Author Archives: ssimon1

ICT4D Thought Leader Profile: Gisli Olaffson

With over twenty-five years of experience in the IT industry and almost twenty years in Disaster management, Gisli Olaffson is an expert in his field, combining ICTs with emergency response. He specializes in the use of technology to solve some of the most challenging collaboration issues within the field of disaster response; and is currently the Emergency Response Director of NetHope, a collaboration of thirty-four NGOs that work together under one umbrella to address the world’s most pressing issues through ICT innovation and development.

Gisli has had an extensive career in both the fields of computer science and disaster management leading up to where he is today. He has held computer tech positions at Xerox Corporation and Microsoft. In addition, Gisli is also an active member of the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination team (UNDAC), where he is on stand-by to immediately deploy anywhere in the world to coordinate first response operations for the international community when disaster strikes.

If you can think of a recent disaster, Gisli has most likely been there. More recently, he has participated in disaster field missions in response to the floods in Ghana and Pakistan, Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, Hurricane Ike in Texas, the Horn of Africa Famine, and earthquakes in West Sumatra, Haiti, Japan, and China. He led the ICE-SAR team in the Haiti earthquake response.  His team was among the first to arrive on the scene – just two hours after the disaster. In addition to his disaster work, Gisli is the CEO and founder of, a consultant company focusing on .net and related technologies; as well as the CTO and co-founder of, a small startup focusing on convergence of software and mobile technologies. Gisli boasts an impressive knowledge of languages, speaking English, Icelandic, Danish, Swedish, and German.

Gisli attributes his inspiration to the local people who are there during the disaster, step up to start the rescue efforts, and continue to work even after the international response teams have left. He says, it’s often not the people with the “big titles,” but the low level workers that are the ones making things happen. He would like to see more of those people – the kind of leaders that step up and do the real work making a difference out in the field. You can find Gisli online on his blog, “Dealing with Disasters,” his Twitter, and his LinkedIn. Gisli currently resides in Geneva, Switzerland with his family.

Inside North Korea… through tweets, mobile uploads, and video.

Today our world is more connected than it has ever been. Physical distance is virtually irrelevant when it comes to the spread of information and news. When Ghaddafi was killed in Libya, we were watching cell phone video footage on CNN almost instantaneously. We watched riots in Tahrir Square unfold minute by minute, and the world was there when the first bombs were dropped on Iraq almost a decade ago. But certain countries seem to evade our ever-present coverage, and North Korea is one of the few. For years, the inner-workings have been a mystery to most of the world, excluding a handful of journalists (many of whom would end up arrested for leaving their government escorts) and foreign diplomats.

It was just a few months ago, that the N. Korean government declared it a war crime to use a cell phone during the 100 day mourning period for the late Kim-Jong Il. And most North Koreans won’t get to see the internet ridicule of this week’s failed rocket launch, because most of the population doesn’t have access to it.

But now, ICTs like mobile phones with global service and video capability, as well as social networks, are allowing us to piece together the elusive behind-the-curtain look at the dictatorial regime.

Take a look at this slideshow of some TwitPics of the unveiling of statues of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il

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With the proliferation of ICTs and social networks, it seems hard to believe that one government could keep an entire country in the dark (literal and metaphorical) for much longer. If the communications barrier is broken, what do you think the North Koreans will do with their newfound information? Will we see another “Arab Spring” in Asia? This is highly unlikely, but the world has changed so much in the past years that it may not be too farfetched in years ahead…


NetHope: Providing ICT Support through Collaboration and Innovation


NetHope is an organization that helps NGOs more effectively address the world’s most pressing challenges through smarter use of technology- all through collaboration and innovation. The organization’s mission is to promote collaboration between thirty-four leading international humanitarian organizations so the best ICTs and practices can be used to serve people in the developing world. They work across their membership as a team by solving common technology problems, fostering strong relationships with private industry, and educating their members and the worldwide humanitarian community.

