Author Archives: smolina1

The Importance of Analyzing Failures

Throughout our ICT4D course one of the main things we did in in every case study was analyzing what was done incorrectly and how that diminished the impact that the project had or how it made the project fail. Personally, I believe that the most important thing I learned this semester can be extrapolated from this process: the importance of effectively planning a project before applying it. Although this seems very obvious it is clear that for a project to be effectively planned a lot of factors have to be taken into account. In relation to ICT projects, for me, the main factors project planners ignored were having an appropriate infrastructure in place that can support the new projects and having an effective mechanism to make the project sustainable.

 

Failed projects are common in the development world, much more than many organizations would like to admit, but personally I believe that this course has showed me the importance of analyzing these failures in order to try to avoid the same mistakes in my professional life. A clear example for me in this aspect is the One Laptop Per Child project. Although it is a great idea and has a very positive mission the project is deemed a failure by many because they did not take into account the infrastructure of many places where they donated the laptops. Like the creators of the project its very probable I would not have considered that to be such a critical factor but now I know, as I’m sure the OLPC directors learned as well, that externalities are very important and for a project to be effective it should take them into account.


Cyber Security in Mexico

After the presentation on Thursday I was left wondering about how much attention countries around the world, particularly my own country Mexico, paid to cyber security threats. I was shocked to find out that on a report titled Cyber-security: The Vexed Question of Global Rules which ranks how effective is the government’s response to cyber security in 23 countries threats Mexico was ranked last with a score of 2 out of 5.

 

mcafee-cyberdefense-infographic-01_highres

According to the report  the weakness in Mexico’s cyber attack defenses is that there are currently no special rules to combar cyber-crime. Instead, they utilize the current legal framework to address cyber crimes. This presents a problem as the existing legislature is not broad enough to cover new threats and thus is not adequate to counter cyber crime attacks.

Personally, I believe that Mexico should take cyber threats more seriously especially after the government was a target of cyber attacks in 2011 . For Mexico to address the issue seriously there should be special legal mechanisms to counter cyber-threats in the fashion of countries that rank higher such as Israel.


The Importance of Monitoring, Evaluation and Admitting Failure

During our discussion with Wayan Vota on Thursday he mentioned an article titled “10 Worst Practice in Education” in the webpage ICTworks. This article details 10 common practices that are detrimental to ICT projects when working with education as explained by Michael Trucano.

Personally, I found number 5, the lack of monitoring and evaluation in projects, the most obvious and was shocked to find out that many projects do not try to measure their impact in an accurate manner. As Mr. Trucano explain:

“This should be self-evident…If we don’t evaluate potential answers to this question, rigorously and credibly, all we are left with is well-intentioned guesswork and marketing dross.”

 

Seeing this practice listed reminded me of a TED talk which although originally meant for NGOs definitely applies to any type of organization trying to implement an ICT project. In his talk “What Happens When an NGO Admits Failure” David Damberger talks about his experience working for Engineers Without Borders and how their projects became exponentially more effective after they started posting an annual monitoring and evaluation report of their failed projects called the “Failure Report”.

Demberger argues that only by publicly admitting the flaws in projects, and “embracing” them as he states, can they be overcome and creates an example for other organizations to follow preventing them from committing the same mistakes. This is especially true to ICT projects, which seem to fail often for the same mistakes as previous projects. Perhaps if more organizations were willing to publicly admit their failures future ICT projects would be better implemented and resources would be better employed.


Social Media as a Tool to Eliminate Corruption

During last Thursday’s presentation we discussed the potential that online social media can have as an international development tool. Finding alterative uses for social networks that address problems within communities can be of great use to solve problems that are specific to the development world. One such instance is the case of corruption, a problem that’s common in the developing world. Through the use of the social network ipaidabribe  users can anonymously mention instances where they paid a bribe creating a registry of corrupt officials and officers in the country. Although the site was previously mentioned in this blog I would like to expand on the way it works and its potential for the developing world.

 

Currently, the main site is focused on corruption instances in India with alternate webpages for Greece, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Pakistan. Additionally, it is currently developing web pages to report corruption in Azerbaijan, South Africa, Ukraine and Tunisia. To address corruption, the webpage is divided into 3 main sites: I paid a bribe, I am a bribe fighter, and I met an honest officer.  Through these sections of the webpage individuals can provide reports of instances where they were forced to pay a bribe, where they asked for one but refused to pay it and where they received help from an especially helpful government-employed person without him asking for a bribe. In these reports the individuals can detail as much as they want the situation pinpoint exactly information that may lead to the identification of those that asked for bribes or refused them.

