Author Archives: laurag063

ICT4D Lessons

I believe that information and communication technologies in and of themselves represent the process of development. Much like developing countries, technology continues to advance and grow with each new day. But through this class, I have learned that ICTs are not solely enablers of the knowledge economy. They are also major engines for growth and job creation, as well as agents of social change. The existence of such varied range of ICTs– each one multifaceted in nature– is very promising, since ICT-enabled development comes in many shapes in sizes.

Like it has been in other IDEV courses, the importance of becoming familiar with the target community’s specific needs was a topic that was heavily stressed in this class- and rightfully so. With any kind of development initiative, it is extremely important to have a thorough understanding of the issue your endeavor is attempting to solve, and the context in which this issue is placed. However, the past few months in this class have demonstrated to me that ICT-based initiatives in particular must make this a priority. Technology is expensive, and aid funding is already scarce, so any projects centered on ICTs as a means for development need to pay serious attention to ensuring that the chosen solution is not only appropriate, but sustainable.  The notion of “back-office” versus “front-office” strategies was also something this class brought to my attention. The field of development has historically been driven mostly by humanitarian beliefs and moral imperatives, which have given rise to countless initiatives that focus solely on acute needs rather than making lasting, structural change in a community. This is where I have learned that ICTs have the greatest potential. Introducing the proper ICTs, in the appropriate context, and with careful follow-through can not only accelerate development in all sectors, but also provide a framework and foundation for these other types of development to succeed.

As a future development professional (I hope!), this shift in focus away from aid that superficially appears more rewarding to “less-popular” aid that can actually have a lasting impact, is a vital piece of professional guidance that this class has provided me with. As far as theories and frameworks, this class has not necessarily taught me anything new. However, it has demonstrated to me the importance of them more than any other class I have taken. For example, human-centered design (HCD) is, in my opinion, ideal for ICT-enabled projects. Many unsuccessful ICT4D initiatives have failed due to ignoring this HCD framework. As I previously mentioned, the technology chosen needs to fit the end-user, benefit them, and leverage the skills and resources they already possess.

Finally, the only area of interest I wish we could have discussed in greater detail is the environment. I believe now, more than ever, is the time to begin discussing what we are going to do to rescue our planet. Even though they are commonly thought of in opposition, I think technology and the environment are two entities that could, if applied correctly, mutually benefit one another. It would have been interesting, and extremely relevant, to learn more about ICT-enabled environmental solutions.

Brazil at the Forefront of Cyber Security Issues

Technological advances have given rise to an entirely new, yet equally as threatening form of combat- cyber warfare. Both developed and developing countries worldwide are now faced with the issue of cyber security. While a number of multi-national agreements and initiatives are in motion to help resolve cyber attacks, world governments need to begin to look internally in order to find the source of these crimes. One such government that should be shifting to this focus is that of Brazil, since this Latin American nation is currently at the forefront of cyber security issues.

While ICTs have helped Brazil climb the economic ranks over the past decade, surpassing the U.K. as the sixth best economy in the world, the country has paid little to no attention to ensuring the proper laws and regulations are in place in order to facilitate further ICT development. For example, there is a serious lack of privacy protection for any data being sent over the nation’s networks due to there being no privacy legislation in place.  In addition to having no privacy legislation, Brazil also has not implemented any legislation addressing cybercrime. Any cyber laws that Brazil does have are either outdated or in conflict with international standards. According to an article on, in Brazil,  “Six in ten computers in the country are attacked with viruses and malware.” ( Furthermore, the article describes an analysis that found that resolving the average cyber attack on an individual in Brazil not only costs an average of $1,408 U.S. dollars, but also takes 44 days to fix.