NetHope was founded by William A. Brindley and Edward G. Happ in 2001 and has quickly grown from just  seven original members in 2001 (Children International, Winrock International, Mercy Corps, CARE, World Vision, and Save the Children) to thirty-four in 2012.

Today, NetHope focuses on five key areas:

– Connnectivity: Improving communications between organizations and field offices in remote parts of the world

– Field Capacity Building: Implementing technology solution and conducting skills training to increase productivity in the field

– Emergency Response: Enabling faster, and better coordinated response

– Shared Services: Providing leverage and economies of scale by sharing the best solutions and services among members

– Innovation for Development: Creating technology solutions for important issues in healthcare, education. agriculture, conservation, and financial programs.

The work of the NetHope is guided by six fundamental values: technology matters, benefiting all benefits one, learning through collaboration, build for the field, bias for action, and trust above all else. It uses the power of public-private partnerships and collective resources to deliver the best ICT solutions to the developing world. NetHope provides a connection between member organizations and major technology corporations. Among its supporters are Accenture, Cisco, Adobe, Microsoft, and Intel; of which it relies on for investments and resources.  By applying these resources to 34 humanitarian organizations at once through NetHope, supporting institutions see far more impact from their investments than they would by individually approaching each member organization.

Stats and Ongoing Programs:

NetHope operates in 180 countries,  its organizations represent $40 billion in humanitarian development, emergency response, and conservation programs. Every year, it distributes $36 million of in-kind value to members, including pro-bono services and in-kind product to its members to support their efforts.

– Connectivity in the Horn of Africa Crisis: NetHope is working on the ground with NGOs and the UN to develop better internet and connectivity to enable more efficient information sharing and relief efforts at the refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya.

– Relief from Pakistan Floods: NetHope is employing the help of Microsoft and Intel and local NGOs to provide support in the form of laptops and camcorders to study the emergency response and improve for better preparedness in the future.

– NetHope Academy Haiti: Working with Accenture and Save the Children, the NetHope Academy provides computer science students in Haiti with technical skills as well as on the job experience. eventually placing each student at a paid IT internship with a host organization and mentor.

NetHope’s work is made possible by continued financial and in-kind support of donors and members.

The Un-Facebook World

With social networking literally taking over the world, it seems like if you are breathing, you probably are on Twitter, Facebook, or one of the other new social sites that are constantly popping up.  According to a recent ICTWorks article, Facebook usage is doubling every seven months in Africa; and it is driving ICT development on the continent by spurring interest in investing in internet access and computers.

But with Facebook users spanning the world, it raises the question – Who isn’t on Facebook?

The UnFacebook World, created by Ian Wojtowicz, mashes NASA’S Earth at Night and Facebook’s Friendship Map to illuminate the locations of those elusive non-Facebookers. On the image, the dark lines are Facebook usage and the bright yellow dots are where there are population centers that have bright lights at night but no Facebook friends. By subtracting the Facebook map from the NASA one, we can see the stark contrast between the ancient technologies of situated human settlement (rendered visible by electric light) and disembodied electronic communication.

The UnFacebook Map

For example, notice that São Tomé and Príncipe have electricity but no Facebook and the millions in Rwanda, Burundi, and DRC have neither Facebook nor electrical lights at night. This is a stark visual reminder that not everyone one is on FB, regardless of the hype.

close-up of Africa

Here and here are some sources that touch on this topic.

If You’re Not Failing at ICT4D, You’re Not Trying Hard Enough

For last class, the readings focused on how to avoid ICT4D failures, but according to an ICTWorks article, failure is in fact a good sign in this field. It seems backwards – failure usually indicates a waste of effort, time, and money; but according to the ICT4D professionals behind “Fail Faire DC,” failure brings to light some glaring faults in project planning and implementation and lessons can be learned for future success.

