice their opposition to the implementation of this technology. China on the other hand will not face much opposition. With a one party system and a tendency to suppress freedom of speech of citizens, China eliminates the greatest barriers that the EU and US face. China may have the upper hand because of its lack of barriers nevertheless our regulations are there for a reason I readily welcome.  The “Internet of Things” has the capability to bring the idea of Big Brother to a level only imagined in books and movies. Thus, even though the technology can benefit agricultural, logistical, transportation, power and environmental sectors, privacy rights come first. If that means China takes a lead in the industry, so be it.

From Genghis Khan to Earthquakes

Tomnod is an innovative crowdsourcing group based in San Diego that was created in 2010 by Albert Yu-Min Lin and Luke Barrington. It is not linked with a university of larger agency however it does partner with other organizations frequently. Some of these include Amnesty International, Ushahidi, Digitial Globe, and SBTF.

Tomnod has six core staff members. All have PhDs in engineering and interestingly all express interest in the outdoors and adventure activities. The staff members are Shay Har-Now, Luke Barrington, Nate Ricklin, Albert Yu-Min Lin, Daniel Barrington, and Allison Shefcyk. The Tomnod website presents each one’s profile in a very informal manner, giving each one a nickname like “The Brains” or “The Boss. “ I get the impression this is a very close nit and relaxed, yet extremely intelligent and hard-working group. Nothing the group does however is possible without the help of 100s of volunteers. It is through the work of volunteers that data and information is gathered in the field.

Overall, Tomnod is all about crowdsourcing and engaging the participation of thousands of people online to achieve a specific goal. The main mission of the group is to make sense of large amounts of data and making it easily understandable and accessible to the public. One way they keep the public up to date about their current projects is through their online blogs. Essentially, they specialize in data improvement, machine learning/ automated computation, and human generated analysis. Their skills have been utilized in many different areas from political elections to disaster responses.

Tomnod’s recent and current projects span a wide variety of unique issues. One of their initial projects partnered with National Geographic to use remote sensing and over 10,000 imagery contributions from the general public to find the tomb of Genghis Khan. Tomnod promotes the idea that anyone can help make this monumental discovery by joining the crowd. Tomnod has also had a significant presence in New Zealand after the Christchurch earthquake in February 2011. It created a disaster mapper that has provided satellite imagery to compare images from before and after the earthquake. This has been helpful in determining exactly where damage exists and what buildings and infrastructure needs repair. Tomnod has even been using its crowdsourcing abilities to monitor human rights violations in Somalia and Syria. These were pilot projects created in partnership with Amnesty International in order to determine the power of social computation in fighting for human rights.

I really love the work that Tomnod is doing, primarily because of the unique way it is using its resources and skills. It’s great to see that they are utilizing it for development and disaster related purposes but also using their skills to track the Republican election primaries or searching for a lost tomb. Everything they create is also extremely easy to understand. I tried their disaster mapper myself and was easily able to see the damage that still exists in New Zealand. This ability makes me feel all the more connected to a place on the other side of the world, a direct representation of the part Tomnod’s work is playing into globalization. Although globalization can be characterized as a negative, Tomnod’s work is undeniably brining a positive light to the term.

Here, here, and here are some additional resources on Tomnod.

Zapatista Movement

The Zapatista Movement is seen by many as the beginning of social media activism. It began in 1994 in Chiapas, one of the poorest countries in Mexico. Unlike our most recent example of social activism in KONY 2012, a local group, the Zapatista Army of National Liberation lead the movement.

The state of Chiapas is extremely rich in natural resources, especially coffee and petrochemicals. These resources were being extracted at huge levels from land belonging to the community’s indigenous people. The natives however did not receive the benefits of the resource wealth and were in realisty some of the poorest people within Mexico. The Zapatistas became frustrated with this marginalization and created a huge social movement that has gone on to inspire social media activism. The rebellion began with a physical invasion of government spaces within Chiapas however the group quickly turned to non violent activism through internet resources.

In 1994, internet technology was still young, nevertheless the Zapatistas successfully utilized and bypassed suppression from national media outlets. Strong visual iconographics were released across the web to create a global recognition of the movement happening in Mexico. Email lists, Usenet groups, listservs, and websites were all used by the Zapatistas to gain support for their movement and fund-raise. Many online activists were silenced throughout this process, nevertheless there were always more to take their place and keep the movement vocal. The group even took language barriers into account and utilized the English language in most of their campaigns to expand their global audience.   One of the coolest things the Zapatistas utilized was the art of “hacktivism.” By clogging web servers and websites, the movement was able to get its voice heard on opposition media sources. These activities were a huge success, proving for the first time just how influential social media could be to globalize an issue.

The Zapatistas did run into a few setbacks along the way. The digital divide became problematic due to the early age of internet usage. Many members, and potential members, of the activism movement did not have access to the technology to join the online community that the Zapatistas were creating. In order to quell this marginalization of supporters they created offline activism events.

This campaign made huge strides in reaching their goals. The then president Ernesto Zedillo agreed to negotiate with the Zapatista group, however their greatest goal of changing the constitution has still not occurred. New health clinics, schools, and other anti-poverty programs have resulted from the Zapatista social movement. This is a huge indicator of even the early power of social media in globalizing an issue and bringing social change.

One thing that must be noted by current social media activist however is the detail that the people of Chiapas still face very poor economic conditions 15 years into the struggle. Thus, even if social media can raise voices and generate support, this is not always enough to reach your end goal. Sometimes even a global spotlight cannot overcome all government corruption like we see with the situation in Mexico.

Here and here is some more information on The Zapatista Effect.


