Author Archives: laurenparmley

Reflection on ICT4D

Overall, prior to ICT4D I never really thought of technology as an integral aspect to development. In my mind I pictured the merging of the two concepts similar to One Laptop Per Child. I envisioned people giving technology to poverty stricken people who were uneducated about the devices and therefore never used them. In general, I assumed it would simply be a waste of development resources. Like we’ve learned in class this is often the case. However there is another side to the story, a side where technology (if appropriately used and implemented) can drastically help areas of development (i.e. radio in rural/agricultural areas).

Specifically, I enjoyed learning about different sectors. I found the participatory radio campaigns particularly interesting because I had never heard of the concept. Not only is it integrating technology into education but it also deals with capacity building. Both are extremely important in terms of development. When I think of technology I immediately think of the iPhone or other new devices. However using what we would consider “old” technology in a smarter way can be more innovative than the newest gadget. If a community does not have a need for a device, the device is useless no matter how high-tech it is.


Cyber Security Measures in the U.S.

Our guest speaker Ralph Russo, professor at Tulane University in the Homeland Security Program, discussed all things Cyber Security with us today. He mentioned the concept of malware or malevolent software that essentially allows hackers to gain access to information, disrupt a computer’s operation or perform whatever actions the hacker desires. One of the main issues he brought up is the United States’ concern about malware being on U.S. devices bought from China. I decided to look into this a little bit more and found the following article.

The article outlines a “new provision of the government’s latest spending law requires three federal agencies — NASA and the departments of Justice and Commerce — to buy gear only after performing a cyber-security risk assessment carried out in consultation with law-enforcement agencies”. This is because the government is worried about its important agencies and the threat of cyber attacks to them. There are many U.S. suspicions against China’s participation in cyber attacks on the U.S. Particularly because a U.S. research firm claimed “to have traced numerous cyber attacks to a specific unit of China’s People’s Liberation Army, one operating within a particular building in Shanghai.”

The threat of cyber attacks is growing therefore cyber security is an extremely relevant topic in today’s world. However, fortunately this is not an unknown threat to our government and cyber security measures are starting to be implemented as the newest law exemplifies.


Applying Plan Int’l Strategies for Development

Plan International’s four strategies for ICT enabled development are useful when predicting the future and implementation for ICT devices in specific areas. The blog Will the Ubuntu Phone Rock the African Software Development Market? published on ICTworks.org tries to predict the future of the Ubuntu phone in Africa. The Ubuntu phone is similar to typical mobiles in the U.S. because they have computer capabilities. The phone is comparable to Apple’s iPhone and other Samsung phones. Using the following four Plan International ICT strategies allows us to gain better insight into Ubuntu’s possible success or failure:

1)Understanding the Context for ICT Work
2)Finding a Match Between Priorities and Possibilities
3)Planning and Implementing Concrete Initiatives
4)Building a Culture of Systematic, Sustained and Strategic ICT Use

Understanding the context for ICT work (strategy 1) in Africa is extremely important. Mobile phone ownership is on the rise as well as access to the Internet. There is a growing market for mobiles and an increase in competition in the mobile phone field in Africa. However the cost of mobiles vary and the Ubuntu phone is more expensive than most. If consumers are also interested in the phone component, viewing access to calls as a priority, then they will likely buy the cheaper phone (strategy 2). However if consumers find the dual capabilities important they may go for the Ubuntu phone. According to the blog, “smartphone penetration is swinging up and may actually outpace mobile. Having the ability to write not only apps but full-blown applications may be where African software developers finally get traction.” This is a great incentive for Ubuntu that gives them a leg up on the competition. Both strategy 3 and 4 are more applicable to the ICT environment and less on the specifics such as the Ubuntu phone.

Overall, the future of the Ubuntu phone in Africa is unknown until shipping begins in October 2013.


Social Media for Development

This past January, The Guardian’s Poverty Matters Blog posted a blog entitled Saving the world through social media? How development is going digital. The blog explains how many development agencies and organizations are now using social media to disseminate information and raise awareness and funds. Social media provides development driven groups to accomplish many of its goals affordably and on a broader scale for the masses. The blog highlights the benefits of social media: “a potentially cheap and efficient way to link citizens with their governments, the chance to monitor real-time progress on projects, and the ability to connect people from remote parts of the world to share experiences and teach best practice.” This is accomplished through apps, Twitter, hashtags, Facebook and other sites.

Specifically the blog outlines Digital Green, a campaign that uses social media to share agricultural practices, supported by the Indian government and foreign donors. The site shares tips and videos from thousands of farmers that other farmers can access. It also supports Farmerbook, a social network for farmers to promote themselves. Farmers can ask questions and connect with others in the field (literally and figureatively).

According to Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics, Digital Leader and Crisis and expert in digital leadership, media and future trends relating to the digitial world, Facebook is the 3rd largest country in the world with 1 billion people. Additionally, social media has become the #1 activity on the Web. Therefore, it only makes sense why development organizations have turned to using social media for its campaigns and in providing information to the public.


