Author Archives: margrroberts

ICT4D Professional Profile: Carla Briceno

As the population demographics of the United States are continuing to highlight the large and growing Hispanic community, it is necessary that their community is represented on the web and that they have access to  markets. Carla Briceno is a passionate leader in involving Latin Americans and the Hispanic population in the United States into the marketplace through communication web tools and data visualization. She is the Co-Founder of Bixal, a company founded to engage and serve the Hispanic markets. Her efforts to promote these communities is motivating and relevant to our current and future global community.

Before co-founding Bixal, she has worked in a variety of areas in the public and private sector. Briceno served as a Peace Corp Volunteer in rural Guatemala, worked as a researcher and consultant measuring impacts of projects, and has most recently been working on various web developing projects such as translation, development of web-based applications, and data visualization tools.With Bixal, she has been involved on a variety of projects, and she has a wide range of clients from the Panamanian Ministry of Commerce to non-profits. Although Briceno has worked mainly on connecting online communities for issues involving international trade, Bixal is now working toward developing mobile communications for women’s health.  She is collaborating with Peruvian colleagues to create a data cloud on Drupal, an open source content management platform, that can be accessed on smart phones. The cloud would provide information to help promoters on tracking cases and content to share with women who they are monitoring in a tablet format. She is also hoping to develop partnership with mobile companies to add an element of texting that can be accessed without a smart phone.

When asked what advice she would give to students, Briceno responded by saying that students planning to work in the international development realm need to have hands on technology skills and experiences, especially with web and mobile communications, along with foreign language skills. She advised that students get involved in the private sector to begin with and bring those skills to the public sector in later years. Briceno is active on social media through Twitter, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, and is a great person to talk to if you are pursuing a career path in her field. I found it very impressive that she is very involved in raising her two children bilingual, and even uses social media to connect others in the region with a similar interest in doing so.

I can say without hesitating that Carla Briceno’s work is making a difference. She is a positive thinker and uses her specialized skills in web developing and management to put forth her objectives in expanding the web presence of Hispanic communities and markets. Briceno is using ICTs for development while improving her own quality of life, a business model that will continue to ensure success.


Sonal Shah and ICTs in Social Innovation

If you did not see Sonal Shah’s speech tonight, you missed out. She was inspiring and discussed a lot of topics that we have been talking about in class. Her background is diverse. Shah most recently has been serving as the Director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation in the White House. She has worked in development initiatives by holding positions in the U.S. government as well as in the private sector at Google.org as the head of Global Development Initiatives and Goldman Sachs. Shah also co-founded a non-profit Indicorps, which offers fellowships for people of Indian origin to volunteer in India.

Tonight she spoke on social innovation and sited some of the business models that should serve as models for future businesses. Shah mentioned Ushahidi as an example of a successful social business model and Sarvajal as a franchise model using technology in a productive way. The organization enlists local entrepreneurs to operate and distribute clean water to villages in Africa from company-owned filtration units. They provide maintenance, marketing and back-end operations support. They are able to track water production and quality, control filtration operations remotely, and manage maintenance issues before they occur with the usage of ICTs such as mobile phones. Their business model is for-profit and making a social impact.

Shah mentioned another institution using SMS notifications: the U.S. government. Low income women can sign up for cell phone alerts to notify them of what they need to be doing in terms of proper health care with the text4baby initiative. Since most of these women use texting over the Internet, it is proving to be widely successful. The cell phone companies provide free texting. This is an example of a public-private partnership as the U.S. government, Johnson and Johnson, and a few non-governmental organizations are in collaboration.

Shah emphasized the need for new businesses models and innovative solutions that make an impact. Our generation needs to break the barriers and change the models that are not working. We can start by creating a wedge into the model and making a successful change that others will want to follow. This can be applied to ICT initiatives especially in the for-profit world.  It is exciting to see that ICTs are gaining attention in all sectors by successes in tackling environmental and social issues.

Sonal Shah: http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/sonal-shah/gIQAWBsq6O_topic.html

Sarvajal: http://www.sarvajal.com/

Text4baby:  http://www.text4baby.org/


Farm Radio International

George Atkins, CBC’s noon farm radio broadcaster, traveled to Zambia with other farm broadcasters when he realized that broadcasters needed to set up a worldwide exchange of ideas. He aimed to network the small-scale farmers so everyone could benefit. The network has continued to grow since 1975 and there are more than 400 participating radio partners in over 38 African countries. Their approach to fighting development challenges has been very effective.

Farm Radio International is a Canadian charity that works with radio broadcasters in African countries to establish food security. They help African radio broadcasters communicate with local small-scale farmers in rural areas to deliver information about food to fight poverty.

