Author Archives: eatingedited

Case Study: UPS’s TrackPad Technology in Haiti

The Salvation Army is a Protestant Christian church best known for its thrift stores and charity work. The organization’s message is based on the Bible and is actually a “spiritual army” (did anyone else know this? I’m a bit flabbergasted). The Salvation Army takes an active stance against issues such as abortion, homosexuality, and suicide. However, the organization also provides prominent housing and homeless services, youth camps, disaster relief, elderly services, and adult rehabilitation.The Salvation Army began in 1865 in England and currently operates in 124 different countries around the world. Its first efforts for disaster relief resulted from the tragedies of the Galveston Hurricane of 1990 and the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. Today, it is a prominent NGO that is usually among the first to arrive with help after natural or man-made disasters, as witnessed after the Haiti earthquake of 2010.

The ICT that was applied in Haiti was UPS’s TrackPad technology, which is usually used to track packages within campus environments. Salvation Army staff in Haiti used the technology to confirm what goods each family received in an Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camp by tracking the information via a laminated card with unique barcodes linked to the number of family members, along with their location in the camp, and their needs. The system worked to ensure that all families received the correct supplies at the right time, and greatly reduced theft and fraud. It also brought about a sense of calm to the camp. See complete details about the TrackPad Case Study here.

The goal of the ICT was to simplify and organize the aid distribution process at a 20,000-person IDP camp in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake. While no formal data was collected, valid anecdotal evidence indicates that the technology was a success. It brought about a sense of calm at the camp because people knew that their cards could only scan once to receive certain supplies, so they had to follow directions. Additionally, Salvation Army workers were able to see if families did not receive supplies and could check up on individuals. The technology made a positive difference. Stakeholders included earthquake victims, Salvation Army volunteers and workers, key UPS employees/Salvation Army volunteers, and labor from Cardinal Tracking.

I was surprised that it took roughly three months after the earthquake for the technology to become fully integrated to the IDP camp. I had assumed that the process would have been much more swift.


Lessons Learned: ICT4D

At first glance, international development is vague. Everyone wants to make the world a better place and fight poverty, and it seems easy to identify the most pressing problems and identify hypothetical solutions. However, putting ideas into practice requires huge amounts of coordination and generally results in many setbacks. Anyone pursuing a project in the field of ICT4D should understand the intricate steps to implementing a solution. It is truly  a detailed process, but most changemakers are too quick to want save the world without considering the implications of every detail. A great example of this is One Laptop Per Child. Of course giving a laptop to a child in a developing country will promote knowledge, but is it really a substitute for education? Is it financially sustainable? What if the hardware fails? ICT4D solutions can, in fact, make an impact, but all possible scenarios must be considered and planned for.

This semester I’ve learned that technology is not an enemy for development. At the start of the course, I felt that there wasn’t a need for a technological revolution in the developing world because it would be too complicated and couldn’t address the true core of a problem. However, I’ve come to understand that ICT4D is hugely helpful in transforming a country. Additionally, ICT doesn’t have to mean something as complicated as Internet communication for social change, like the Zapatista Effect. ICT can mean tangible technology, like Dr. Laura Murphy’s presentation on mobiles in rural Kenya. Technology is vital for change; it should not be disregarded.

The most useful framework that can be used to think about and implement ICT4D is the concept of the Knowledge Society. Information can provide a backbone for growth, but the ultimate goal of ICT is to promote knowledge and intelligence. Information is raw data, which should never be ignored, but knowledge is the use of data. Knowledge bring everything into a broader context and should mean improved access for everyone. Knowledge Society is ICT in context, in consideration of humans as emotional, individual beings, not as another statistical group.

I would like to explore social media in the developing world. It is a worldwide phenomenon that is changing the way all societies interact, and I am quite curious to understand its implications on development.


Hurricane Katrina Technology

I just finished reading Zeitoun so I have Katrina on my mind.

According to this piece from MIT’s Technology Review, here are some tactics used in our city to respond to Hurricane Katrina:

Many people utilized Craigslist’s “Lost and Found” section to find missing persons. People even utilized the Personals sections such as “Missed Connections” and “Women Seeking Men.”
Websites such as BoingBoing.net (anyone heard of this?) were used to advertize goods and services such as old cell phones, cash, and expertise to use for disaster relief
Officials were able to relay messages to a broader audience by contacting national news stations to ask for assistance
Freedom4Wireless, a wireless company from Florida, was able to set up wireless networks that provided rescue workers with voice-over-Internet protocol (VoIP)-based phone networks and police radio capabilities. The equipment was solar- and battery-powered and thereby did not need electrical infrastructure to work
Motorola offered Motobridge, which is an Internet-based system that distributes control on a network so that if one node fails, the entire system won’t fail as well
Mesh networking technology was also used, which was a Wi-Fi cloud over the downtown business district and the French Quarter, with the bandwidth segmented for public safety and public Wi-Fi. It’s cheap, reusable, and doesn’t involve permanent infrastructure. In the aftermath of a similar disaster, the tsunami that struck Southeast Asia in 2004, Intel quickly set up Wi-Max, which increases the range of broadband from 150 feet up to 30 miles.


