Author Archives: jturman

ICT4D Professional: Steve Song

Steve Song is an international development professional residing in Cape Town, South Africa and specializing in communication infrastructure in Africa. He is the founder of Village Telco, “a social enterprise that builds low-cost WiFi mesh VoIP technologies to deliver affordable voice and Internet in underserviced areas” (Many Possibilities). His previous work includes a fellowship with the Shuttleworth Foundation to work on telecommunications access in South Africa. The Shuttleworth Foundation provides funding for those it deems as on the forefront of social change. Additionally, Song spent 10 years at the International Development Research Centre in Ottawa. The center “supports research in developing countries to promote growth and development” (IDRC). Song’s research there dealt primarily with ICT4D in Africa.

One of Song’s main achievements is the creation of the Mesh Potato through Village Telco. The Mesh Potato (pictured below) combines voice and internet services in a low-cost, open software and hardware device.

Openness is a common theme in Song’s work. He believes that open hardware and software are crucial to successful ICT4D. By designing hardware that is easily discernable more power is put into the hands of the user. Communication technologies are no longer a foreign product, but rather they are something that can be tinkered with and improved upon by the consumer. In a blog post titled “In Praise of Taking Things Apart” Song argues that the ability to create is ultimately what creates wealth, and thus development. A device like the Mesh Potato, which can be taken apart and analyzed, presents and opportunity for innovation where previously there were only indiscernible products. In the long run, this functions to open up the telecom industry to entrepreneurship, increasing competition, and bringing down prices for all.

Steve Song’s Twitter


A different type of crowdsourcing

In my research of Steve Song for the short paper, I was introduced to the idea of open source hardware. Many of us are familiar with open source software, which puts code into the hands of the public to play around with, make alterations, and possibly improve upon. Turns out the same concept can be applied to hardware, and can have a significant impact on development. By making hardware that can be taken apart and tinkered with, one can educate a population on how a technology works and allow for innovation and change to emerge. Consider an old PC vs. an iPhone. When we were young, some of the more curious and eager kids began taking apart the PC’s their family (hopefully) was not using anymore. They found out what was inside, learned what different parts did, and tried to put it back together. 5-10 years later, these kids are building their own computers from raw components and studying computer engineering. Now we look at the iPhone or a Macbook, a kid today could not open up these devices and decipher much if anything. They are sleek and efficient, but they offer no opportunity for innovation and learning.

Now we apply this idea to development. Put simple, understandable technologies into the hands of the public, and watch as the next generation yields tech innovators and entrepreneurs. Economic growth is derived from people’s ability to make things, and open source hardware enables this. I connect this concept to crowdsourcing because it distributes the task of innovation to the masses rather than a few telecom giants. In the long run, this type of crowdsourcing increases competition in the telecom industry and brings prices down to levels affordable to more people.

The Revolution Will be Micro-blogged

I joined twitter in the summer of 2009 for one reason: the protests in Iran. Go ahead, check my profile @JoelTurman. My profile picture still has the green shading I gave it as a show of solidarity with the Iranian people. Since then I’ve tweeted a few things a followed some funny and interesting people, but the social media platform was never as fascinating as when it documented a national movement in real time.

If you do not recall Iran in 2009, Ahmadinejad had just “won” reelection and many, especially the younger generation, accused the regime of corruption and election rigging. Crowds took to the streets in droves well into late summer, and unrest continues to linger today. What became so enthralling about the protests besides the bravery and dedication of the people in standing up to their government was that they were documented in real-time by young students throughout Tehran who posted to Twitter. Some of the more prolific bloggers include @oxfordgirl and @persiankiwi.

As I mowed lawns that summer, I recall checking my phone often to see what was happening on the other side of the world. I could be on the front lines of the movement, witnessing the struggle and perseverance of a people without relying on the television to tell me how to feel about it. Twitter has a lot of potential to be a microphone for narcissists, but it aslo can be a platform for those outside of the state and the media to make their struggle known.

Senegal ICT Report – Plan International

For this post I will be outlining and highlighting the main points of Plan International’s ICT report on Senegal. I will be going to Senegal in the fall, so I thought it would be apt. The report can be found on pages 63-65 of the Plan article read for class.

ICT penetration is Senegal is above average for the region across the board. The rate of telephone connections and mobile phone users is about twice as high as the regional average. A similar trend holds for internet usage. Telephone and Internet providers exist within the ICT4$ realm in Senegal, with 3 main telephone companies and 6 primary ISPs. The government is making efforts to increase ICT access in rural areas by establishing community multimedia centers with help from UNESCO. National ICT policy in Senegal is a rough balance between several stakeholders, but the objectives include “harnessing ICTs to reduce unemployment and poverty, increase literacy and access to the healthcare, improve competitiveness and efficiency in government and private sector institutions” (PLAN 64).