The event, sponsored by the World Bank, Development Gateway, Inveneo, Jhpiego, and Facilitating Change, brought together individuals in ICT4D to openly discuss their failures and collaborate about ways to avoid similar setbacks in the future. Wayan Vota (who we have talked about in class) opened the conference and was followed by a series presentations of representatives from different development organizations including Plan International , the World Bank,  and Development Gateway. At the end of the night, the light-hearted nature of the event was continued with an XO laptop presented to a representative from USAID for best ICT4D failure.

The event has made failure more acceptable in the international development community and spawned a greater conversation around failure and the need to fail in order to expand in ICT4D, according to the folks at ICTWorks.

Shortly after hosting the Fail Faire, Wayan Vota posted these “10 Levels of Failure” on his website:

1) Catastrophic Failure: Failure a scale so vast as to encompass the lives and livelihoods of generations to come. Examples: the meltdowns at Fukushima Dai-1 and Chernobyl; building codes in Haiti before January 2010. Possible future catastrophic fails: asteroids, climate change.

2) Abject Failure: This failure marks you and you may not ever fully recover from it. People lose their lives, jobs, respect, or livelihoods. Examples: British Petroleum’s Gulf oil spill; mortgage-backed securities.

3) Start-Up Failure: A big bet backed by money and momentum, that wipes out both when the market shifts or the business model hits reality. Examples:;; Solyndra

4) Structural Failure: It cuts – deeply – but it doesn’t permanently cripple your identity or enterprise. Examples: Apple iPhone 4’s antenna; Windows Vista.

5) Glorious Failure: Going out in a botched but beautiful blaze of glory – catastrophic but exhilarating. Example: Jamaican bobsled team.

6) Epic Failure: This is a failure that brings joy to all and perhaps even fame and stardom for the fail succeeder. Examples: Celebrity antics; Youtube videos of people falling down; FAILblog

7) Common Failure: Everyday instances of screwing up that are not too difficult to recover from. The apology was invented for this category. Examples: oversleeping and missing a meeting at work; forgetting to pick up your kids from school; overcooking the tuna.

8) Version Failure: Small failures that lead to incremental but meaningful improvements over time. Examples: Linux operating system; evolution.

9) Predicted Failure: Failure as an essential part of a process that allows you to see what it is you really need to do more clearly because of the shortcomings. Example: the prototype — only by creating imperfect early versions of it can you learn what’s necessary to refine it.

10) Opportunity Failure: The failure to take risks that leaves you wanting and is usually associated with sentences that begin with, “I should have…” Examples: Not buying Apple stock in 2006; Not selling Nokia stock in 2010; Not getting off your butt today.

These approaches to failure speak volumes about the people behind the ICT4D that are driving innovation and development across the globe today. Approaching the world’s toughest problems with a sense of humor and dose of reality is a necessity and I think it is really cool that movers and shakers in this field can acknowledge their failures while working towards success.

A New Microlending Fund for Women Entrepreneurs

In my group paper about ICTs in business and industry, my group explored different application of ICTs that are helping to promote entrepreneurship and grassroots industry in the world’s poorest countries. One of these applications, micro-lending, is has especially helped women to manage their finances and to participate in business. Organizations like Kiva are making it possible for third-parties to provide small loans to individuals in developing countries with just the click of a mouse; and now, one U.S. company is teaming with Kiva to target women borrowers.

Skin-care company, Dermologica, started a campaign to promote microloans for women in 2011, and donated $500,000 to help fund these loans through Kiva. Jane Wurwand, found of Dermologica, stepped down as CEO to focus her attention on the micro-lending campaign, enlisting her network of distributors, business partners, and consumers in the cause. Wurwand started Dermologica 25 years ago with just $14,000 and has since built a business with customers in 87 countries and more than $200 million in annual revenue. It is for this reason that she believes so strongly in empowering women to take charge and start their own businesses.

