Author Archives: Jillian Waller

Three Lessons Learned, One Shared Goal

In studying ICT4D this semester, three things really stuck with me throughout every reading and every class discussion. The first was to be unwavering or relentless in your efforts to affect change. The second thing I learned was to be humble and be hungry for knowledge, not to become complacent. Finally, I learned to plan with the future in mind.

Working in development and aid, it is very easy to become burnt out. We devote a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional, to causes we really care about and are often unsuccessful or unrecognized. Granted you can’t expect to be incredibly successful on your first attempt, and if you are, people may see it as a fluke. Don’t get discouraged. It’s important to work for causes that we’re really fervent about. As a class we developed an extensive list of best practices. It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing and or what to expect. But successful projects/programs come from experience, so don’t be any less enthusiastic about a project because it failed the first time. Keep revamping it and adapting it until you have the results you want.

That being said, once we have seen success in our efforts it’s important not to become complacent. After a ton of hard work and resulting success, pat yourself on the back but don’t be smug. I’m not saying we should be overly critical of ourselves, but keep in mind that complacency leads to stagnation. Constantly interact with other development professionals and hear what they have to say. For the most part, a lot of our projects involve people. So if we can’t hear each other out and take others’ opinions into consideration, our projects will never evolve and we’ll be remembered as “one hit wonders.”

Finally, plan for the future. Even if it’s only a pilot program have a vision for 5 years down the road, 10 years down, and so on. Think of the greater impact that your proposed changes will have on the society as a whole and not just your target population. With most grants only valid for a year or two, we often find fault with the way in which projects are funded. Instead of faulting the funders, though, we can adjust our own practices. Have some kind of grant proposal template that you’re constantly revising and editing. When you plan your project and you write proposals for your first grants, you should already have your next proposals planned out for when the first grants run out. Also plan for the future of your target population. Will your project be obsolete in 5 years? Or even less? Have a good idea of what your project will look like 5 years out before you even think about 1 year out.

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Rwanda ICT4D Resources

1.) National Information and Communications Infrastructure (NICI)

The national ICT policy in Rwanda was enacted by the Republic of Rwanda Ministry of Youth & ICT in an effort to become a knowledge-based society. The current phase of the plan, NICI III or NICI 2011-2015, was enacted in 2011 and has not been updated since. PDF files of NICI I-III are available at the link provided, all of which are published in English.

 

2.) Ministry of Youth & ICT

Rwanda combines Youth Development with ICTs under one governing Ministry. This is the ministry responsible for overseeing Rwanda’s national ICT policy. However the Ministry also indicates partnerships with the Rwanda Development Board and Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency.

 

3.) Non-Government Resources

The Rwanda ICT Chamber is a great resource because it is a member of the Private Sector Federation (PSF) that acts as an agent to support ICT sector development .

I also found IST-Africa to be very helpful, as they provide a lot of information and resources regarding African nations’ ICT policies, initiatives and research.

 

4.) Notes

Coming from a large, knowledge-based society it can be difficult to gather research from a very small, developing nation. You’re not going to find exact numbers and information will be ambiguous at times. Be patient. This may seem trivial, but make sure you use search engines like Google Rwanda rather than Google alone. This well help you sort through a lot of useless information and deliver you a few reliable .rw results rather than a ton of questionable .com results.


The New Airpower: More than Warfare

When thinking about disaster relief and humanitarian aid, we often see NGOs as the major players. In addition, we often see governments and militaries as the bad guys in the field of development work. It is important to keep in mind, though, that the military is no longer confined to linear warfare. In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, militaries dealt increasingly with natural disasters, humanitarian relief operations, resource conflicts, terrorism, small-scale conventional conflicts, and insurgencies. Some of the most prominent forces in disaster relief are militaries.

