Author Archives: rgoode2

Lessons Learned in ICT4D

The most salient lesson that I learned during this course is that Information and Communication Technology is one of the most powerful and timely sources of development aid. However, ICT4D is also easy to misuse and misunderstand. Like all development projects ICT4D needs to be implemented in a sustainable, cognizant, and efficient manner, and evaluated based on the needs of the community it serves. What makes ICT4D much more difficult than traditional development projects is that ICTs are a rapidly growing industry, with huge potential benefits, and often organizations are too focused on an end goal of say, giving each child a laptop and empowering them in their own educations. With “success” of the goal weighing so heavily upon project teams they often neglect to critically evaluate the many other factors that go into successful development projects, such as availability of electricity, skills of local people, desires of local communities, sustainability, digital divides, leap-frogging effects and other long-term effects of the project.

Specifically, I have learned to think much more critically about the way mobile phones can be used in development. Prior to this class I had no idea how much of the world now uses mobile phones and how many innovative projects have already been developed and implemented through either a smart phone app or simple sms messaging. I think that realization will resonate with me as I go into my career and I will continue to try to think about how the things that I use on a daily basis might also be used for development.

The most useful theoretical concept that we have studied in this class, in my opinion, is the role of ICTs in poverty reduction. Previously I really only considered ICTs as a poverty reducing force by way of education, but through various discussions and readings in this class I have realized that ICTs can be used to address poverty in numerous other ways, including sms-related projects that aid farmers in times of famine, disease, and drought, and various initiative that improve health or preventative care, thus enabling people to contribute more to the economy and attain higher wages.

Overall the class has been exceedingly interesting and has made me think critically about the development, implementation, funding, and evaluation of ICT related development projects, skills which I will undoubtedly take with me into whichever career I pursue.

Brazil Resources

ICT Policy

Language: English
Organization: FORESTA
Published: 2013

Note: This is not a link to the national ICT policy. Brazil does not publish its ICT policy and this document (which compares its policy to those of other nations) is the most concise, analytical, and accurate of all the sources I looked at when writing my country papers.

National Resources

Language: Portuguese
Organization: Brazilian Government
Date: continuously updated

Note: While policy is not published on this site, it does provide updates on government projects and services, as well as articles pertaining to the government, such as news regarding Brazil’s new Internet Constitution.

Case Study

List ofBrazil’s federal programs

Specific case study:

Mobile Money transfers
Language: Portuguese
Organization: Brazilian Government
Date: 2013

Other Resources:

Global Information Society Watch

Brazil’s National Broadband Plan- Review

The Internet Constitution: necessary?

Brazil’s novel and highly praised Marco Civil da Internet, essentially an Internet Constitution, has cleared the house and is becoming law. The new law addresses freedom, privacy, and net neutrality and has been in the works since 2009. The recent issues between the NSA and Brazil spurred Dilma to put the bill before the house, where it passed despite some backlash. Prior to the bill there were no specific rules about how ISPs (internet service providers) were required to hold and retain data. Now, the law requires ISPs to hold user data for six months, which will significantly change the practices of some ISPs who, when unregulated, held user data for numerous years. In addition, the law will ensure freedom of speech on the internet, a factor which has been exceedingly popular among the younger generation. Check out some other specifics about the bill here. 

So what does this have to do with ICT and our class? We’ve been discussing the web a lot recently, and it has increasingly become both a powerful mechanism to be used for development, but also a huge threat to national security, sovereignty, and freedom of speech. Especially after Snowden and the NSA occurrences, many nations are a little on edge, especially booming nations like Brazil. Taking steps which establish rules and regulations for things like privacy protection, freedom of speech, and neutrality is indicative of a nation which is both recognizing its erstwhile faults regarding the web and its usage, and taking the initiative to address those faults before they become the source of a national catastrophe. Establishing regulations for privacy on the Brazilian web will allow users a sense of security that Americans are now starting to question, despite having pre-existing rules (though perhaps not all followed) regarding these issues.

But what about developing countries who are leap-frogging to the internet age without time to develop precautionary and protective regulations or measures? These countries have been placed at a huge risk and will need to catch up fast in order to ensure the safety of their citizens and the privacy and security of their citizen’s information. It looks like this leap-frog will have to be followed by an even bigger leap-frog.

What about Uganda?