The project, called Financial Independence Through Entrepreneurship (FITE) involves promotion on a number of the line’s top-selling products that consumers can redeem online to contribute $1 to a Kiva loan. FITE loans will only go to women and Wurwand hopes that consumers will then add to the credits with their own donations. Each of Dermologica’s 53 distributors has formed teams of employees to make loans through Kiva, sending marketing kits to the 25,000 salons and spas that sell its products.

A screenshot of the FITE website

The FITE project is the first time Kiva will be promoted on consumer packaged goods, but it hopes to get other companies to follow the path of Dermologica in promoting its service.  Despite recent criticism of the microfinance model for lack of returns to investors, Kiva has a system to guarantee the repayment of loans – of the nearly $125 million dollars in loans Kiva has funded, 98.91% of them have been repaid by the end of the term.


Water to Charge Mobile Phones?

Sustainability of ICTs in the developing world is one of the most crucial issues in ICT4D. Millions of people now have cell phones, but with limited infrastructure in most of the developing world, charging these precious devices is a big challenge for their users. Last week, we looked at a few different models for wireless phone chargers that relied on solar energy in place of the plugs and wires that we have all grown accustomed too.

Now, there may be a new breakthrough in the cell phone chargers – H20. Seems contradictory, but Swedish group, myFC, says it has created a water-powered charger that converts water into electricity. Presented at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, the PowerTrekk is a portable fuel cell charger which is slightly larger than a compact camera, uses just one spoonful of water and a small metallic device called a fuel puck, to fully charge an iPhone. According to  Bjorn Westerholm, “It could be sea water, fresh water. You need to carry water with you to survive anyway and the PowerTrekk needs just one spoonful.”

Meanwhile, other groups are racing to come up with their own solution to the charging dilemma. Battery giant Duracell is championing a push for cars and even stadiums to be built with energy “mats” that would power up phones. XPAL Power rolled out a phone with a battery that “lasts 15 years,” said Christian Scheder, chairman of the Californian firm.The so-called Spareone, which will be commercialised in March, remains charged for up to 15 years if the phone is turned off, and for two months if it is on.

“This is great for emergency, disaster situations,” Scheder said.

With all of these new technologies, who knows what the future has in store. With the right gadget, the developing world could stay connected without the worries of wires.

The PowerTrekk could appeal most to campers, aid workers or the military   The PowerTrekk water charger

“Mobile phone running low on battery? Charge up with water”

Cell phone minutes as a reward for using public toilets in India

India’s Rural Development Minister, Jairam Ramesh said last week that women in women in the country demand mobile phones over toilets. He believes that sanitation is a much more difficult issues than telecommunication. About 600 million out of 1.2 billion Indians have ready access to clean bathrooms – this accounts for almost 60% of those relieving themselves in the open across the globe. At the same time, over 800 million of those 1.2 billion Indians have cell phones. These statistics are raising eyebrows throughout the development community and have prompted new initiatives in which cell phones are being incorporated in sanitation projects.

Swapnil Chaturvedi, an entrepeneur who has been working on sanitation projects in India’s slums, came up with a project called “Poop Rewards.” Though the name may sound funny, the program has some serious goals. “Poop Rewards” creates an incentive program using cell phone talk minutes and other prizes to convince Indians that don’t have regular access to use the designated public toilets in their area. Chaturvedi says that cell phone users are extremely price sensitive, so he thinks they will be willing to change their behavior to earn the free minutes.

With a phone company as a partner, more public toilets could be built in the necessary areas — and cell phone companies can use the rewards program to retain low-price conscious customers and provide a public service, which can also help with loyalty, says Chaturvedi.

The program seems far-fetched,  but as the winner of the recent Startup Weekend Delhi, “Poop Rewards” seems to have some potential. Mobile phones are offering unprecedented modes of problem solving – why can’t toilets be one of them?

Read more about “Poop Rewards” here, or, to learn about the perspectives of Indian women on this matter, check out this article.

