Author Archives: msingh2

ICT4D Professional Profile: Robert Munro

Robert Munro is a computational linguist in the area of communication technologies and works largely on less resourced languages.  As a graduate fellow at Stanford University, much of his research involves topics such as crowdsourcing and machine learning.  Mr. Munro originally came into the field through his previous research experience. After graduating from University of Sydney in 2004 with majors in Linguistics, Computer Science, Information Systems, and English and Film Studies, he proceeded to work on the Hans Rausing Endangered Languages Project at the University of London.  Mr. Munro worked as the project’s software developer – designing digital archives, working with multimedia development, and researching into computational linguistics.

After his original experience with HRELP, Mr. Munro proceeded to work on many ICT4D projects worldwide.   For example, Mr. Munro was involved with the Mission 4636 service during the January 12th, 2010 earthquake in Haiti.  With this service, Haitian’s were able to text their medical needs and receive aid.  Mr. Munro helped to coordinate the translation and categorization of text messages that were received.  With the help of Crowdflower, their crowdsourcing platform, Mr. Munro and his colleagues were able to translate the messages within ten minutes.   Overall, the initiative was successful and they were able to process more than 80, 000 messages – “the first time that crowdsourcing had been used for real-time humanitarian relief and the largest deployment of humanitarian crowdsourcing to date.”Along with crowdsourcing efforts, one of Mr. Munro’s major areas of interest includes machine loading.  In 2011, Mr. Munro worked as Chief Technology Officer at the Global Viral Forecasting, an initiative dedicated to predicting and preventing the emergence of new disease outbreaks.  In particular, he worked with a system called EpidemicIQ.  With the help of thirty labs worldwide, the team, currently, is able to gather information about epidemics and load them into the system to filter out what is relevant.  The machine-loading technique gathers various types of information that it can then use to predict a certain epidemic arising in an area.  For example, Google Flu trends determined that flu outbreaks could be predicted by simply tracking the symptoms that are usually searched.Beyond these experiences, Mr. Munro has worked in Sierra Leone as Chief Information Officer for Energy for Opportunity (EFO), an organization devoted to finding a safe and environmentally friendly way of providing electricity to communities throughout West Africa. He currently, “heads the IT services at EFO and does everything from developing software systems to training and acceptance testing” (EFO).When he is not involved in attending conferences or performing research, Mr. Munro enjoys blogging at Jungle Light Speed and traveling around the world.

Sources:  Robert Munro’s Website, EFO

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How Secure is Information on Facebook?

Today, Facebook has become one of the leading social networking sites for people worldwide.  Constantly, people are posting new pictures, statuses, and location updates.  Yet, an article published just earlier this month highlights the potential harm a simple status on Facebook can have.  As Rob Rachwald, security strategy director for the cybersecurity firm, Imperva, notes, “status updates on Facebook posted by friends and family of government officials or the officials’ own unencrypted Facebook activities can be used to gather intelligence such as U.S. troop movements.”  Yet, no one considers this before making their quick status update.  For example, an Israel Defence Forces operation was cancelled last year after a soldier updated the time and location of the operation.  While this may seem naive on the soldier’s part, it raises an important issue.  It’s impossible to tract every individual to make sure he or she is not posting potentially harmful information on one of the various social networking sites.

Furthermore, as an Imperva report acknowledges, spies and hackers can use records, such as business connections, that they get a hold of through these various sites, for corporate espionage and government and military information.  In fact, they can receive direct access to gmail accounts of federal officials.  Yet, as Facebook spokesperson, Fred Wolens, argues, they have designed Facebook as a user friendly site and individuals have the power to monitor who they share their information with.  While he argues that many security systems are placed so that cybersecurity issues do not arise, we all know that hackers still find a way.  With applications that provide exact geographic locations, it’s evident that such concerns will arise.  Furthermore, as the article points out, while login information is secure on Facebook, the information sent back and forth is unprotected and solely dependent on the user.

In the end, it becomes difficult to balance out the pros and cons of sites like Facebook.  While many concerns are evident, its important to  acknowldge that this same information can be used by U.S. agencies to track spies and criminals and by federal law enforcement officials to find records on criminal suspects for example.  To what degree can we monitor this information so that it is secure and not accessible to potential hackers, yet still use the benefits this type of social media provides?

Source: NextGov Article


Social Media: KONY 2012

“Ugandans from Lira watch the premiere of ‘Kony 2012,’ a 30-minute YouTube film created by the nonprofit Invisible Children. Lira was one of the areas that was ravaged by 20 years of Joseph Kony’s rebellion.”

A recent MSNBC article reported the delay in the release of the sequel to the original KONY 2012 video that was posted over a month ago.  While it was supposed to have been released on April 3, it has been pushed back to April 5 due to time and budget issues.  After the widespread awareness of the first video, with more than 86 million viewers worldwide on YouTube, Invisible Children has decided to come out with a sequel.  The founders of Invisible Children relied mainly on social media efforts to get their video across worldwide and have done the same for this upcoming video.

