Author Archives: laurenholtzman

A Kenyan’s Stance on the Western “Development” of Africa

I would recommend that anyone skeptical of KONY 2012 or development in general read this article published by BBC News Africa. If you are not skeptical of development, this could still be enlightening. I think author, Binyavanga Wainaina is right.

What do you think?

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ICT4D Professional Profile: Deborah Elzie

After hearing Deborah Elzie eloquently respond to my question about the White Savior Industrial Complex in class, I wanted to write my thought leader profile on her because it was my first time hearing or seeing any white person in the international development field mention white privilege and furthermore, even acknowledge her role as a white person working in development.  I was even more excited when I realized that she had assigned that specific reading because it was the first time anything related to white supremacy had been brought up by any of my professors at Tulane.  I e-mailed Ms. Elzie one night, and within four hours, I had a response from her with a time that day for a Skype call!  During the interview, Ms. Elzie discussed how she got involved with Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), her current work, and her feelings about the international development field.

While she has been working in Uganda with Tulane as she described in class, she has also been working on community projects founded by local people.  Ms. Elzie began making connections with people in Uganda virtually when she was still in the United States.  Through twitter and volunteering with a team virtually, she formed relationships with people in Uganda and eventually was able to work on Story Spaces in Uganda, with the founder and other Ugandan members of the team. She claims to be most engaged with mobile phones since she is working on four mobile phone projects; one for physicians and community health workers to help with difficult pregnancies, another in a competition, and two fun apps related to language and sports.  Even so, she explains that twitter has been crucial in communicating with others and in the sharing of ideas.

Ms. Elzie brings up how hard it has been as a woman working in technology.  Because she does more “front-end design, user interface, and graphic design and…[her] whole background in educational psychology and the cognitive piece…[she] thinks a lot about those interactions” when thinking about how hard it is in the United States for a woman (Elzie).  She feels as though Uganda has given her more opportunities than she would ever get in the United States because she has started later in life and isn’t a young MIT graduate.  She says, “I have found it easier to build relationships with African techies and mobile programmers than I have with US folks” (Elzie).

As an international development worker in the field, Ms. Elzie recommends people to have “practical experience somewhere on the ground in another culture even if it’s not a foreign culture abroad” in order to be prepared for the “inner personal communication skills” needed for working in another cultural world.  Additionally, she believes people need to come with the mindset that they will be working with others and learning from one another, not just the development worker coming in as the expert.  People should have “some knowledge of what you’re walking into instead of just walking off the plane and saying, ‘here, look at my great tool’” (Elzie).  On the academic side, she hopes for students to learn through more scenario-based exercises in the classroom and work as a team member with organizations abroad started by local people, rather than outsiders.  She thinks it’s definitely possible for development to become more locally driven, and has real hope for this generation.

I think Deborah Elzie is a really great example of a woman working in international development who is cognizant of her white privilege and the important role that the community should take in leading development projects.  I find her really inspiring and I encourage others to look into her work or contact her.  She’s really great!

Also, here is what our professor has written about her!


The Future of Education with Learning Analytics

As new technologies have been developed and e-learning has begun to grow, the future of education may change drastically in the near future.  Learning analytics is “the use of data and models to predict student progress and performance, and the ability to act on that information” (Educause).  The process of learning analytics involves data collection, understanding behavior as a variable of progress, personalizing curriculum for each student, and being able to improve the system by understanding what has and has not worked.

These types of technologies have the ability to improve education through a system of individualized learning. Many in favor of this type of education refer back to how people learn in different ways, and how personalized learning can make sure that people are being educated in whatever way works best for them.  There are two significant problems with this.  The first is that, these people are assuming that all people learn effectively in a manner related to the computer or technology.  There is no afterthought about what would be missing from a general classroom with class dialogue, student-teacher discourse, and communal learning.  Additionally, many students might be auditory learners or the type that would not work well on their own with a computer.  Secondly, it is important for students to be exposed to various teaching and learning styles so that they can prepare themselves for their futures where they will certainly not be given individualized training and personalized tasks directed at however way they have come to understand they best learn.  It is imperative that we do not allow the individualized, capitalism mentality get too entrenched in all of our minds and further the issues that have resulted from such.