The web, radio, and television have been flooded recently with the news about Uganda’s Anti-Gay Bill, sentencing homosexuals, or people who commit homosexual acts to anywhere between 5 years and life in prison. Anti-Homosexuality Bill

The specifics of the bill can be seen here to the left, and, as you can imagine, it has been causing international uproar. Today on the web I saw an article with a graphic photo of a supposedly homosexual man being burned alive in front of a group of people which included many children.  That image made me want to write about whats going on in Uganda for my blog this week, and how whats happening there is associated with ICTs.

First of all, its amazing how fast news flies these days; uproar began even before the bill was signed, as early as 2009 when it was first being introduced. Since then foreign diplomats have been pressuring the Ugandan government to not sign the bill but, as we all know, it was to no avail. The World Bank now has said that it will delay a huge loan it had promised the nation because of this bill. Now some of the biggest worries for Ugandans and the international community alike are about the safety of people who may be at risk. Jail is not even the type of risk that is most concerning, but the fact that gays are being beaten, killed, and denied services such as healthcare in their own countries. So what does this all have to do with ICTs? First of all, without the Internet the international community would have much less influence over the happenings in other parts of the world. Amnesty International immediately set up a protest petition, gaining over 200,000 signatures within a few days. The hashtag #uganda has surged suddenly, leading to thousands of tweets about whats going on in that country an opinions on the bill.  Mobile phone users have captured incredible and horrifying images of protests and human rights abuses and are putting them on the web for the whole world to see. ICTs have given us the power to do this, to effect change thousands of miles away, to support protesters, or to watch entire nations collapse.

So what can ICTs do now? Can ICTs be useful in times like this? In places like Uganda? ICTs showed us whats going on, and sparked the discussion on how to change it- but can ICTs really do anything on the ground in real time to help the people whose lives are at risk?  I think so. I wonder if we will see any apps spring up that could help, because there’s an app for everything, as the saying goes. Maybe an app that will locate clinics that will treat open homosexuals? Though to access the app you would have to know a secret password or something so that the possibly life-saving information stays with the people that need it rather than in the hands of the wrong people. So maybe that wouldn’t work too well, but there has to something- what do you think?  How could ICTs be used in this situation?  I’m not sure, I’ll keep brainstorming, but lets get the conversation started.

Tap That- Unicef’s mobile-based fundraiser project

Unicef, for the fifth year in a row now, is coordinating with Giorgio Armani to run a month long fundraiser titled the Tap Project, hoping to raise millions to provide potable water to children in need. The app, available on your phone here, tracks the number of minutes that you go without using your phone, and for each successful minute Armani will donate enough money to provide one child with a day’s worth of water. The idea is that water is essential to life, something we cannot possibly live without. These days it seems that more and more people seem to be unable to live without their mobile phones, and forget that iphones are a luxury that we who have all of our life-preserving needs (food, water, shelter) taken care of become so deeply attached to.

The way the app works is that it monitors your phone’s movement. Once your phone is in motion, aka in use, it stops recording minutes. However, I tried to hack the app and succeeded in two ways. First, none of us use our phones while we sleep, so beginning the recording as you go to bed allows you to rack up lots of phone-free minutes without actually having to abandon your phone for a day.  Secondly, the website doesn’t know the difference between a mobile device and a computer, so you could potentially open the webpage and start the app while your computer is running and just let it count minutes all day.  This makes me wonder if there is a limit to the amount of money that will be donated to this process, because if everyone starts “hacking the app” we could easily provide hundreds of thousands of days worth of water to children. But the reality is that most people don’t even know this app (which isn’t really even an app, but rather a website) even exists, and many people who do know about it are not interested in playing.

This Unicef project demonstrates the ways in which ICTs can be used in coordination with NGOs and development projects to bring aid to the developing world. I find this case to be very indicative of the vastness of the digital and developmental divides, because this high-tec web generated project is being used to provide arguably the simplest, most basic necessity of life to children who may not have ever seen a smart phone. Overall I think this project is very interesting, and I agree, that these days we are much too connected to our phones and cyber-based worlds than the physical world itself.  This project allows us to take a moment to think about the issue of water scarcity, and its severity and scope, and do something about it that will have real, physical results.

The project is only running for a month, so start tapping the app, and not-tapping your phone.