Yet, similar to some of the criticisms they received during the first video, many people believe that this second video will arise some of the same questions.  As mentioned in Ethan Zuckerman’s article, Unpacking Kony 2012, one of the criticisms faced is that the campaign greatly oversimplifies the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in Uganda. Also, another issue he pointed out was that only about a third of their money goes to Uganda, whereas the rest is used up in filmmaking and other social media efforts to spread awareness.  Moreover, another concern is that much of the perspective on the KONY 2012 situation through websites such as Facebook and Twitter are not from the marginalized population of Uganda but more from American societies and it’s youth (Boyd).  Often, the video causes the marginalized population to feel more helpless than they actually are.  These concerns are important to notice with all social media efforts.

Despite these concerns, though, Invisible Children still plans to release the sequel.  In the video, they hope to mention their “Cover the Night” event, an awareness campaign on the situation.  Since no major public appearances were made after the first video, Invisible Children hopes the sequel will be the next step at creating further awareness of the KONY 2012 issue.

Source: MSNBC Article ; Ethan Zuckerman: “Unpacking Kony 2012”; Boyd’s Article 


Stakeholders: Nigeria

Many aspects of ICT4D must be taken into account before an initiative is implemented.  One such dimension are the stakeholders as discussed in Tongia & Subrahmanian’s article from class.  This includes everything from service providers, ICT developers, governments, NGOs, etc.  These stakeholders work backstage by providing funding and supporting a program.  Without them, a project would not be sustainable in the long-run!

An example of this was seen in Nigeria where the stakeholders in the ICT sector urged the President, Goodluck Jonathan, to use ICT implementation as a way to target the nation’s impeding challenges.  In fact, the President of the Institute of Software Practitioners of Nigeria, Dr. Chris Uwaje, even went on to argue that “anything done by the President that is not ICT-related would fail” (allAfrica).  Dr. Uwaje believes that all sectors of development, including agriculture, manufacturing, banking, and many others, can highly benefit from ICTs.  Furthermore, one of the most important points he argued was that the President should work with stakeholders in creating broadband projects in Nigeria.  Especially when arguing the need for better and a more sustainable power supply within the country, he argued that liberalisation should occur.  In other words, the government should realize that throwing money around is not the answer; the government has to work together with stakeholders and a network of individuals to make a change happen.  I thought these points were very interesting in the article.  The need for stakeholder’s in ICT initiatives is clearly evident, yet, as noted through Tongia & Subrahmanian’s article, one of the main challenges of ICTs is ensuring that stakeholders in various different groups communicate and agree with each other.  For example, in the case of Nigeria, the government may feel as if spending money on ICTs may not be necessary at the moment whereas Dr. Uwaje, who is directly involved in providing ICT services believes that development cannot happen without ICTs.  Just through this one example, it’s evident that all different stakeholders must have some form of a communication system and agreement on a project in order to ensure the project achieves success!

Source:  Tongia & Subrahmanian “ICT4D:  A Design Challenge?” ; allAfrica Article 


Organization Profile: ICTWorks


ICTWorks is an Information, Communications, and Technology company located in South Africa that is owned solely by women.  In fact, according to ICTWorks, the staff represents the demographics of South Africa and encompasses over 70% of the previously disadvantaged population.  The organization began in 1999 when Xoliswa Kakana decided to create a new organization that would give IT services to the population.  Currently, she serves as the Chairperson for the organization.  The rest of the highly qualified executive team includes Sindile Ncala (Chief Executive Officer), Margaret Sibiya (Executive Director), and Maretha Britz (Executive Director).  While these consist of paid positions, the company offers their employees and family members free access to their services through the ICT-Cares Welbeing Programme.  The executive team and the employees work together to achieve the goals of the company — “to use extensive skills and experience to create wealth for clients, business partners, and employees and to lift the profile of women and PDI’s [previously disadvantaged individuals] in the world of IT” (ICTWorks).  Overall, the company hopes to make a great impact by increasing the livelihoods of the population of South Africa.

The company is partnered with many other organizations world-wide including Oracle, HP, Fujitsu, Deloitte, Vixerg, Software, Belay, ICAS, Ordained IT Solutions, Eon Consulting, and Maternaips.  These organizations allow the company to expand their horizons and offer more resources to the population.  For example, through an alliance with Oracle and its partners, the company was able to set up an internship program that gives students the opportunity to learn skills necessary in today’s IT industry through specific training and hands on experiences in various businesses.  In this way, the organization is not only helpful for providing funding, but also is committed to training individuals about IT.  Ultimately, with the support of this many partners, ICTWorks is able to make an even greater impact on the South African communities.  Furthermore, since it’s beginning, the company has also connected with a long list of clients, some of which include Sasol, South African Department of Defence, Post Office, MTN, South African Department of Land Affairs, National Research Foundation, FIFA, South African National Treasury Department, etc.