 

Through this method awareness is brought to the problem of corruption and by identifying individuals that demand bribes their supervisors or law enforcement agencies can investigate the issue and give the appropriate sanctions. With almost 2,000,000 reports in India alone the system seems to be working and helping reduce corruption in the country.


Can Mapping Prevent World Hunger?

The Famine Early Warning System (FEWS) is an online tool that demonstrates the importance of having accurate and up to date information. FEWS keeps tabs on the developing world and shows the importance of how this information is expressed. In its essence, FEWS is a map which lays out potential famine threats across the world. Through the analysis of various factors, particularly those relating to short-term shortages of food or increases in malnutrition, FEWS creates a map which predicts the risk that a certain area has of falling into food insecurity.

FEWS was developed by the US Agency for International Development and is available online for those wishing to access its information with the objective of preventing famines in the world by identifying their symptoms before they occur. The FEWS system is an ICT tool that allows USAID as well as other agencies and non-profits knowledge of better targets for their projects as well as which factors they should target.

Although FEWS seems to be an excellent ICT tool to prevent world hunger, it has certain shortcomings that do not allow it to completely fulfill its mission. In the article Early Warning, Late Response (again): The 2011 Famine in Somalia, published in the Global Food Security magazine, the shortcomings of the FEWS system and its limited uses as an ICT tool are detailed. The  article points out a missing link between the early warning system and response system. The article insists that although the FEWS system provides information, it is only enough when the food crisis is already underway. FEWS triggers responses from last-resource groups such as food alleviation organizations, rather than prevention projects. This only leads to temporary fixes rather than long term solutions.


Khan Academy: Can Online Education Fix the Lack of Education in the Developing World?

In the following video Salman Khan, the founder of Khan Academy, explains why education today is faulted. He utilizes the analogy of learning how to bike stating: “ Imagine learning to ride a bicycle, and maybe I give you a lecture ahead of time, and I give you that bicycle for two weeks. And then I come back after two weeks, and I say, “Well, let’s see. You’re having trouble taking left turns. You can’t quite stop. You’re an 80 percent bicyclist.” So I put a big C stamp on your forehead and then I say, “Here’s a unicycle.”

His solution for this problem was creating Khan Academy, an online database with instructional videos of various topics. With this method students can learn at their own pace and whenever they have time. However, what if this new technology could be used to provide education to children who lack access to it? What if instead of trying to force kids to go to school we could make school accessible to them at any time.

I believe that even though free online education resources are not a panacea for the education crisis in the world they can be a very useful complements to programs such as One Laptop Per Child. Khan explains this in his own words when describing the potential for Khan Academy “ Imagine what it does to a street kid in Calcutta who has to help his family during the day, and that’s the reason why he or she can’t go to school. Now they can spend two hours a day and remediate, or get up to speed and not feel embarrassed about what they do or don’t know”

Khan academy is just one example of how education is changing, and it is important to understand and take advantage of the potential that this new education can bring to the development world. Those working in improving education in developing countries should be actively trying to incorporate ICTs into their work and not only try to build more schools.

 

 


Why Should We Empower Women in the Use of ICTs?

There is no escaping the fact that there exists a great divide in the use of ICTs between men and women. However, exactly how important is it to bridge this gap? Personally, I have always believed that morally this gap should definitely be closed but I was also pleased to discover that it is also common sense to do so as it can bring many advantages both to women and society as a whole. In the speech given by the UN-Women Deputy Executive Director Director Lakshmi Puri in April 2012 titled “Building Future Leaders and Decision-Makers in the ICT sectors” she argues why women should be given a central role not only in the use but also in the development of ICTs and outlines how this can be achieved.

According to Dr. Puri empowering women, particularly girls, in the use of ICTs provides “new avenues for learning, sharing knowledge, and education”. By teaching women how to use them they are offered new livelihood opportunities as well as a bigger role in political discourse and better productive capabilities. ICTs can be a way in which the gender gap is bridged in many areas enabling women to “build their future on a level-playing field with their male counterparts”. Finally, ICTs are also important as they can bring cultural changes particularly in relation to gender roles. By empowering both young men and women in their use, stereotypes and cultural preconceptions can be broken thus overcoming discriminatory attitudes.

Dr. Puri points out particular actions that must be taken in order to achieve this. First, she advocates enabling girls to start using technology at an earlier age as that makes them more likely for them to adopt their use. Additionally, girls should be able to access ICTs both inside and outside of school in safe and accessible spaces. Finally, women should also be part of the development of new technologies not only be their target demographic as this will lead to better technologies that address the needs of women.

Personally, I believe that the stance Dr. Puri takes in the spread of ICT usage and her work in prioritizing gender sensible ICT policies is not only right but also necessary step towards the development of underdeveloped populations.