Improving Existing ICT initiatives- A cowpath worth following

This past week in class we discussed a number of issues related to the way ICT initiatives are designed, implemented, and run. One of these issues, brought up by Surmaya Talyarkhan’s paper, Connecting the First Mile discusses the idea of the design-reality gap, in which ICT projects are developed, anecdotally of course, by a group of people outside the socio-economic sphere of those for whom the project will be implemented, in a way that is much more, “we made this for you”, rather than, “we made this with you”.  An anecdote to this problem, which we have seen in floundering NGO projects across the globe, is to better pre-existing initiatives, another theme we discussed in class. But does this really work?  I vote yes, and I have a few reasons why:

  • Taking grassroots initiatives designed by and for a community and adding in ICTs that they didn’t have before would drastically improve the agency and capacity of the initiative.
  • ICTs would make these organizations and initiatives much more efficient, while being able to “hit the ground running” so to speak because the initiative would have already established rapport with the community in question.

In my participation as a delegate for the Model Organization of American States I’ve been working with my co-delegate on a policy resolution meant to take Talyarkhan’s words and apply them to a real life situation. I thought this would be an excellent forum to discuss our resolution and its relation to ICT4D and let commenters say what they think- after all, our resolution has to be absolutely air tight before we depart for the conference in Washington in March.

In a nutshell, our resolution adds onto the pre-existing government conditional cash transfer program called Bolsa Familia in Brazil. Qualifying low income families receive monthly cash transfers as well as additional supplies in exchange for regularly sending their children to school and getting regular health checkups. This is an effort to keep kids in school, as well as bring children and families out of poverty through education.  Our resolution will bring basic ICTs into the program, as well as enrich desire to learn about ICTs, engineering, science, and mathematics among children.  Our project piggybacks off of the Goldibloxs idea, which is designed to help get little girls interested in STEM academics. Instead, this version of the project (to be titled Building Boxes) will send a small box to each girl in the program (roughly ages 9-14) every six months that they successfully maintain the required attendance. Each box will have a different STEM related theme, and comes with an engaging book and activity catered to the child’s age. These range from a plant-your-own garden and picture book for the youngest age group to a build-your-own-basic-cell-phone and novel for an older age group.  The hope is that through these activities, young girls will acquire interest in these areas and a desire to pursue higher education in these fields.

Anyway, please comment and let me know what you think, or if you have any questions/loopholes.  The MOAS program is theoretical, of course, but I think we need to start seeing more initiatives like this one, which take pre-existing programs and beef them up using ICTs to improve quality, function, and efficiency.

How Much does the Digital Divide Affect Global Economics?

In two words: a lot. And it will only get worse until the Divide is bridged.  This article from Time Magazine explores the relationship between economic growth and cheap and reliable access to the internet. The bottom line is that when economies, be they rural or national, have limited and unreliable access to the internet, they are missing out on an entire economic sector at a high cost. In the past two decades we have witnessed the rise of the digital economy, whose commerce now accounts for up to 10% of some nation’s entire economies (like the U.K)- much to the chagrin of nations where access to that economic sector is limited by poor infrastructure, government instilled firewalls, or other forms of red tape.

Here I see a clear example of a paradox of the developing world: the digital economy could provide numerous benefits to developing nations (such as internet based jobs, world-wide communication, online education, and readily available information and advice on health/hygiene) and yet those same nations who could benefit so much are those with the least access to such an economy. This leaves developed nations with free speech and excellent infrastructure to dominate the digital commerce market, stymying growth and employment elsewhere.

We can take this concept and apply it to say, Brazil. Brazil in this sense represents both the developing and the developed world. In its metropolitan cities of Rio de Janeiro, São paulo, and Brasilia, the internet is widely used for commerce, media and net-based employment (like banking, translation services, etc.). However drive two hours into the rural interior and suddenly cell phone service becomes inexistent, let alone internet, leaving the towns and small cities of the interior at the dark bottom of the Divide while large cities are consistently seeing growing facets of their economies becoming reliant on the internet.  So what’s the solution? It depends. If you live in a nation with the infrastructure and capabilities to have a strong internet based economy but are experiencing digital oppression by government policies (like China) the solution becomes political- making sure that governments are aware of the reasons why limiting internet usage is bad for economic growth. For the rest of the developing world its about bridging the Divide and creating a fair playing field where access to the benefits of internet commerce is available to all.