UNDP’s Tsunami Trauma Radio Programme

After reading Dr. Mary Myers’ article on “Why Radio Matters”, I decided to delve deeper and research one of the case studies she mentions in the “helps rebuild after disaster, trauma and war” section. I chose to highlight a radio program sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme that aimed to reduce tsunami trauma after the 2004 tsunami that hit Indonesia. The tsunami not only hurt people’s livelihoods and destroyed their lands but it contributed to thousands of deaths. All of this inflicted many psychological problems amongst the population.

UNDP’s program set out to assist the 13,000 displaced people after the 2004 tsunami. It was a “one-hour show, broadcast weekly on Saturdays at Dalka FM, the oldest and most popular station in the district”. The program had counselors that specifically worked with communities as it strived to be “grass-roots based”. The psychologists gave the audience suggestions on how to cope with the trauma they had experienced and with the stress they felt. The program addressed the following issues: “how to control emotions, family relations, worries about employment and income, housing conditions, as well as establishing a community support network.”

I think the ICT device chosen by UNDP for this program is smart. They understood who their audience was, those who were displaced, and the little access they had to ICTs. Radio, being the most affordable, able to affect the masses and accessible ICT, was the most intelligent of choices. One thing the article fails to mention is how successful the program was. If those displaced actually had access to radio, how popular was this program? Did it achieve its goals? Many times organizations do not check up on or monitor their projects. I do not know if that was the issue with this article or if UNDP simply just left the information out.


Neustar Pushes Government SMS Use for Disaster Management

Neustar, a provider of real-time information and analytics for the Internet, telecommunications, entertainment, and marketing industries, published mGovernment: How Government Agencies Can Use SMS , a paper on the benefits of SMS for governments to communicate with their citizens. They argue the availability of SMS is a key component of its value. Citizens do not need expensive data plans or smart phones to communicate. Additionally, because mobile phones have taken the place of land-lines, mobiles are an incredible tool to use as a means to provide information. The final argument Neustar makes is “since most consumers have their mobile phone within reach and keep the device always on, government agencies can make public information and government services accessible to the population anytime and anywhere”.

A crucial component for governments to use SMS is for disaster management. Neustar provides case studies of disaster management implementation through SMS. The paper mentions Oman, a country that is mostly desert, and ways they use SMS for disaster management. Oman sends out texts to citizens when it is raining heavily via The National Committee for Civil Defense. An example of a text is the following:

“’Despite the low precipitation yesterday, some casualties were recorded due to some people’s venturing through wadis. We exhort you to be extremely cautious. NCCD.’”

The idea of disaster management is different from disaster relief, however the use of ICTs is one in the same. Spreading knowledge, whether that be pre or post disaster is important. Allowing citizens to understand conditions of disasters prior to their occurrence can help prevent relevant dangers to citizens. Oman is just one of many countries using SMS for disaster management. It is evident this concept is universal and should be implemented across the globe.


Ghana’s National ICT Policy Focuses on WSIS’s Objectives

The World Summit for Information Society’s National e-Strategies for Development are guidelines for countries to incorporate into their national development plans. These guidelines offer insight into why some countries have failures in terms of ICTs and others are more successful. Specifically, the strategies focus on infrastructure, access, capacity-building, diverse language identity, ethics, cooperation, media, confidence and security, enabling environments and multiple applications (sectors). Typically, the strategies offer a future-oriented approach.

The methodology of the report is comprehensive. The “data” provided is qualitative. It outlines first what the action item is, a description of the item, followed by countries’ policy examples. It looks at specific countries’ policies to determine whether the WSIS strategies have been incorporated or not.

I think the WSIS strategies are great in helping countries focus on areas of improvement for ICTs. Looking at Ghana, every one of the line action items are mentioned within its National ICT policy. However, there is great importance placed on infrastructure and enabling environment. Infrastructure is mentioned in two of the eleven plans for policy change. The policy focuses both on the under-developed physical infrastructure and the poor and limited communications and telecommunications infrastructure that Ghana has. The action item, Enabling Environments , means to set up an environment that supports ICTs via eliminating barriers or in Ghana’s case, improving physical and communications infrastructure. The environment and infrastructure work together in Ghana’s policy.

Human capacity building, ICT-applications, media and the rest of the action items are mentioned to some capacity in Ghana’s national ICT policy. However it is ironic that Ghana’s policy is from 2003 while the e-Strategies for Development came out in 2010.


Mobile Phones Helping Women in Restrictive Cultures

Gender inequality is not a new concept. Particularly, gender inequality is high in areas where women are restricted due to societal norms, cultural practices or religious beliefs. Robin LLyod’s article,Mobile Phones for Women: A New Approach for Social Welfare in the Developing World ,outlines how decreasing this divide can increase opportunities. He tells the story of a Palestinian girl, looking for employment, who has had trouble finding work due to the fact she is unable to leave her home without the accompaniment of a male. With use of her mobile phone she “posted a “mini-resume,” browsed for suitable jobs via text messages, and then interviewed in person after an appointment was set. On September 22nd, she started a data-entry job with the German aid agency GTZ.”

