This week our class spoke with Wayan Vota, the senior manager at Development Gateway and professional in the field of ICT4D. Our discussion offered us the opportunity to reexamine the themes of our course with the benefit of Mr. Vota’s experience and expertise. As we are a class of juniors and seniors, it is perhaps unsurprising that the conversation shifted towards questions about future career possibilities. How do I market myself in the ICT4D field? What jobs are out there? Is ICT4D for me?
One of Mr. Vota’s comments stood out to me, not simply as a valuable insight but also because it identified one of the most important lessons in the field of ICT4D, and International Development more generally. Network, network, network. Any college senior is well aware of the importance meeting professionals in their desired field in hopes of making a positive impression and embarking on a career path. The value of networking, however, is much greater than shaking hands and growing one’s contacts list. It’s an exchange of information or services between people sharing common interests or goals. When networking is used to develop effective partnerships among stakeholders, it becomes extraordinarily important in the field of ICT4D.
It’s no secret that lots of development projects fail, and fail fantastically. Although different sectors of development present specific challenges, many of the reasons for failure remain constant across sectors. Check out this list of the top ten worst practices in ICT for education, all of which apply in other areas. However, successful practices and methods can also translate into positive results for different sectors, even when picking up a proven project in its entirety and moving it somewhere else is often disasterous. One aspect that is common to successful ICT4D projects is an integrated approach that not only takes into account the articulated needs of a community but builds these into every stage of project development. Networking between stakeholders ensures that project designers and implementers not only know who their target audience is but that they also deeply understand how certain technologies will be useful (or not) within these communities.
The networked ICT4D approach gives rise to a demand driven development style which reinforces the necessity of viewing ICTs as tools, not as a means to an end. We’ve seen on countless occasions the pitfalls of technological determinancy and assuming that flashy ICTs will address development challenges simply when introduced in a community–many of OLPC demonstrate this clearly. Effective ICT4D projects are demand driven in that they address stated needs. It is not sufficient to give people mobile phones and tell them how they should use them, rather development workers should ask what sort of task a community wants to accomplish and then find the best tool (that people will actually use) for the job.
The field of ICT4D is far from perfect, and there are lots of misnomers out there about what ICT4D can or should do. I expected this semester to introduce me to the power of technology to facilitate development and combat human deficiencies. Perhaps more importantly, however, I acknowledged the power of people who harness and transform technology to work for them in meaningful ways. Technology makes people more powerful, but people make technology work. Viewed in this way, I can confidently say that ICT4D is for me.