According to an article from the International Relations and Security Network in Zurich, the United States Air Force (USAF) recently modified its definition of airpower. In the past, airpower was limited to war-faring aircrafts and pioneering spacecraft. The definition of airpower now includes cyber power. It is important to note that USAF does not see cyber power as a channel for carrying out operations but rather an enabler that facilitates improved operations.

This new take on military operations just goes to show the increasing importance of ICTs. If the military is becoming increasingly involved in disaster relief and humanitarian aid, while it’s broadening its definition of airpower to include cyber technology, it sets the stage for utilizing ICTs in disasters. ICTs are not only useful in their own respects (early warning systems, government alerts on iPhones, locating missing persons, mapping, etc.), but they can be used to improve existing operations. ICTs could help the military, and NGOS as well, manage their soldiers/volunteers, track distribution of aid materials, improve efficiency of aid delivery, and the list goes on. If you needed a reason before to consider ICTs a crucial part of humanitarian work, take a look at the United States Air Force who is restructuring itself to include natural disasters as a part of its duties and ICTs a part of its anatomy.


The New Cold War: Cybersecurity

On Tuesday, our class had the pleasure of hearing a lecture on cybersecurity. We talked about what exactly cybersecurity is and what kinds of things threaten our cyber safety. It became immediately apparent that there is a “dark side” to the technology that we have come to thrive off of and depend on. We discussed the concept of hacking and the many different ways that our data can be compromised without our knowledge. One thing that really resonated with me was our discussion of APTs, or Advanced Persistent Threats.

An APT is a set of stealthy and continuous hacking processes orchestrated by a group of people targeting a specific entity. APTs usually target organizations and or nations for business or political motives. There are entire military units devoted to this kind of Internet-enabled espionage. For example, APT1 is a term commonly used to refer to Unit 61398 of the People’s Liberation Army of China. They exist solely for this purpose. One of the first things that comes to mind is, “What are the ramifications?”, especially for a nation like the U.S. that relies so heavily on its data. Is our data safe? Are our networks secure?

In a recent article by Matt Sheehan of the Huffington Post, we can see that this is a growing concern. China has been making massive investments in United States technology, and the investments are only growing. For many, it may seem as though China is a little too close for comfort. We know they have the kind of technology to invade our networks, just as we have the technology to invade theirs. Is this becoming a modern day Cold War? Cybersecurity concerns could easily turn into Cyber Warfare. Traditionally, the United States’ economy welcomes this kind of foreign investment, but in the near future it will become increasingly important to exercise discretion, and to understand the potential consequences of giving our competitors a hand in our technological developments.


Online Search Party: the Novice Hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight MH370

On Thursday, our class had the distinct pleasure of hearing a guest lecture from Robert Banick, a GIS coordinator at the American Red Cross, by way of Skype. According to Robert’s twitter , his work entails “Making maps with stuff, responding to disasters and everything in between.” Needless to say, his perspective was rather interesting and presented us with a good idea of just how important Geographic Information Systems are, even though they are often overlooked.

While demand for mappers like Robert is often contingent on natural disasters, similar disciplines are being employed at this very moment in the hunt for Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. For those of you who don’t know much about the current situation, last Friday, a flight from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to Beijing, China vanished from radar communication somewhere over either the Indian or Pacific Oceans. It is unclear where/when/why the plane went down. However, experts are now saying that the flight most likely veered West from its usual flight-path and put the plane down in the Indian Ocean. Without the recovery of the plane’s transponder, they can’t narrow the search area by very much. Therefore, there is a lot of ocean to cover in the search and that is very time- and energy-consuming.

However, experts are encouraging civilians, with no prior experience necessary, to join in the search. This crowdsourcing approach makes use of the website Tomnod.com. Tomnod is a software run by commercial satellite company DigitalGlobe, which repositioned two of its satellites over the area when this issue came about. Tomnod users are provided with a randomly chosen map from the search area and are told to drop a pin if they see signs of wreckage, life rafts, oil slicks or anything else that looks “suspicious.” An algorithm then finds where there is overlap in tags from people who tagged the same location, and the most notable areas are shared with authorities. Many people are calling this program a sort of “online search party.” While the results are so far inconclusive, that is no reason to be discouraged, as authorities are doing no better in solving the mystery. Like Robert Banick, Tomnod played an important role in the efforts around Typhoon Haiyan as well.