On the other hand, learning analytics could bring about great positive change for education.  In terms of tracking and allowing underserved students to work at their own pace whether faster or slower than the general class, this has the potential to do very well for some.  I believe it is important that while we allow technology to make significant changes in education, that we do not forget that people learn in different ways and there are significantly positive learning outcomes from group learning, dialogue, and work which should not be forgotten.


Colonialism, the White Man’s Burden, and the History of Development

Internationaldevelopmentshould.com is a blog about making people really think about the “purpose of international development efforts and alternative approaches to the design, implementation, and evaluation of ‘international development’ projects, programs, and policies” (http://internationaldevelopmentshould.com/mission/).  One blog post written a little over a year ago, The More Things Change: Development’s Colonial Heritage,” discusses some of the basic history about how the development field came to be what it is today.   The blog writer broke it down into three separate blog posts with historical details ranging from after the First World War, after the Second World War, and post-colonialism during the 1960 to 1970’s.

In particular, the blog focuses on the ‘sovereign-state’ system as well as the idea of development , welfare, and reconstruction.  The author argues that in the post-colonialism era, independence did not liberate people, but freed the “states.” This has culminated in “ineffective and illegitimate development programs and policies” in these so-called developing areas because of the distribution of illegitimate power.

In Britain, the Colonial Development and Welfare Act of 1939 defined development as referring to the infrastructure necessary to be able to extract raw materials while welfare included the social services necessary to prevent civilian outcry through protests or revolution.  There was a reason for the welfare, and it wasn’t to merely help the “natives.”

After World War II, the United States was the only nation involved in foreign aid bi-laterally until France began in 1961.  Forty-three percent of the aid donated by the United States directly flowed into European countries which was no different from the World Bank who primarily only loaned money to the same industrial powers.

According to the blog, many Westerners who worked with indigenous people “explicitly rejected the non-European beliefs and values of ‘those’ people.”  John Maynard Keynes wrote about how twenty-one of the countries which had been invited to join the World Bank and International Monetary Fund “clearly have nothing to contribute and merely encumber the ground.”  Additionally, several United Nations delegates were vehement in their position that development was “’a Western mode of reasoning’” to the indigenous people in the colonies.   The blog continues with specific instances in which the UK and France went directly from a “colonial administration to direct bi-lateral international development assistance.”

The reason why I bring all of this up is because of our recent conversations about the KONY 2012 Campaign and the International Development field altogether.  As we briefly discussed the “White Savior Industrial Complex,” I think it is important to note the history of development and the history of the White Man’s Burden as well as the role of white men in the “development” of the world.  There is a long history of development and the precedent that colonialism and imperialism left was merely the foundation for development.  As we study ICT4D vs. ICT4$, it is imperative for us to understand the history of the 4$ and 4who exactly.  Whether or not we define ICT4D as such or as 4$, the idea of “development” is not so neutral in itself especially within the historical context which this article brings some light to.  International development was never purely intentioned from the start.  At the same time, whether or not people have a desire to help people and have pure intentions, this does not always lead to positive impact as we have clearly seen in the case of KONY 2012.  However, I think it is imperative that we don’t stop at KONY 2012.  Besides projects with tied aid or for security purposes, it is crucial that we are critical of all development because of its very nature and the guaranteed profit in some form that someone gains (which is usually the donor in this market-society). While people need to be able to make a living to do good work, we have to be very clear about how development workers have come to have their jobs and be cognizant of the history of development and each individual’s role in the process of reframing what that means.  If we truly are pure about our intentions, why would we resist having these real conversations about white privilege and the way in which we operate our development projects?  In my opinion, if we don’t have these conversations, than we are merely adding to the many problems with development.