There is a specific focus on ICTs in education, mostly spearheaded by NGO’s. The projects outlined in the report focus on computer and internet training in schools or after-school programs as well as programs targeted at women.

In our e-governance presentation on Wednesday I briefly mentioned how the internet could be used to bypass interactions that would often result in a bribe being paid. Now, the internet is saving the day again! A website called allows users to anonymously post about having to pay a bribe, exposing corruption from government officials. The site is based in India, but others like it have popped up in other regions.

The site:

Article: Web Sites Shine Light on Petty Bribery

Case Study: ICT Use After Indian Earthquake

In 2001, an earthquake struck the state of Gujarat, India. A case study by SEWA, the Self Employed Women’s Association, describes how ICT’s were used following the disaster, and what could have been done differently.

Communication is imperative after a disaster in order to coordinate the relief effort effectively. At this time, mobile phones were uncommon in Indian villages and mobile service did not return until 5 days after the earthquake. In response, the Disaster Mitigation Institute disseminated satellite phones and mobile phones to affected villages and established constant communication with areas in need of relief. The report asserts that “timely access to and proper use of Information Technology, enabled SEWA to mobilise the needed relief material and make relief effective.”

During the rehabilitation stage, the communication afforded by the ICTs allowed the affected communities to be involved in every step of their recovery and the process of rebuilding. The report states, “Twice a week, talk-back sessions of Satcom are held, where the villagers from the affected blocks participated at the village and block level in interactive dialogue with Panel of Engineers, Planners, Architects and Government officials based at Ahmedabad.” SEWA was able to collaborate and accept feedback from villages without sacrificing the speed and efficiency of recovery. 

The report ends by acknowledging that access to communication technologies at the local level is vital to successful disaster recovery.

Mobile Banking in Rural Zimbabwe

As we have learned in class, technology is often used by those in developing areas in unexpected ways. An article in the Inter Press Service tells the story of women in rural Zimbabwe using their mobile phones for financial transactions. Surely aid agencies did not predict this utilization of ICT by women in rural Africa seeing as it is hardly utilized in the most developed countries.

Here is how it works: people without bank accounts can register for mobile phone banking with their service provider and are given a mobile “e-wallet” that is linked to their phone number. The women in the article are now using this service to pay dues for their co-op, which provides a social safety net in times of disaster, economic crisis, or drought.

The benefit of this service to human development is twofold. One, it gives these women some financial independence, allowing them to make transactions without relying on a husbands bank account or long journeys. Two, it allows separated families to more easily transfer small sums of money to members in need.

Indian Government on Social Media

The past few years have been a testament to the power of social media in political development. Ubiquitous sites like Facebook and Twitter have become the 21st Century pulpit for young dissidents in oppressive countries. These countries have unanimously responded with some attempt at blocking this free speech, but the capacity of young people to utilize social media and like technologies proved to outpace the outdated regimes.

So now it would seem that a government’s stance on social media is a sort of litmus test for its support from the younger generation. If this is true, then the Indian government is testing neutral. Their minister of Information Technology, Kapil Sibal, has recently asserted that no government of India will ever censor social media. This claim, however, comes as a response to controversy stemming from a law passed last year that makes companies responsible for objectionable user content if it is not removed within 36 hours of a complaint. This bears some resemblance to recent legislative attempts in the US congress, though the restrictions on companies and users are significantly less.

Overall, social media and the internet as a whole remains uncensored in India. Chalk another one up for democracy.


Meaningful Education Through Internet Resources

There has been a significant effort to put modern technology in the hands of students in the developing effort. Projects such as One Laptop Per Child aim to catalyze the learning process with internet capable laptops. However, there has been trouble in using the internet as a substantive learning tool and not just for information gathering. A school in California believes it is making the transition. Using resources such as KhanAcademy, an online collection of video lectures and learning tools, the school is seeing marked improvement in students learning and comprehension. The online lectures allow students to learn at their own pace while the classroom teacher is able to devote more time to helping students one on one.

The system of using online lectures and tools in the classroom is still in experimental stages, and has its detractors. Even so, the potential for its application in development is exciting. For the teachers with overcrowded classrooms, video lectures provide an opportunity to reach every student at their own level while freeing up time to aid struggling students. For students with irregular schedules or obligations to family that impede regular attendance, the lectures and tools provide a means to keep up with the class.

There is, of course, the limiting factor of access. The One Lap Top Per Child project has made headway, but this resource is far from ubiquitous. Other considerations include those in ssimon1’s post, such as the lack of content in some languages and the need for quality teachers regardless of technology. All in all, if this resource is applied meaningfully it could potentially decrease the educational gap between students around the world.