Specifically, they provide resources such as information packages and en electronic news service to African broadcasters too increase food supplies, nutrition, and health for the small farmers and their families. They deliver special programs to increase farmers’ knowledge of improved farming practices of specific development issues, such as soil erosion or banana bacterial wilt. They also provide training to broadcasters to help them with improving their farm radio services and realize the benefits of using these practices. Furthermore, they collaborate with the Commonwealth of Learning and other partners to hold radio scriptwriting competitions on healthy communities in Africa, smallholder farmer innovation, and climate change. Farm International also provides awards to recognize the rural broadcasters for their contribution to the project. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in partnership with the World University Services of Canada have funded an African Farm Radio Research Initiative to assess the effectiveness of farm radio in providing food security and encouraging self-reliance.

The organization has staff (about 10 people) located in Ottawa and regional staff located throughout Africa. The Canadian staff works on fundraising and communications with the Canadian and American public along with general oversight in terms of management of finance and their grant from the Canadian government (CIDA). The regional staff (about 20 people) are almost all African and from the country they work in. Their role is to run the major programs in the field from logistics in sending out materials to running radio campaigns in their respective countries. A majority of their time is spent running impact programs in the field. Their work so far has demonstrated the impact on specific agricultural issues at a specific location. Farm Radio partners with local radio stations and organizations that work with agriculture and together they supply radio programs with a focus on education of farmers and discussion, allowing them more tools to access new technologies. To see a further explanation, see PDFs attached.

Farm Radio International seems to have a very high success rate. They have combatted the language barrier by encouraging their partner broadcasters to use the resources provided by Farm Radio to do further research in a localized language. Upon first researching the organization, I began to wonder how effective the technical vocabulary would transfer over. However, Farm Radio’s language attempts to gear their material toward non-technical users (most of the radio broadcasters are not farmers) who will pass on the information in familiar concepts to farmers on the ground. The basic language along with background material from Farm Radio enables broadcasters to further research the subject areas, eliminating language and cultural barriers.

In class we have discussed the many issues with westerners implementing projects in the developing world without the collaboration of the local communities. Farm Radio’s organization is set up in a way to allow the African staff to have a lot of control over the content. The script, news and resource content published by Farm Radio is almost completely done by African journalists, and they have two news bureaus that collect the content. The organization demonstrates how westerners can use their knowledge and resources to combine with local development practictioners to have a successful base of operations. Farm Radio’s impact programs aim to inform farmers of low-cost, sustainable agriculture by approaching each topic from many angles. They do not act as a promotional tool for other organizations, but instead they provide a variety of different sub-topics in each campaign. For example, a campaign about soil management will highlight the different options available, so the farmers are able to make their own optimal decisions. Futhermore, transferring information via radio is cost effective and very accessible. There seem to be fewer problems with implementing radios into society than providing Internet access. The cost of batteries may be an issue, but in general, they are cheaper to implement than other ICTs.

The organization’s purpose is to provide a network, so farmers are able to share information with each other, empowering the native population to use the radios. Mark Leclair from Farm Radio said, “It’s a exciting area of work for us, because it goes beyond simply using radio as a ‘dissemination medium’ and actually pulls farmers and broadcasters into a project that has targeted goals that can have a major impact of food security.” The organization is working more directly on the ground to run the impact programs and to train broadcasters, demonstrating their will to adapt to methodology that has proven successful. Farm Radio International is an organization to learn from.

NOTE: Following the original posting of this blog, I spoke with Mark from Farm Radio, who was extremely helpful in correcting my errors. This is the edited version. Thank you, Mark, for your time and eagerness to help!

For more information on the work of the staff members:

FRI 8 pager Jan 2012

PRC Brief Feb 2012 EN


Success of BOSCO-Uganda

We have thoroughly discussed the problems and successes with the Kony video and Invisible Children. I was mostly impacted by seeing what an essential need it is to have the continual collaboration with those you are attempting to help. Invisible Children, from what I heard from our guest speaker and what I have read, has a very outsider’s approach to development with respect to whom they work with. I spent some time researching what other organizations are in northern Uganda, and I found one involved with ICT and development, and most importantly, westerners are not the only ones directing it.

BOSCOUganda is an NGO working to bring ICTs (mainly Internet access) to Northern Uganda to “foster socio-economic development and peace building in rural communities”. They state their role and their partners on their Internet page.  They are strongly linked to the Archdiocese of Gulu, and the staff reflects this. Most are from Northern Uganda, but there is a variation of backgrounds. The natives are the ones implementing the change.

However, there is an American board of directors of BOSCO USA. The President and Founder, Gus Zuehlke, visited Gulu and decided that he wanted to contribute to alleviate their intense suffering. He contacted the Archoiocese of Gulu and together designed solutions with the locals. The role of the westerners is to bring in their ideas and their funding but with the help of the native people. Specifically, BOSCOUganda manages all Internet sites in the Amuru and Gulu districts, develops content focused on education and peace building for BOSCO’s Intranet system, supports expansion through new proposals and partnerships, and manages communications between local, regional and international stakeholders in partnership with BOSCO USA. I believe this is the best way to implement an international project with support from abroad and a combination of ideas.