The Dual Role ICTs play in Violence Against Women

On the one hand, ICTs have made women the victims of violence and on the other, they have become a saving agent.  Just as “internet abuse” and “cybercrimes” have skyrocketed in developed countries as bullies have made their way to the internet, the same has begun to occur in developing nations with the increase of ICT use.  Estimates from the United Nations found 95% of online abuse being targeted at women.  The Association for Progressive Communications has begun a “Take Back the Tech! to end violence against women” campaign to stop this from happening, and also to research how ICTs have impacted violence against women.

Specifically in Uganda, they found that males control their spouses’ phones and many times, invade their privacy through “SMS stalking” (APC).   While women have been able to use cell phones to contact others in domestic violence emergencies, studies have found men controlling when and how their women use the phones.  Because Uganda’s ICT policy is founded on the private sector, there is no policy about “gender sensitive monitoring and evaluation,” and implementing one is unlikely because of the emphasis of the free-market.  The Computer Misuse Bill will be the first to address cybercrime and it only focuses on illegalizing child pornography, with no mention of adult pornography.

While the policies may not be in place, in November 2010, the Uganda Media Women’s Association (UNWA) and the Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET) implemented an ICT-based project to halt violence against women.  They planned to create “ICT centers with women counselors whose task it is to listen to women, counsel, and collaborate with other stakeholders concerned with the phenomenon of violence in order to help establish an environment free from the acts and fears of gender based violence” (UMWA).  They have organized telephones in the three parishes with the highest crime rates against women. Any woman can use these telephones and use the toll free line to get help.  The two organizations have also begun a radio talk show where the conversation is based around preventing gender-based violence.  The organizations have tried to include all stakeholders by inviting “local leaders, police, women from different organizations and victims of violence” to speak on the program (UNWA).

As ICTs begin to become more popular and accessible, it is important to consider all of their impacts and try to plan to be prepared for any outcome.

Violence Against Women & ICTs

Report on Uganda with ICT’s & Violence Against Women

Fighting Gender-Based Violence in Uganda


ICTs Addressing the Brain Drain in Africa

In class, we began to discuss the issue of intellectual flight which happens when educated people in developing countries leave their homes for developed countries to make better lives for themselves.  This has particularly been a problem in Africa.  Gumisai Mutume addresses this issue in an article titled, “Reversing Africa’s ‘brain drain”  He discusses how the United Nations and non-profit organizations have been trying to decrease this brain drain through different initiatives targeting “scientists, medical doctors, engineers, university lecturers, economists, information technologists and other highly skilled people in short supply on the continent” (Mutume).

In order to stop the brain drain, programs have tried to create policies to prolong the educated from leaving such as elongating the amount of years medical students spend in school, proposing taxes for leaving, and making deals with developed countries to not hire these graduates.

African nations have tried to bring the expatriates home, but they have encountered many challenges such as expatriates wanting to be paid similarly to what they were paid abroad and being compensated for their whole families coming with them.  When they do pay these large sums, it attracts too many back home which the individual countries cannot afford.  Even so, this leads to immigration problems in the developed and developing countries.  For people who decide to return home, they may risk not being allowed back in the developed nation where they had been or losing residency.  Additionally, some African nations do not accept dual citizenship.

ICTs can play a significant role in addressing these challenges. The South African Network of Skills Abroad (SANSA) has found “at least 22,000 graduates from five major South African universities resident abroad remain in touch with the universities” (Mutume).  These graduates stay in touch and offer assistance over the internet from abroad.  They have also helped to bring computers and software to their home countries.  These countries are starting to think of innovative ways to address the brain drain without seriously taking a toll on their budgets, and with ICTs, they could make some real development.


Who are We Empowering and in What Way?

