Now, in reflecting on this entire course I see that most of the same principles that apply to the development projects we know and love also apply to information and communication specific development projects. In one of our last Info Tech classes as I sat and listened to everyone’s opinion on what works and what doesn’t within ICT4D, I noted that a large majority of each list would apply to any development project. There were only a few that would only apply to something related to technology. For example, the weakness of not taking the problem of charging into account. So, even though this lesson could apply for many types of development projects, the most useful concept I will take away for implementation of ICT4D is working with the existing strengths of the country. The way this is most specifically important for ICT4D, opposed to just a good lesson overall, is that one of the biggest issues with technology is that it is so new (and not necessarily a necessity, like say, water) that the implementation of it requires trust. Working within the resources of the country helps to reduce that lack of trust.
The leading lessons to be learned in ICT4D are involving girls, focusing on the development goal first and then the technology tool, and educating the population on how to use the tool along with repair. The first point “involving girls” was made clear to me when we heard from a woman actually in the field, Keshet Bachan. She connected what I already knew about the power of girls in education with the efficacy of inserting technology into that equation. Focusing on the goal before the tool has a lot to do with what I find most useful from this course. Many case studies showed that it is irrelevant to implement a technology tool if there is no clear reason for which it is going to help. Finally, education the population is important in all things, but especially the repair aspect for technology because there are such specific instructions. Aside from all of this, one of the most interesting things I have learned personally is the importance of developing tools in the language where you desire to implement them. This seems like an obvious thing but after learning about several projects I saw that it is often disregarded. Not only is it disrespectful to the culture but also clearly it renders the project ineffective in many ways. Overall there are many aspects to consider for an ICT4D project but they are not too far off from the considerations for all development projects.
1. The National ICT Strategy in Peru is called Perú: Plan Nacional Estratégico de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación para la Competitividad y el Desarrollo Humano 2006-2021
Created by Jesús Hurtado Zamudio and last updated on July 5, 2012 (Language: Spanish)
Report from the President, Dr. Benjamín Marticorena, of CONCYTEC (Language: Spanish)
2. Administration by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia, Tecnología e Innovación Tecnológica (Language: Spanish)
3. Tortas Perú is an ongoing project, a website and network run by Maria del Carmen Vucetich with participants of many Peruvian women.
As told by The Christian Monitor and The Information Technologies and International Development Journal
4. Other resources:
Journal of Technology Management and Innovation
Business Monitor International: Peru Information Technology Report
The Global Information Technology Report
5. Finding resources for Peru was not incredibly hard, as long as you are able to read Spanish. As the ICT field grows in Peru I expect they will have more resources with which to work. Especially updates on the plan that extends to 2021.
David Kulick, ICT and Innovation Program Officer with Johns Hopkins University Center for Communication Programs, addressed a problem integral to the analysis of many development projects. That problem is assuring that when tools or resources are delivered to communities, knowledge of use needs to be delivered as well.
This made me think about our discussions on One Laptop Per Child because this was a case in which large assumptions were made of the connection between a tool and results without anything in between. It may be true that a laptop can be a road towards improving education, but there has to be more to it than just delivery of the tool.
Kulick explained one assumption concerning people’s knowledge of malaria. He noted a project that delivered bed nets to keep out mosquitos, but questioned whether people got the connection between the bed nets and prevention of disease.
One program Kulick brought up as an example of closing these knowledge gaps is The ReMiND Project. Catholic Relief Services partnered with Dimagi, a technology innovator, to provide a service for new mothers to prevent newborn deaths and improve maternal health. The goals of The ReMiND Project are “Phone-based job aids for government community health workers and midwives; Real-time data tracking and SMS reminders to health workers to conduct home visits in the first 24 hours after birth with alerts to supervisors for missed visits; and Mobile phone birth announcements and health messages for fathers to generate demand for services and encourage healthy practices.” (source) This is an example of an eHealth practice to reduce newborn deaths.
The interesting contradiction is in the material I read about The ReMiND Project I didn’t once come across anyone addressing if the people had a way to receive SMS messages.
A perfect testament to the constant argument of the inappropriateness of Western cultures invading developing countries with their ideas of improvement was my reaction to the following statement by Mchombu in Unwin’s text, “All traditional forms of information and communication (music, dance, poetry, theatre, and indigenous knowledge) were condemned because they sustained cultural forms of social structure and authority.” Unwin goes on to describe an intellectual elitism that affects the type and form of the transfer of information. After reading that I was stunned at myself that I had never even bothered to think ‘what are the present methods of communicating information in these developing countries?’ If I wanted to defend myself I would say that, where I am situated, cell phones and computers etc., are the dominant methods for information and communication technology of which I am aware. But rather I am angry in recognizing that my mindset is the exact top-down attitude of development that literature is scrutinizing.
Unwin describes how “supply-led rather than demand driven” initiatives focus too heavily on the actual technology instead of its space as a communication tool in a poor community. What development professionals are trying to move away from is not ignoring the traditional knowledge systems of indigenous people. Communication is an incredibly natural human thing and the technology we interact with often depersonalizes the connection. Methods of communication in some developing communities are rich with tradition from the history of the culture.
After reading the “10 things to know about how microfinancing is using tech to empower global entrepreneurs,” I have come to a comfortable place in my conscience that it is possible to appreciate local knowledge and utilize information technologies. The use of microfinance puts the enterprise and trust in the hands of the poor. These are the people who know their land and should be trusted to improve it with their own local knowledge. Thankfully, technologies introduced into the world of microfinance have had a positive effect. The article discusses that, “Mobile technology and wireless internet make all the difference when it comes to microfinancing by using devices as banking channels and payment systems.” As well, using the web instead of intermediaries can lower interest rates. Empowering the local people is the best way to sustain and honor traditional knowledge (and communication) systems.
The digital divide recognizes that wealthier nations have information and communication technologies as an intimate part of their day. Most conversations on the digital divide probably have to do with how we can close it in order to increase technology use where it isn’t as widespread, then to promote development. But I want to argue that we still keep it a bit wide… for the sake of culture. Recognizing and appreciating culture as part of a development project is key, but often brushed over. Sometimes with grand intentions, wealthier people and nations alike march on with blinders to what the people in need desire and they implement what has made their own lives more successful. I am confident that there are ways to create access to technologies along the lines of existing culture. But the digital divide serves as a nice reminder of the vast differences in culture that stem from the economic level of a country.
Tim Unwin, author of Information and Communication Technology for Development, notes that information technologies promote competition. In turn, competition promotes the digital divide. Projects to incorporate new technologies into developing countries create a weird circle of advancing the digital divide, although the intention was to reduce it. Yes, it is noted that these technologies contribute to economic growth… but one of the main things we learned in the introduction class to international development was that economic development is necessary but not sufficient for poverty reduction. As well, Unwin points out “many well intention projects have failed.”
The digital divide is an unintentional way to not allow our ideas of the goodness of technology to impede on a culture in which the same technologies could be counterintuitive to their way of life. I am seeing the digital divide as a convenient halting point for ICT4D professionals to remember culture, but I still wonder… is it even possible to implement certain technologies into developing countries without impeding too heavily on their cultural customs?