Author Archives: margaretvariano

ICT4D Reflection: ICT Capacities and Standards

I came into this semester with very little knowledge about the Information and Communication Technology for Development field. None of my previous International Development classes had such a focus on technology, despite the huge impact it can have in developing communities. Though I am not a very technologically inclined person, nor do I see myself pursuing a career that deals much with technology, this class taught me a lot of basic yet essential information about ICT4D implementation and usage.

One thing I learned this semester that will be helpful in my future as a development professional is the ability to measure a country’s technological capacity based on various standards and rankings. It is extremely important to ICT innovation for the target country to have a suitable technological environment in order for the project to be successful. If the country does not have the capacity to support an ICT project, the project will fail and it will be a waste of time and resources. As we have learned, many development project fail for a number of different reasons. It is important to make more efficient projects in order to make more progress in the development field. The numerous standards and benchmarks available to measure technological capacity and readiness of a country will be helpful resources in the future when I am creating development projects.

We looked at a number of examples of technological rankings in class. We looked at the 2010 Economist Intelligence Unit Digital Economy Rankings, 2012 World Economic Forum Global Information Technology Report, and the 2012 WSIS National E-Strategies for Development. These reports give information about the dimensions of a country’s technology sector and e-readiness in order to help assess its ability to sustain various technological projects. These standards and rankings could be instrumental in the development of the ICT4D field and the progress that can be made in developing countries.

Given the recent growth of the ICT4D field and how important it is becoming in the larger development field, these standards could be useful to me whether I think I am going into technology development or not. As a development professional you cannot ignore the importance of technology and the potential it holds in the development of marginalized communities. I am happy to have taken this class and learned about the ICT4D field and just how extensive and important is it for development.

South Africa National ICT Resources

The following two sources were the documents from which I attained most of the information about South Africa’s ICT policies for my assignment.

Guide to ICT Policy in IST-Africa Partner Countries. Rep. Vol. 2.2: IST-Africa Consortium, 2010.

Information and Communication Technology Research & Development and Innovation Strategy. Working paper. 4A ed. Vol. 71204: Republic of South Africa Department of Science and Technology, 2007. <RSA_ICTResearchDevelopmentInnovationStrategy_Final.doc>.


It was fairly easy for me to find information about the National ICT Policies in South Africa. There is no language barrier and since it is a rapidly developing country there is a lot of information to be had about the country and its recent progress. While I could find a lot of information in many informal publications like articles and blog posts, the two sources posted above were great sources of more credible information.

Wayan Vota: Where are the Mobile Operators in Mobiles for Development Projects?

After reading the numerous opinions and debates surrounding ICT4D, the perspectives of Steve Song and Wayan Vota really stood out to me. As I began to read more from the two, I came across a Wayan Vota post in response to Steve Song’s post “Three reasons why M4D may be bad for Development.” The post is entitled “Where are the Mobile Operators in Mobiles for Development Projects?”

In the article, Vota argues the point Song had made, that mobile operators are “entrenched” with development agencies and generously give to M4D programs. Unlike many highly involved technological companies, Vota argues that most operators, with the exception of a few like Nokia and Vodafone, almost completely ignore the development sector despite the fact that their products are frequently being used to foster development. Vota established three main reasons he sees for this pattern.

  • Mobile technology does not need donors. He says that since the rise of mobile phone adoption and usage has been largely consumer-driven, the operators do not need to worry about donor agencies. The operators believe the free market will drive the spread of mobile technology, and they therefore should not need donor agencies to force it to happen.
  • Donors can’t adapt to private industry’s speed. Since the mobile industry is very dynamic, making changes about every three months, donor agencies would not be able to implement an effective plan that would keep up with this pace. Additionally, the business of donor agencies is so different from the private mobiles industry, that the two would not be compatible to work together.
  • Implementers can’t afford in-house mobile expertise. Essentially, the salary demanded by many of the useful mobile phone technology developers is outside the realm of possibility for many development agencies. They cannot afford these services and therefore any partnership wouldn’t be possible.

In sum, Vota believes a relationship between the public and private sectors, or the development agencies and mobile operators, is nearly impossible. He argues that they are too different to work together as one, and therefore mobiles are a poor choice for development initiatives. He also adds that broadband internet access works better than mobiles in boosting GDP, linking to another one of his posts which defends this statement.