In class, we began to discuss some of the issues with cheap solutions when it comes to international development.  While donor nations and organizations may claim to be in the field of development or foreign aid to alleviate poverty, we all know this is not always or usually the case.  In IDEV320, we read “Does Foreign Aid Really Work?” in which Roger C. Riddell illuminates some of these issues with wealthy nations’ foreign policies on development and their real motivation.  As with tied aid, all social entrepreneurs make some type of profit whether they are in a non-profit businesses or not.  Every person who works for the organization or company makes a salary.  This may not be considered profit in the legal definition, but in a way it is when at least one person is making money from whatever the endeavor.  Additionally, the problem must continue to exist in order for the company, organization, what have you to run.  If the problems were fixed, many people working for that organization would be out of a job, and the entrepreneurs would stop making money.  These are issues which are never discussed or considered, but are imperative in understanding development.

Social entrepreneurship is a new, upcoming field which prides itself on the success of people like Blake Mycoskie, founder of Tom’s Shoes and Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America.  These are only two social entrepreneurs who have become financially and socially successful from endeavors which have remained unaccountable to the communities they serve.

Tom’s Shoes (which I brought up in class) thrives on the one-for-one philosophy whereby for every pair of shoes purchased, a free pair is given to some child in a developing nation.  Besides the fact that the child will certainly outgrow the shoes, are shoes the most important need that these children have?  More often than not, the answer is no.  Instead of wasting the cost to make that pair of shoes (which we will get to next), would it not make more sense to invest that money in another way to ensure that child an education or access to healthcare, clean water, the gamut!  Second, we always forget about the costs.  As economists know well, there are no free-lunch programs.  Someone has to make those shoes and get a salary for them.  If a company decided they want to sell a product very cheaply, they must find a place where it will be manufactured cheaply meaning the workers will be paid next to nothing.  This is where China comes in, and it is the nation in which Tom’s Shoes are made.  If Blake Mycoskie thinks he is empowering people, he first does not understand the definition of empowerment and second does not consider the people he is harming along with their children he is disempowering.

Teach for America is a program that is rarely criticized, but how many wealthy parents would allow young people fresh out of college to teach their children only after having been trained for four to six weeks?  Real teacher certification programs, which many argue is not enough in terms of preparing teachers, can take up to five years to complete!  Privileged students across America are allowed to experiment on poor kids, and expected to figure out how to manage a classroom with little to no support.  Besides the difficulty facing the teachers themselves, there are effects on the students who have no other choice but to be taught by the inexperienced teachers “for America” who sometimes are only a few years older than them.  The teachers stay for their two years (if they don’t leave before their time is up), and more often than not,  they leave.  The spots they filled, which could have gone to people who went to college to become teachers and be teachers for life, are taken by people who want to use the time for their resume, and leave.  At the same time, older teachers with more experience and people who live in the communities of the schools are pushed out especially when schools become chartered because of the prestige Teach for America holds.  The problems continue.

Although the women in rural Uganda may seem to be in need of mobile phones, providing them with mobile phones will not even make a mark on the structural problems which persist.  While it may seem as though we must fix the problem now in whatever way necessary, by providing cheap cell phones to poor people in one place, we are hurting poor people in another place.  The companies with awful working conditions should not be supported and allowed to prosper in the name of African women.  Additionally, we forget how colonialism and imperialism is what began the structural issues in Africa to begin with.  Once again, the Westerner sees himself as being superior and the poor African nations being in need of Western technologies.  We see them in need of what we have in order to prosper while our systems are what destroyed the continent in the first place.

All of this being said, when faced with the system we have today, it is always easier to put a band-aid on the issue and try to relieve it as quickly as we can.  I think it is important that these women be helped in whatever way possible, and the cell phones are one way to start, but we cannot keep reverting to only considering these issues on the surface.  I admire Dr. Murphy for her work in trying to alleviate the troubles of these women, and make at least some impact which she commendably has, but I think it is necessary that we start to have these difficult conversations and not just ignore them because it seems too impractical.  If we really want to make peoples’ lives better, we must consider all people when doing so and understand how the dominant Western, white culture has been internalized all over the world as being superior and realize the ramifications of such.