Our guest speakers both spoke about the role of westerners in development. It is a difficult subject, but there are many organizations, like BOSCOUganda, who seem to be listening to complaints of the western superiority complex and are responding appropriately. This takes us back to an earlier lesson from Unwin about the importance of communication. We all must communicate effectively and figure out the real needs before going forward with a project.


ICT4$ in the Philippines

The Philippines is reported to gain $200 billion ($50 billion in direct revenue and $150 billion in indirect investments in the economy) in the local ICT industry. The government is supporting the ICT industry and has plans to invest significantly in “programs, policy development, marketing, and research and talent development”.

After developing the Philippine Digital Strategy (PDS) in 2010, the Philippines have worked to make improvements in the sector. National industry associations and stakeholders in the ICT industry met at various national conferences to brainstorm expansion initiatives and contribute ideas—the first time an ICT event or workshop of this scale has taken place.

I immediately thought back to our discussion of ICT4$ versus ICT4D. Erik Henderson criticizes ICT4D for its top-down approach and says it represents a “mental roadblock” and is an “import culture”. The Philippines’ ICT initiatives have demonstrated how a national coordinated effort could be the best way to solve real needs within communities. The government is investing heavily in commercial ventures, but with a focus on education and community objectives as well. This way the investment will see massive returns in efficient human capital, benefiting the overall economy.

Wayan believes that there can be ICT4D and ICT4$ with the same overall goals of making money while improving quality of life. I agree with this view and believe this will be a key component in furthering the socio-economic development of the Philippines.


Ushahidi in Food and Technology Hub Mapping

As we examined in class this past Wednesday, Ushahidi has the potential to be incredibly useful in disaster management. There are many complications and questions as to who is responsible for using the information that is preventing the maximum potential of the technology. This is a very complex issue that needs to continue to be discussed in order for disaster recovery technology to improve. However, Ushahidi is not only used for disaster management, but has proved to be useful in other development projects and cases.

In the Cost of Chicken Project, Ushahidi is used to communicate information about food to children all over the world from San Francisco to India. Young children from age 8 collect data about the prices of food and where the food originally comes from and are able to access the data that others have reported. Children are able to learn about social development along the lines of nutrition and essential information about their food sources. For example, a child can find out how far the food traveled, if farmers used pesticides, where to get good quality food, or other determinants of documenting local food conditions.

The developers of the Cost of Chicken Project claim they use Ushahidi because it is easy to use and they had already known about it. In this case, the technology is being used successfully because the dispersers and users of the information were the ones seeking it. One of the problems of using Ushahidi for disaster management is the technology is still looking for those to use and apply the information.

Another recent use of Ushahidi is the mapping of technology innovation and entrepreneurship centers in Africa by BongoHive. This will support entrepreneurs and capacitate them to develop technology.

I do not doubt that Ushahidi is a very useful tool, but there needs to be other partners that are willing to take the initiative of using the information. Overall, I am impressed and excited by what change is to come with Ushahidi and other crowdsourcing technology.


Mobile Commerce in Emerging Markets

MasterCard’s Mobile Money Partnership Program has selected Sybase 365, a company focused on advancing mobile commerce services, to be a money technology provider. The companies aim to give banks and mobile operations an “’open’ payment solution to enable and enhance the consumers’ mobile commerce experience”.

The new program would allow “financially underserved customers” to gain entrances to markets which they couldn’t before, as they did not have the modern mainstream financial services in place. With an easier and more efficient way to pay for services, there will be more opportunities for small businesses in the developing world to grow. Consumers will be able to “transfer funds, pay bills , and purchase goods and services via their mobile phones” at merchants that accept MasterCard cards.

This is an effective initiative that will help developing nations develop economically. Mobile money provides services to those without banks and could also aid in microfinance initiatives. It advances the developing world’s emerging markets while at the same time creating profit for the producers. With incentives on both sides of the equation to advance this technology, success is sure to come. The program has a potential to grow out from under MasterCard to enable all cards to be used, and will hopefully further open the producers availability to use the technology.

However, there are many issues that need to be considered like the price of the systems and the security. The mobile money plan must have consumer confidence for the program to flourish. The financial institutions need to communicate to consumers how the technology works and whether it is reliable and secure. With adequate infrastructure and communication from financial institutions, I believe that this technology has the ability to enable entrepreneurship and business in the emerging market.

Link to article: http://www.sacbee.com/2012/02/22/4283766/sybase-365-and-mastercard-partner.html (Article no longer available)