Tablets are Good, Content is Better, and Teachers are the Best

With all of this discussion of “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches to development and “information” versus “knowledge,” the incorporation of ICTs into education in developing countries is extremely relevant. The emergence of tablet devices have proved to be a giant leap for technology, and could potentially open up a whole new wealth of information to poor communities. The ease of use is exciting to both technologists and educators, who see the potential that the iPad could have for educational systems of the developing world. Ipads and other similar devices offer thousands of apps that can foster learning on both and individual and group level. From Apps for beginners’ counting and spelling, to those that teach human anatomy to medical students; tablets can bring world class information and interactive learning to people who otherwise would not have that kind of access.

While an iPad education does have its perks, there are also many pitfalls. Tablets can offer a world of knowledge… if you speak English. For the millions of poor people who do not speak English, or any of the top common languages for that matter, there are limited options to what technologies like these  can do. For example, there are less than 120 Wikipedia articles for more than 8 million Xhosa speakers in South Africa. Compared to the millions of English articles, it is easy to see how easily entire populations can be cut off from information.

What is needed, before the Ipads and the Apps, are the teachers that can turn these devices into something more than just a shiny toy – teachers who can turn a iPad into an interactive student-centered learning experience where real knowledge is transferred and retained. In most developing countries, teachers teach through the “chalk and talk” method, where teaching occurs through mere memorization. The need now is for teachers who can teach in innovative ways. Now that the technology is advancing, it is crucial for the methods of teaching how to make the most of that technology to be advancing too. The problem is, that the governments of these countries are only interested in the “shiny, flashy things” instead of putting their resources into the human capacity building needed to produce good, qualified, educators. This is just another example of how a bottom-up approach to development could benefit development, instead of the showy top-down methods being used all too commonly.

There are a number of initiatives that seek to build educational digital content in local languages, and even ones focusing on developing content that aligns with national curriculum in the developing world.  So regardless of how amazing the iPad is, how many apps there are, or how easy it is to use… until we invest in trained teachers who know how to use technology to improve their teaching activities, until we have parents and politicians focused on learning outcomes the benefits of the iPad will go to waste.


SMS for Violence Prevention: PeaceTXT International Launches in Kenya

The top minds and innovators in mobile technology are working to rid the world of violence, one SMS text at a time.

A Chicago-based initiative called PeaceTXT, has been taken international with a recent launch in Kenya. PeaceTXT is a multidisciplinary approach to violence reduction through the use of mobile technology – mainly, text messaging. The  PeaceTXT team includes a number of development and technology-minded organizations including CeaseFire, Medic Mobile, and Ushahidi all of which work together to spread the message of violence reduction and disease control through technology. The original PeaceTXT initiative launched in the US in an effort to engage communities and change social norms by dissemination reminder messages in order to catalyze behavior change when it comes to drug and gang violence, and drug adherence among AIDS and TB patients in Africa and South America. The messages, which were created by the high-risk individuals that they are set to target, aim to interrupt violence and prompt community engagement through simple reminders and questions meant to be forwarded to others as well.

Examples of the messages disseminated by the PeaceTXT team.

Now the project has broken our borders as it heads to Africa. PeaceTXT is partnering with the Kenyan Si si ni Amani Kenya (SnA-K), an NGO that  leverages mobile technology for civic engagement. SnA-K already manages a network of around 10,000 mobile subscribers across Kenya with campaigns focusing on voter education, community cohesion and rumor prevention. The team from CeaseFire will collaborate SnA-K to customize a methodology designed for the urban metropolis of Chicago to the underdeveloped villages of Kenya. The PeaceTXT and SnA-K teams will work together to implement a the new program and both are confident that the PeaceTXT model can and will catalyze behavior change at the community level through text messages.

Twenty years ago, changing the world through a simple 150 character message may have seemed crazy, but the world is changing and maybe initiatives like these are the key to the future. If  social networking sites Twitter and Facebook can spur multi-country revolutions, then why should text messages reduce violence?

For more info, check out this video about the PeaceTXT Program.