The use of mobiles greatly influenced her employment situation. The article continues to explain that though Salameh had access to a mobile phone this is not typical. Gender inequality when it comes to ICTs (in this case mobile phones) is even more extreme in restrictive cultures. The London-based telecom industry advocacy group GSMA (for Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) alongside Secretary of State Hillary Clinton initiated the mWomen Program which plans to “half the number of women in the developing world who lack mobile phones within three years by putting phones in the hands of another 150 million women.” They believe this initiative is important not only because of Salameh’s story and the resources mobile phones can provide, but also because women with phones tend to feel safer, more empowered and independent and more connected.

Although I believe ICTs and mobiles can provide all of the above, I hope their plans have instilled protections against the issues we’ve discussed in class with mobile phones. What about theft? Cost? Reception? Providing phones is only one step; who will be paying for the minutes?


Esoko’s Demand-Driven Success in Bringing ICTs to Africa

Across the board, most development practitioners would argue the bottom-up approach is more successful than the top-down approach in regards to development projects. The main reason for this is sustainability. The following blog outlines Esoko, an organization that brings the “market” to Africa. They focus on tools for market and agricultural information via mobiles and ICT. Their success is largely due to the fact the organization is demand-driven as “60% of Africans earn their living from working in agriculture, a sector so underserved in terms of technology solutions”. Additionally, Esoko uses the bottoms-up approach. The idea was not pushed onto the people, rather the idea sprung from the people and their needs. Mark Davies, the founder of Esoko, saw the benefits of putting street markets into the viral atmosphere. Esoko hires locally, employing mostly Ghanaians and West Africans.

The organization uses the increase in mobiles and ICTs’ in Africa to their advantage. The services and apps Esoko provides are SMS messaging, market price alerts, inventory reporting, SMS bids and offerings and maps. The model they use “starts with government or donor funding and then transitions into a business; a franchise that can grow into a sustainable company”. They have started working in Ghana where local businesses are using Esoko. As of right now there are franchises and resellers in Ghana, Nigeria, Mozambique and Malawi. Many other African countries are using Esoko via government funding (North Sudan and Nigeria), while even more are funded via donors (Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Tanzania, Madagascar, Uganda, Malawi, etc.).

In regards to monitoring and evaluating, “In November 2010 a survey of 62 farmers in Northern Ghana who have been receiving price alerts for one year confirmed that they have benefited from the service, with an average improvement of 40% on reported deals and revenue.” As stated before, their success is due mainly because of their bottoms-up, grass-roots approach. Why do practitioners continue to push top-down approaches onto governments and other NGOs  when bottoms-up projects tend to be the most successful?


Are the WSIS Target Objectives Achievable?

As Discussed in class, the World Summit on the Information Society’s goals are lofty. About as lofty as the eight Millenium Development Goals. However, WSIS’s overall objectives and aims for ICTs to reach the masses are admirable. Both the summits held in Geneva and Tunisia made ICTs a “political will” for communities to increase access. The goals are as follows:

1. Connect villages with ICTs and establish community access points
2. Connect universities, colleges, secondary schools, and primary schools with
ICTs
3. Connect scientific and research centers with ICTs
4. Connect public libraries, cultural centers, museums, post offices, and archives
with ICTs
5. Connect health centers and hospitals with ICTs
6. Connect all local and central government departments and establish websites
and e-mail addresses
7. Adapt all primary and secondary school curricula to meet the challenges of
the information society, taking into account national circumstances
8. Ensure that all the world’s population have access to television and radio
services
9. Encourage the development of content and put in place technical conditions in
order to facilitate the presence and use of all world languages on the
Internet.
10. Ensure that more than half the world’s inhabitants have access to ICTs within
their reach

We discussed issues with some of the goals, particularly with number 10’s elusive word choice and number 9’s ambition. Some people in class commented on whether or not there is a need for number 4. We did not, however, look at statistics to support the issues we found with the objectives. This video provides statistics in relation to the cost of broadband as a percentage of average monthly income around the globe. Where in Monaco the cost of broadband is .3%, for 4 of the poorest countries in Sub-Saharan Africa it costs over 1000%. For this reason, individual access to ICTs (particularly Internet) may be unrealistic at this time, but community access through public libraries and cultural centers as mentioned in objective 4 may be the most cost-effective way to reach the WSIS objectives. Establishing community access points (objective 1) may be through the use of public libraries and cultural centers. The video states 11 of the 15 most unaffordable economics for broadband are in Africa while 11 of the 15 most affordable economies for broadband are in Europe. This continues to show the inequality among rich and poor and developing and developed countries. Access is not simply limited to physical barriers but economic as well. The higher the cost for broadband, the more difficult to achieve the WSIS target objectives overall.