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.