The company provides these clients with various consulting services to help with development and implementation of projects.  One of these includes change management services through which the company performs a “change readiness assessment” of your organization and then develops a “change management plan” to ensure sustainability of an initiative.  The plan targets all issues including leadership coaching, communication planning, stakeholder management, etc.  Beyond the initial planning, ICTWorks provides “project management services” which look more closely at the objectives and make sure they are clearly linked to the goals of the project.  Furthermore, the service looks closely at the framework of the project and tracks its status over time through evaluations.  On a more broad spectrum, the company also offers “ICT strategy services” to look at the overall vision of a business.  Some of ICTWorks business solutions include systems providing vehicle scheduling for public transport companies and applications for their business partner Oracle.  Also, some of their ITs include SMS services, web and portal development services, security solutions, architecture development applications, software services, and sensor-based ITs such as radio frequency identification.

From my assessment of this company, I believe it is a good resource for ICT projects that are just getting started or are having trouble with the sustainability of their project in the long-run.  When searching for ICTWorks current projects, many were linked with Inveneo, an enterprise dedicated to providing ICTs to those who need it.  The difficulty in finding specific ICTWorks administered projects lead me to believe that the company worked mainly with other organizations.  In this way, the company is largely dedicated to providing the behind-the-scenes services necessary for a project!


Source: ICTWorks Website


GSMA mWomen Program

The digital divide is an ever increasing problem in developing countries as it becomes harder for the rural population to access new and improved ICTs.  In a similar fashion, another major source of the digital divide is the gender gap present in the developing countries due to economic and cultural barriers.  Today, women, in comparison to men, are noticeably less likely to have access to essential technological resources.  For example, mobile phones have become a major tool, providing “healthcare, banking services, agricultural and commodity pricing, literary training, and educational and employment opportunities.” Yet, as USAID points out, women encounter many challenges when trying to use or own mobile phones.  These challenges include amount of literacy, costs of products, need for the technology, and cultural attitudes.  Due to these barriers, the digital divide only increases when ICT initiatives are implemented.

For this reason, the GSMA mWomen Program was set up with a goal to “halve the mobile gender gap throughout the developing world, whereby 300 million fewer women than men own mobile phones.”  The mWomen Program was set up after GSMA conducted a report entitled “Women and Mobile: A Global Opportunity” in which they proved the existence of a gender gap in developing countries and also provided evidence of the positive impact ICTs such as mobile phones could have on women.  USAID gave an award of $500,000 to GMSA solely for research.  This money is being used to build a business case for women in the mobile industry.  For example, they determined that the 300 million women they plan to target could give mobile industries $13 billion in extra revenue each year.  In two years, the program already has a network of 115 countries helping with the research and is one of the first initiatives targeting women interaction in the mobile industry.

In fact, on November 30, a new 3-year Global Development Alliance (GDA) was announced with the GSMA mWomen Program to further increase mobile usage amongst women in the developing world.  By partnering with many other organizations, the program has potential to make a great impact for the mobile industry.

Source:  USAID ARTICLE


CrowdFlower

CrowdFlower is a crowdsourcing platform that was initiated in 2007 by Lukas Biewald.  Recently, it has been ranked as one of the best crowdsourcing services and is a great solution to large projects requiring a considerable workforce.  Crowdsourcing is defined as “the practice of obtaining needed services, ideas, or content by soliciting contributions from a large group of people and especially from the online community rather than from traditional employees or suppliers.”  CrowdFlower does just this.  It takes projects containing a wealth of information and breaks them down into manageable tasks that are them distributed around the globe to the various subscribers.  The information these contributors provide are then analyzed and revealed.

The large-scale platform not only provides reliable information but also allows projects to be completed at a fast pace.  One way in which the quality of the information is assessed is through gold stand units which are questions clients must answer and get correct in order to initially participate in the platform.  Also, many contributors examine each data point in order to ensure accurate results.  CrowdFlower products have the ability to categorize products into categories, quickly obtain access to relevant online information, convert handwritten information into digital data, and create quality website content.  The platform is essential for eCommerce companies, online media companies, data providers, brand managers, etc.

As discussed in class, CrowdFlower was able to use text messaging services after the Haiti earthquake to help individuals with whatever they needed.  It has also helped with the 2010 Pakistan flood and the refugees in Kenya.  In fact, recently CrowdFlower was used to identify drug resistant TB cells.  A group of highly qualified contributors were asked to mark and identify each cell from the cortex slides — a 3 month job made possible in 3 days through CrowdFlower.  In this way, by using a crowdsourcing method, CrowdFlower has been able to make a major impact.