I thought this post displayed an extremely important perspective to consider. I especially had interest in it because the proposed intervention I created for our third assignment created an mHealth initiative to combat some of South Africa’s major health problems. This type of analysis will be important to consider for the future of M4D, and it will have a number of implications for any current or aspiring mobile development projects.

Renren vs. Facebook

For this weeks blog post I focused on social media sites of the United States and their parallels in China. Being that I use Facebook so much I decided to look into Renren, which has been referred to as “the Facebook of China.” While at first the two sites seem extremely similar, according to this blog post on Echouser there are actually many differences in function and usage.

Renren was founded in 2005 by a Chinese graduate of Delaware University. It started small, almost exclusively used in a few university crowds in Beijing, but by February of 2011 it had reached 160 million users. Similar to and inspired by Facebook, the Renren interface looks strikingly similar to Facebooks. However, the way Renren approaches social media and encourages networking amongst its users is quite different.

According to the author of this article, Renren is used more for focusing on the users close group of friends, while Facebook focuses more on feeds and events than Facebook friends. In short, Renren is more about the “who” and Facebook is more about the “what.”

The author supports this view with a few examples. Firstly, Renren has a special attention section where users are able to focus more on the activity of close friends. However, on Facebook there is the Top News section which is about showcasing events and promoting popular activity, rather than focusing on activity of certain people. Secondly, Renren has friend recommendations and birthday reminders, while Facebook does not. This shows there is more emphasis on events and a less personal feed on Facebook than Renren.

This argument from the author peaked my interest the most because I am not so sure I agree with it. While I do not use Renren so I cannot speak comparatively, I do know that my experience with Facebook is very personal and focuses on my close friends. I recognize that there is a large amount of advertisement and event promotion on Facebook, but I’m still not convinced by the authors argument.

In the context of this class I think the difference in usage will play a role in the use of these social media sites in information communication. Being that Renren is arguably more useful for communicating with close friends, it would be a better site for contacting close friends during a disaster while Facebook is used not only for contacting others but also largely for sharing general information about disasters. However, the lesser amount of information sharing on Renren could be attributable to the newness of the site and lower level of financial income to improve the site. In the future as the company grows it could become wealthier and capable of a greater capacity of information sharing like Facebook does. Also, the article says Renren has a journal log section that Facebook does not, which could provide a place for people to express their views and feelings, perhaps about politics or current events, whereas Facebook discussions exist almost exclusively on status updates. Perhaps more informative dialogue and communication could exist with an app like this on Facebook.

Smartphones in Post-Sandy Manhattan

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, which affected my and well as many of my classmates families, I have become overwhelmed with reports of damage and destruction in my home town. Among the many articles I discovered in my search for aftermath information was this article from the Tech section of Huff Post, “After Hurricane Sandy, New Yorkers Struggle With ‘Obselete’ Smartphones.”

According to the article, Lower Manhattan is completely without power and twenty five percent of cell towers were wiped out. As a result, New York City residents have found themselves without cell phone service. In a world where we depend on cell phones so much, this has become a major problem for New Yorkers. I have been having trouble contacting my family since the storm hit, and I can only imagine the millions of other people having the same problem.

Interestingly, the article discusses how people are now having to rely more on older forms of  technology that have been over-looked for so long. These technologies include basic flashlights, which have recently become replaced by flashlight applications on smartphones. In a disaster when people have little or no battery life on their phones, these applications cannot be used and they must resort to regular flashlights. Additionally, New Yorkers have been lining up to use payphones! Payphones, which just a week ago so many New Yorkers just walked past almost forgetting their existence, are now a hot commodity in the city. The article also states how recently, New York City proposed plans to convert pay phone locations into WiFi hotspots, so they would actually be useful spaces. While on a normal day in New York City I’m sure many would be in favor of this, in the post-hurricane state, I am sure many are thankful to have them.

This has given me a real life example of many of the things we have discussed in class. Firstly, it makes me think about the reliance on cellphones. We talk about the positive impact mobile phones have been able to have in many areas of the developing world, and how many societies have started using mobiles as their main form of communication technology (especially those that have leapfrogged over land lines). However, if something like this disaster were to happen, clearly mobile phones would not be useful. It also makes me realize just how difficult disaster response efforts can be. While we have learned about the difficulties of disaster management in class, it wasn’t until I had this event occur and affect me so personally that I really understood the gravity of the situation.