This is unsurprising, seeing as how Brazil also has gaps in intellectual property protection. Not only has Brazil not updated its copyright laws to protect newer technologies, but it also has not signed the WIpo copyright treaty. Due to these types of serious gaps in their cyber security infrastructure, Brazil experiences widespread online piracy as well.  The Foreign Policy Digest article also makes reference to the fact that Brazil will be hosting the 2 largest international sporting events in thw world in the coming years- The World Cup and The Olympics. With a huge influx of high-profile individuals coming into the nation, and likely transferring important information over their network, Brazil would be wise to begin beefing up their cyber security efforts.

infoDev and Wayan Vota

This week, we will be having a very important guest speaker leading our class discussion, Wayan Vota. As one of the prominent experts in the field of information and communication technologies for development, Vota is currently the Communications Manager at Development Gateway. However, he has also worked as the senior director of Inveneo, and as a consultant for infoDev, which will be the focus of this post.

infoDev, which is short for Information for Development Program, is “a global partnership program within the World Bank Group which works at the intersection of innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship to create opportunities for inclusive growth, job creation, and poverty reduction” ( Since its founding in 1996, infoDev has been infiltrating various markets in over 50 developing nations around the world by providing them with the technological innovations and support needed to solve their toughest problems. Partnering with governments, non-profits, other World Bank programs, and small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs), infoDev works as coordinator between donors and local stakeholders in order to ensure effective creation and implementation of ICT4D programs. In 2004, infoDev transformed to become more of a “think tank” on ICT4D issues, utilizing their sponsorship of research and analysis in order to advise best practices. The program operates on three main themes: innovate, connect, and transform.


By supporting ICT-focused innovation by investors and social entrepreneurs, infoDev seeks to amplify the impact of those looking to do make one. The program accomplishes this tier through their network of incubators in developing countries, where partners can brainstorm innovative solutions and models.


infoDev acts a resource for both developing nations, and the agencies looking to work with them. The program also serves as support system to connect these two entities, and ensure that any progress that is made will be sustainable. infoDev places a huge emphasis on enabling access to “information infrastructure, applications, and services” for all in a way that can be maintained in the long run.


This partnership program conducts work in all sectors associated with ICT4D, be it health, education, business, or agriculture. infoDev acts as a consultant to stakeholders, guiding them through the best practices associated with deploying ICTs effectively. The program gains this knowledge through extensive field-based experimentation, evaluation, and research.

While I’m sure Vota will mention, even if only briefly, his work with infoDev, I would like to open up discussion about the context of a comment made about him on the infoDev website:

“Wayan is critical of the historical impact of technology on education for two reasons: First, the expense of piloting a new technology, and second, the major emphasis on the technology.”

Sound familiar? For some reason, the case study on One Laptop Per Child came to mind when I read this, what do you guys think about Vota’s supposed critiques on ICT for education?

Social Media’s Role in the Recent Venezuelan Elections

In October of 2012, Venezuela experienced one of its most imperative elections in history. Due to the approval of his amendment to the Venezuelan constitution that abolished term limits, the Socialist president Hugo Chávez was able to run for reelection. His rivaling opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, lost by 11 points, but mounted one of the fiercest challenges during the late president’s 14 years in power. The elections showed a historically high turnout, above 80% of the electorate, in a country where voting is not mandatory. Playing a huge role in the voting turnout, and in the ultimate outcome of the elections, was social media.

The article “Social Media Brings Changes to the Venezuelan Election,” ( presents evidence pointing to the widespread use of social media by both candidates to garner support for their respective campaigns. According to the piece, “12 million Venezuelans, or 47% of the population, surf the internet, making it one of the most connected countries in Latin America.” While Chávez maintained his historical control over the state media and used it to secure a third term, he also expanded his electronic reach to Twitter, with 3.3 million followers—2.2 million more than Capriles. Because Capriles’ campaign was mainly targeting youth middle class votes, however, he used social media more aggressively, expanding his presence “by using Facebook, YouTube and the photo-sharing website Instagram.” He even went as far as to create a Blackberry smartphone App for his campaign. While the article claims that Capriles managed to get more re-tweets than Chávez, his opponent still won the election.