MailChimp

MailChimp is a user-friendly service to send email campaigns, share them on social networks, manage subscribers and track results. It’s basically a personal newsletter-publishing platform that does a lot of the design work for you. My internship at NOLA Locavores uses the service to send monthly newsletters and track their effectiveness. You can get sort of creepy and see how many times each subscriber has opened the message and see what links in the message they’ve clicked on. A basic plan is free, in which you can store up to 2,000 subscribers and can send 12,000 emails per month. If an entity needs more space and more emails, then paid plans are available with a 15% discount to nonprofits and charities.

This technology tool is user-friendly and generally quite cute. It entices customers with its friendly monkey mascot and visually appealing layout. MailChimp also provides a vast selection of tutorial videos  and guides so that even the most technologically illiterate customer can understand how to use the service to their benefit. However, there is no telephone customer support. MailChimp integrates easily with any social networking site and commonly-used site, such as Etsy. The tech tool is generally a very strong service. However, a weakness could be that customers with a larger mailing list or more frequent newsletters do need to pay for the service. This is counteracted with a discounted price for nonprofits and charities. This tech tool could be applied for development to spread awareness about issues and events. Newsletters are a more useful form of communication for subscribers who are constantly connected to the Internet and email. Therefore, MailChimp wouldn’t be a very strong asset in the developing world, but the tool could be used to solicit support and spread information to donors of a nonprofit.


Twitter in Africa

As a fairly avid “tweeter” (should I be embarrassed about this?), I thought it might be interesting to see what information I could find about Twitter in the developing world. I was surprised to discover that any articles on this topic are fairly random and lack credibility. It was also difficult to find an article from this year. Does anyone have any insight as to why this might be?

However, I did find this article.

The article discusses why it isn’t easy to track Twitter usage in Africa. Most African users are from either South Africa or Egypt, which was especially seen in January’s political crisis. In reality, there are Twitter users in every African country, they’re just harder to find because not every Twitter user will enter his or her exact location when posting an update. Plus, Africa’s geography can be undeniably vague. Not surprisingly, most African Twitter users would use the SMS service to post updates instead of posting through the website.


OLPC in Nigeria

I wrote my second short paper on One Laptop per Child in Nigeria, so I thought it might be appropriate to provide a little summary of what I discovered.

People were very optimistic about the success of OLPC in Nigeria because it is striving to become a technology-based country in the developing world. The project is very much aligned with Nigeria’s national IT policy because it enriches the education process and makes knowledge more accessible, even to the nation’s poorest students. Additionally, OLPC promoted IT education for young people, which is a point emphasized by Nigeria’s Minister of Communications Technology. However, the program encountered some hardware problems in its first attempt in March of 2007 and was pulled from the country in December of the same year. Additionally, a Nigerian keyboard maker filed a lawsuit against OLPC, claiming infringement of layout.

A new program was launched in the summer of 2009 through the OLPC-SEED project. The XO hardware did not fail, and aside from a few minor technological difficulties, students and teachers seemed to really enjoy and learn a lot from the initiative. 73% of high school students were shown to be more studious and attentive to their studies and have improved their overall learning. And on an anecdotal note, Miss Manzo, a teacher at one of the OLPC schools has said, “[the project] is one of the happiest things that has ever happened to the school.”

However, I agree with Warschauer and Ames in that OLPC is too utopian to create real change. Like most developing countries, Nigeria lacks the basic infrastructure to improve quality of life. Basics must improve before relatively advanced technology is implemented in the poorest schools.


SlimTrader

Originally posted on Blackboard by Suzannah Schneider

This is an older article from July about simple technologies that are being used in the developing world to combat everyday issues. It covers some exciting tools from TEDGlobal in 2011. One such technology uses texting to link retailers with customers in developing countries. Femi Akinde, CEO of SlimTrader, found that there are plentiful goods and services in Africa, but no reliable way to access them. With over 300 million cell phone subscribers in Africa, he realized that the best way to boost business and ameliorate all transactions was to make them more accessible and instantaneous through the use of cell phones for trade. The idea is based off online shopping in the Western world, which is something we take for granted. It’s nearly impossible to purchase anything online in Africa, especially in more rural regions. Thus, mobile phones are the way to go.

For instance, a farmer trying to source fertilizer can send a text message and get a response from SlimTrader outlining all the distributors near to where he lives. The distributor will be credited by SlimTrader, so the farmer knows he won’t be sold a fake good. Additionally, he doesn’t have to leave his house or his fields. Physical travel, postal service, long waits, and other hardships associated with completing life’s necessary tasks, from filling prescription to buying bus tickets, are all eliminated. From what I understand, customers have the option of paying with M-PESA, Airtel, MTN, mobile money, Interswitch, and text and pay.

For more information check out SlimTrader’s website.