It is amazing to think that no matter how advanced our technology gets, set backs like Hurricane Sandy will still challenge our progress. Smartphones, rightfully earning their name, are capable of incredible things for communication and development. However, we walk a fine line between relying on our mobile phones for useful applications, and completely depending on them. If we become too dependent, we may find ourselves in difficult situations just like Lower Manhattan is experiencing now.

Crowd-sourcing and the Ukrainian Elections

After learning about crowd-sourcing from our guest lecturer I began to research other ways in which it can be used for development. I came across an article from the Washington Post titled, “Can crowd-sourcing keep corruption at bay?

The article discusses how high corruption rates in Ukraine are threatening to affect the country’s upcoming parliamentary elections. The fairness of this election is going to help other nations decide whether or not Ukraine has a democracy, and it will determine many agreements, like trade, between Ukraine and the European Union. The country was dropped down to a ranking of “Partly Free” by the democracy organization Freedom House in 2011. Freedom House has also stated that corruption is the number one threat to Ukrainian democracy.

According to an OSCE Election Observation report, as of October 19 there had already been abuse of administrative resources, violent threats towards campaign workers, and several more reports of other campaign violations. In order to reduce corruption during the campaign, one organization has created a plan to use everyday citizens to make a most honest election.

The organization is ElectUA, and they have created a crowd-sourcing system that allows citizens to submit reports of violations. As you can see on the map in the article, there have already been over 1,000 reports submitted. The red dots on the map represent confirmed cases of violation, and the blue dots are reported cases not yet confirmed.

I think this is an incredible way to use crowd-sourcing as a means of fostering development. If Ukraine can have a fair election with little to no corruption, they have the potentially to be raised to democratic status. This would mean a lot for the political development of the country and its international relationships. This is another great example of how a crowd-sourcing technique is fostering development.

OLPC: South Africa

In researching One Laptop Per Child in South Africa I came across a video documentary about one OLPC initiative in Soweto, South Africa. The video, entitled “My School, My Community, My Laptop”, focuses on the Kliptown Youth Program in Soweto. The program was established in 2007 as an effort to address the social challenges of the community including unemployment, teen pregnancy and HIV. The program works to create opportunities and activities for community members like tutoring, sports and performing arts. The community leader states in the video that the program wanted to focus efforts toward education in order to help address the communities problems.

In order to foster education within the program, they received XO laptops through One Laptop Per Child. As we see in the video, both the students, teacher and community leader spoke highly of laptops. The teacher liked that students were able to research information online while in class and also able to chat with other XO users about sensitive topics like puberty that the students didn’t like talking to her about. The video also mentions that the laptops have brought the community together in that they have gotten parents and other family members interested in the laptops. Additionally, they had access to a “IT Geek” who came to the school and community center where tutoring took place so that they could be taught how to use the laptop and get tech-related questions answered. This “IT Geek” was also a community member so he was known by the community and accessible to students. This aspect was good because it addressed one of the major problems we see in other OLPC initiatives where technological assistance is not available.

While the video mentioned many benefits of the laptops, there is potential for some problems. Firstly, it seemed as though the interviewed students were very focused on the chatting and gaming aspects, and maybe not necessarily the educational aspects. Also, the community in the video was very rural and does not necessarily suggest electricity or internet access. It seemed as though the location where tutoring was taking place had internet connection, but that does not mean the students homes did, so they may not have constant access. Additionally, the community they are in, Soweto, is very close the Johannesburg, so the technological capacity there may be more than other parts of South Africa. Therefore, we cannot take the OLPC success here and say it will work for other parts of South Africa as a whole. Finally, this video has potential for bias, because the program could be trying to put themselves in a good light, and they may be overplaying the success of the OLPC initiative.

Overall I think the OLPC initiative can do a lot of good for the objectives of the Kliptown Youth Program (KYP). I think OLPC could have more success here because it was being introduced to a preexisting community building program. Since the KYP was already dedicated to improving education for children, the introduction of the laptops was welcomed by the program rather than OLPC just throwing computers at a community or district which has been a problem in other places. The drive of the KYP coupled with the technology of OLPC could create a lot of educational progression for the Soweto community.