Personally, I believe that while social media may have played a larger role in increasing voter turnout and widening the support networks of both candidates than it has in the past, it still could not orchestrate the final outcome of the election. After all, Chávez was infamous for his massive following made up of predominantly poor, lower-class citizens; and these citizens were most likely not the ones deciding who they were going to vote for based on their Twitter feed, because, quite frankly, they probably do not even have Twitters, or mobile phones for that matter. Nonetheless, the explosion of social media in the Venezuela’s historic October election definitely indicates that leaders around the world have taken notice of the power that this medium holds.


Health Education through Entertaining Radio Programs

In this week’s reading, “Why Radio Matters,” Dr. Mary Myers highlights a list of reasons and examples why radio is “the most widespread mass-medium for the developing world.” One of these reasons was that radio has the potential to educate and entertain its listeners. Myers then went on to fuse these two functions into one example- that of the Tanzanian radio soap opera titled “Pilika Pilika,” which educates its listeners on myriad health issues through entertaining plot lines. Earlier today, when writing our assigned analysis and discussion questions based on the readings, I posed the question, “Do you believe that this is actually effective in educating people on important health measures?” I then went on to do a little research of my own, which is how I discovered “Shuga-Love, Sex, Money”–a 12-episode radio drama that tells the stories of a group of four young fictional characters aged 15-24, their choices, dreams, friendships, challenges, and triumphs in a world where HIV and AIDS are an ever-present threat.

Launched in June of 2012, Shuga is a joint initiative of MTV, UNICEF, and the HIV Free Generation (HFG) Partnership. Not only is the series produced in French, English, and Swahili, but it is also distributed at no cost to a wide range of broadcasters. Some of the themes and topics covered through the plot of the series are: HIV counseling and testing, condom use in stable relationships, positive prevention, gender inequality and sexual violence, transactional sex, alcohol abuse, and the role of multiple concurrent partnerships in driving the HIV epidemic. Another unique aspect of the Shuga series that has undoubtedly lent it more success is that it was written and produced by 30 young people from Cameroon, DR Congo, Kenya, Tanzania, Lesotho and South Africa. These young Africans from diverse backgrounds all came together for training in a special workshop hosted by Question Media Group with support from MTV and UNICEF in order to create the drama that informs people just like them.

Now to my question as to whether or not this means of delivering vital health advice through entertainment radio is actually successful in improving health outcomes. According to research conducted by Johns Hopkins University/Centre for Communications Programs in Kenya following the airing of Shuga, the data reported increased intentions for HIV testing coupled with decreased intentions for multiple sex partners; improved attitudes towards people living with HIV and AIDS, and increased usage of accessible health and social services among youth who had watched the series. Being a radio DJ myself at the campus station, WTUL, I know what it is like to read obligatory Public Service Announcements each week. The information is terribly mundane, and most of the time, I am certain my listeners tune out during these mandated announcements. Now having learned about these examples of innovative use of airtime to educate the public, I will question these PSAs even more.  Unfortunately, I do not think this coupling of education and entertainment, particularly through radio, would be very successful in the U.S. But programs like “Pilika Pilika” and “Shuga- Love, Sex, Money” show promise for the future of education and empowerment through radio in the developing world.

Case Study: The Peoplefinder Project

Hurricanes, forest fires, tornadoes, tsunamis, and other natural disasters that travel distances are by their very nature able to give advance notice to significant populations of potential victims that lie in their path. It is for these types of destructive natural phenomena that the use of ICTs can mean life or death for certain groups of people.