According to a Tomnod spokesperson, as of Thursday, every pixel had been looked at by human eyes at least 30 times. Although nothing significant has turned up yet, this is incredible progress in the search and saves authorities from a lot of redundancy. In short, this is a very current and real-life example of just how valuable GIS is in these situations. Without satellite imagery and a collective, off-site effort, it would take search and rescue teams weeks or months to cover the area that is covered by the online community in just a few days.


Preventing ICT Project Failure: Australia to Ghana

A recent topic of discussion amongst my classmates has been the failure of ICT4D projects and some of the reasons they typically fail. This video, from the ICT4D Poverty Reduction Summit in Winneba, Ghana, attributes failure to 7 major reasons.

It’s nearly impossible to disagree with the insight provided by these ICT professionals. However, a trend I’ve noticed is that many of the reasons we come up with are directed at the receiving end. For instance, we can attribute a project’s failure in Ghana to the lack of appropriate infrastructure in Ghana or the extensive costs of maintaining technology in Ghana. We don’t often analyze the failures on the giving end and, when we do, we’re mostly talking about flaws in perception or understanding. What if part of the problem is administration? What if there are technical issues on the giving end as well?

In a recent article from the IT section of one of Australia’s leading publications, Trevor Clarke discusses IT project failures and a new government standard for them. Clarke points out that over the years, IT market observers have been disappointed by the number of IT projects that have either failed completely or exceeded their budgets and/or deadlines. The new government standard is an attempt to increase efficiency and prevent failure on these projects. Of course, this refers only to domestically developed and implicated projects within Australia, but it just goes to show that when it comes to IT or ICT projects, failure does not discriminate. If ICT projects within a well-developed, first-world country often fail, we mustn’t be discouraged when the same happens in the third world.

However, that’s not to say there is no hope. With new initiatives like Australia’s new ICT governance standard, we can imitate their processes and procedures when we’re working in the developing world. Perhaps ICT4D professionals should attempt to develop a similar standard for their projects in places like Sub Saharan Africa or Latin America. Now, “if it worked there, it will work here” is not necessarily the type of philosophy development professionals should follow, but having some guidelines and sound advice won’t hurt. I think Australia’s ICT failures and imminent successes could help ICT4D professionals to learn from example.


Innovation Initiative: Digital Jobs Africa

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the United States job market existed in just two sectors, agriculture and industry. Much like other parts of the world, however, the United States began to exist as three sectors, the third being the tertiary sector. Also known as the service sector, the tertiary sector is made up of countless industries like financial services, telecommunications, information technology, and education, to name a few. By all accounts it seems as though the tertiary sector has taken over much of the world, with most economies being dominated by the service sector. Unfortunately, the economies and/or job markets of much of Africa still remain agriculturally and industrially based. The Rockefeller Foundation wants to change that through an investment in Digital Jobs Africa.

The Rockefeller Foundation’s nearly $100 million investment in Digital Jobs Africa will impact one million people in Africa through job training and skill-building for youth in the information communication technology (ICT) sector. Africa has the youngest population in the world today and the Rockefeller Foundation sees that as an opportunity. Digital Jobs Africa aims to bridge the gap between the supply of high potential job seekers who need technical skills and companies seeking talent to service their expanding business needs. Digital jobs such as data entry, service center support, online research and web design will provide youth with the skills that will make them resilient to a more dynamic labor market. Creating opportunities for African youth through this initiative could have a powerful multiplier effect. Not only will it improve the welfare of their households and catalyze job creation for their communities, but it will also advance parts of Africa into the age of the tertiary sector, allowing them to compete and contribute on a global scale.