Plan Letting Kids Take the Lead on Radio Broadcasting

Plan International is an organization that works in 50 countries around the world. Its main objective is the promotion of child rights and works to lift children out of poverty. In their work, ICT is increasingly being used in order to collect and store their data, access information and communicate. In order to get an example of the type of work Plan is doing related to ICT I looked into its work in Ghana. It is surprising to see how extensive the organizations reach is within such a small nation. Plan Programme offices are located in six cities within this small nation and according to the website, a total of 300 Ghanaian communities benefit from their work. Overall in Ghana, Plan wants to provide education and teacher training, improve awareness of child rights, and ensure children’s food security. In Plan’s most recent work for child rights, ICT has been integral in achieving these goals.

Something that Ghana admits to is having a gender divide within the ICT spectrum. Plan’s media clubs however, have been working hard to change this and have recently inspired a Ghanaian radio station to air a child rights show during its broadcasts. It is through the use of these types of media and communication technologies that Plan can better reach a wide audience, especially those located in hard to reach places. The impact of the radio programming is already showing positive results. Girls are showing greater self-confidence, status, leadership capabilities and are instilled with new goals and expectations.  Although the radio show is geared towards all children in general, this is having the greatest impact on female listeners. In order to successfully close the gender gap, it is critical that disparities are lessened at the earliest stage possible. Thus, Plan’s work with children and their focus on female rights has the capability to make huge strides for future equality.

Although Plan International’s main page about the success of this radio show does not specify the name of these broadcasts, I was able to find another webpage on Plan’s site discussing a radio program called “Kids Wave.” Ghana, along with 7 other West African countries participate in these broadcasts which air once a week for 30 minutes.  The programmes are geared towards helping children speak up and speak out about their rights. Plan helps children create their own radio broadcasts, music and videos. Children from a variety of communities are trained about their rights and are given information about radio production and hosting techniques. The kids are fully involved in all aspects of producing these shows, which have reached millions of listeners.

Here is a link to a short clip about the radio shows in West Africa.  The second half of it talks about another project but still talks about some interesting things happening with ICT!




Samasource is one of the four organizations that have been essential to the Mission 4636 project in Haiti. In a recent interview by The Trailblazers for Good Q&A Series, Samasource founder Leila Janah expresses her objectives and successes with the program.

She initially started the project in 2008 with the hope of helping women and youth living in poverty by providing them with sustainable work. This work entails “small, web-based tasks like enhancing or verifying data, images and text.”  The project then works with clients to move the data to an online distribution system, the SamaHub, which can then be accessed worldwide by other Samasource staff. Today, there are 16 work centers around the world and over one million US dollars have been distributed to the poor through wages. Before starting the project, Janah determined that what small companies in poor regions struggled with most was finding enough contracts for employment. If she could find them work, they would do it, they simply lacked the access to global markets.

From what I gathered from her interview, Janah did not create this project geared toward disaster relief, nevertheless it is showing to be a huge asset to the 4636 project. When asked to name a success of the Samasource platform, she pinpointed the work in Haiti. What I did not realize before was that Samasource was already working in Haiti prior to the earthquake. The program was delivering low cost netbooks and satellite connectivity to Haitians. In the aftermath of the earthquake, Samasource then became essential in maintaining Internet connectivity. At the heart of their work however, has been the microwork employment opportunities that they have been providing to locals trying to regain their livelihoods. They have addressed one of the biggest factors in a projects success, local involvement and capacity building. By educating Haitians in the technology field, the presence of Samasource in Haiti becomes is becoming more sustainable. Not only this, the actual information that the workers are gathering and imputing into the Samahub is is extremely important in organizing and utilizing data for Mission 4636.

Overall, the Samasource is still small, employing only 2000 workers worldwide; nevertheless, the project is young and full of potential. Through this project, the poor are getting a new chance at building skills that will give them a competitive advantage in the ICT field. Even more important however, Samasource is giving poor women and youth, and now those affected by the disaster in Haiti, the chance to improve their livelihoods and overcome the struggles of poverty.

New Age of “Cyberellas”?

Cinderella, it’s a name synonymous with transformation. In Cinderella’s world however, magic is the key to her freedom. Empowerment from magic or a fairy godmother is a pristine idea, but unrealistic. Nonetheless, women’s empowerment is possible, and Nancy Hafkin and Sophia Huger argue that it is through ICTs that women can achieve equality and power. After researching about their book “Cinderella or Cyberella” I was introduced to the revolutionary idea of a cyberella.

                According to Hafkin and Huger, Cinderella is a woman at the bottom of the information and knowledge society, reaping little benefits from ICTs. A cyberella on the other hand is empowered; she is knowledgeable about different technologies and virtual resources while also capable of contributing to new ICT innovations. Also important to the cyberella is her ability to utilize ICTs to achieve greater equality, rights, opportunities, and social welfare. Cyberellas utilize ICTs such as the internet, radio, cell phones, and television to portray and communicate their needs to outsiders while collectivizing insiders. Through these social mobilizations through ICT outlets, gender equality can be fought for and hopefully achieved.

                The term cyberella brings new optimism and empowerment to women. It is now even being used to promote a new program called “Cyberellas are IT!”  This is a European Union initiative that takes hold of the ideas outlined within Hafkin’s and Huger’s book and campaigns for women’s abilities and rights in ICT fields. The program wants to ensure that the number of women in ICT careers continues to grow and gain more power in the global community. This specific program however is currently only focused on women in the European Union. What I want to see now is the EU expanding their influence into a global spectrum, especially for developing nations. I love this term, cyberella, but I don’t want it to just be for the developed world. I want to see cyberellas take hold of ICT power and better their livelihoods, from the rural villages of Kenya to the multi-billion dollar companies on Wall Street. Cyberellas are a whole new breed of empowered women and they have every ability to lead ICT revolutions.