Hurricane Katrina was no exception, as many residents of affected coastal areas who did not evacuate were unable to make contact with relatives and friends using traditional landline phones. Enter The Katrina PeopleFinder Project. This quickly-formed, massively distributed effort run by over 100 volunteer techies, and even more data-entry volunteers, created a uniform standard for collecting, compiling, data-entering, and searching information on people affected by Hurricane Katrina. Peoplefinder addressed the risk of duplicating other efforts, or interrupting existing momentum, by “structuring” their data in an open-source format. Volunteers did this by matching up partial information from one source or another, and compiling the information into one, comprehensive source- and one that complimented efforts by the Red Cross and others. Enlisting the aid of nonprofit technology assistance providers Radical Designs, Social Source Foundation, and CivicSpace Labs, the site was created with open source technologies designed by and for nonprofits. Using this tool, refugees and others affected by the storm could locate missing family members or access other information to help the people of New Orleans stay connected to the communities they loved.

This and other ICT services played an immense role in the response to Hurricane Katrina. Had those volunteers not donated hours of their time to searching, compiling, and entering data on victims of the storm, many would have undoubtedly been waiting far longer to find out about their missing loved ones, if they found out about them at all.


Brazil National ICT Resources

Notes: Studying Brazil as your focus country may not be as difficult as studying others, but it certainly takes some digging to find the resources you will need to analyze it. Having a basic background in Portuguese will be very helpful because most of the websites for the government branches that deal with ICT are in Portuguese. Furthermore, Brazil does not have a digitally published version of their National ICT Policy; therefore, most of your sources will be non-governmental overviews of the current ICT situation in the country.

While Brazil’s actual national ICT policy cannot be found on the web, a very thorough analysis of their latest policy, namely the Productive Development Policy (PDP), which was launched in 2008, can be found here:

Another key source in analyzing Brazil’s ICT sector is this GISWatch Country Report:

This publication gives another good general overview of the ICT landscape in Brazil, as well as the other BRIC countries, China and India.

The International Telecommunications Union briefly discusses Brazil’s national policy development and e-government.

The ITU also published another report that has myriad data on Brazil and its ICT sector, complete with tables full of indicators and rankings. This one is far more helpful.

This report provides the Network Readiness Index score for Brazil (and other countries), as well as an in-depth breakdown of that score. It is great for comparing and contrasting Brazil to other countries.

The following EIU report was really only useful for the numerical score breakdown of the Digital Economy Score. It was good for comparing and contrasting Brazil to its neighbors.

Gender and ICTs in Brazil

As we have now learned, the digital divide in inclusive of several kinds of gaps. This week we are focusing on the gender divide, with men typically enjoying more access to ICTs than women. In Brazil, this gap persists, yet certain studies, namely one published by Martin Hilbert of the University of Southern California (USC) and the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (, posits that according to data, women in Brazil are more enthusiastic ICT users. Furthermore, the International Telecommunications Union has identified a major shortage of skilled professionals in the ICT sector in Brazil, with an expected shortage of 200,000 professionals in 2013 (

When I read both of these publications side by side, a lightbulb went off in my head, and I thought, “The opportunities are there, so why aren’t more women taking on these jobs and studying the skills they need to tap this untapped resource?” After doing some further research, I found that, like with many developing countries, both sociocultural and economic factors are keeping women out the technology workforce in Brazil. Other readings have put forth the notion that policy adjustment has the ability to remedy this divide, but in Brazil, such policy changes have not had a substantial effect. According to the World Bank,

“the Brazilian government has approved a policy framework that guarantees gender equality in the workplace. For example, the constitution of Brazil ‘prohibits differentiation in salary levels on the basis of sex, establishes incentives for encouraging the participation of women in the workforce, and provides paid maternity leave of 120 days and paternity leave for five days.'” (

However, their research yields that these policies are not enforced, and are therefore perpetuating a poor employment climate for the ICT field. So, if according the Hilbert’s study in Brazil,

“only 22.8% of all working men use the Internet, while 28.5% of all working women are online. Only 47.0% of all Brazilian working men use a mobile phone, while 50.6% of all working women telecommunicate on the go…”

then shouldn’t the Latin American country begin to be more proactive about encouraging their female citizens to use the ICT skills they so clearly have in order to gain economic success?  One would think so! But proof of this type of positive gender-equality movement is not there.


Should We Congratulate or Condemn the World Bank for Admitting to 70% ICT Project Failure?

The World Bank, and it’s internal Independent Evaluation Group (IEG), released an Evaluation of World Bank Group Activities in Information and Communication Technologies, which is a review of a total $4.2 billion in World Bank contribution committed to the ICT sector during fiscal years 2003-2010. $2.9 billion of this support was specified to be going towards “sector reforms and support to private investments for mobile telephony in difficult environments and in the poorest countries.” In an ICT Works blog post about these results (, Wayan Vota takes an angle of praise for the World Bank for their commitment to transparency and accountability- the likes of which have not been seen from other international bodies working towards the common goal of improving livelihoods in the developing world.

The four main domains of the World Bank ICT4D projects are:

1) ICT sector reform

2) increased access to information infrastructure

3) ICT skills development

4) ICT applications.

The WB boasts a 60% success rate across the four strategies, albeit efforts to support universal access, with only 30% of these initiatives reaching their objectives.  Furthermore, and what has been the source of heavy criticism of the World Bank, is the seemingly staggering statistic that 70% of projects targeting underserved groups failed.

This number has incited heavy scrutiny of the World Bank, the international development community demanding answers as to why there has been such great failure,  and calling for for reduction of ICT investment. However, there are other ways to interpret the same result. The ICT works post provides a more positive insight into the statistics. It states that rather than criticizing, we should be thinking more about the transparency and chancy practices of the World Bank. Furthermore, Vota regards the 30% success rate for increasing access to the underserved positively, compared with the “the 20% success rate of Silicon Valley start-ups who are coddled by the most business-conducive environment in the world.” While I agree with the main point of the post, which is that the WB is setting a good example by admitting to its failure in the name of future progress and success, I think this comparison is irrelevant; as one sector is largely non-profit, while Silicon Valley ventures are mostly for-profit.

The World Banks honesty and forwardness about its work in ICT4D is essential to the future success of the relatively new field. It is of chief importance to share these failures with the ICT4D community in order to move forward.  Whether or not a “Congratulations” is in order for the World Bank can be left to debate, but I do feel it was a step in the right direction for such a prominent international body such as the WB to replace their hush-hush attitude towards project failure with unapologetic transparency.

“Breaking the MGD Hegemony” has Yielded Progress for ICT Strategies in Latin American

In Richard Heeks’ article: ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track? ( he shines a critical light on how relevant, or rather not relevant, the Millennium Development Goals are in the application of ICTs, and vis-versa. In this piece, Heeks uses colorful metaphors and analogies to incite a re-evaluation of ICT development agendas, specifically speculating on how they are currently being “pressed through the MGD filter,” and how this is causing a misprioritization of the domains in which ICTs should be implemented.

In his discussion, Heeks brings up a very interesting point about how many developing countries are denied “the very paths to development that the industrialized countries used.” For example, the urging of developing countries to rely on the market rather than the state is in direct conflict with how central of a role the government played in the development of these very industrialized nations. This brings me to my next point, which is that Heeks may be correct in his exhortation of taking alternative, non-MGD type strides when investing in and implementing ICTs for development. Evidence of how this divergence is capable of yielding progress can be found in our text. Unwin provides readers with a tangible example of how a contradictory approach to ICT4D, namely charging the head of state and government with the task of driving strategies forward, rather than private-sector market forces, can be very successful. The example he discusses is that of Latin America, the region I am focusing on in this class. Untwin explains how effective ICT strategies and policies in Latin American can be distinguished by certain features of them such as their “embracing of the entire government of a country…importance of a single overarching national authority..[and] the head of state playing a prominent role in driving them forward.” These qualities, which challenge the values of the MGDs, have proven to be responsible for the success of said strategies in Latin America. Had Heeks read the report cited by Untwin that describes the positive evolution of ICT strategies in the region, I think he’d say “I told you so!”