Author Archives: tchowdh

About tchowdh

I am Junior at Tulane University

iVacuate App

Evacuteer was founded by Robert Fogarty in 2009 in New Orleans. The organization provides volunteers to aid people during hurricane evacuations. In that same year and in the same city. Calliope Digital was founded by Chris Van Buskirk. The company develops various mobile apps; several of which are specifically for people in New Orleans. The mission of the company is to develop high value products which are superior to its competitors.  In 2010, these two organizations worked together to develop an application (app) called iVacuate. Calliope Digital’s Chris Van Buskirk and Clare Durrett were the main designers of the app while Evacuteer provided some of the content. The idea behind iVacuate emerged from the experiences of  Buskirk and Durrett as evacuees of Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, and Gustav. The pair realized that the stress and difficulties of an evacuation could be alleviated with the aid of technology. With the advent of iPhones and apps, they decided to create an app which would aid people during and in preparation for evacuations.

Two versions of the app were created: a basic version and a more comprehensive version, created specifically for the residents of New Orleans.  The basic version was targeted for people living in the Gulf Coast states who each year faced the threats of hurricanes and the stress of evacuations. The basic version consisted of the hurricane preparedness list, list of essential items you should include with any evacuation, photo gallery to record your belongings for insurance purposes, preparing your pet for an evacuation, and weather updates for hurricanes. The New Orleans version contained those same features, but included current pick up locations for those evacuating through the City Assisted Evacuation Plan and contraflow maps of I-10 W, I-55 N, and 1-59 N. The New Olreans version costs $4.99 on iTunes, but for those who are not willing to pay as much for an app can buy the basic version for $1.99.

According to Chris Van Buskirk, they believed the earnings from the app to be promising. After the first initial release of the application in 2010, he describe himself as “happy” with download numbers. In addition, the app was number 2 on iTunes of free weather apps for 4 weeks during that year’s hurricane season. However, they wanted the app to be free. Hearst Media showed interest in the application and so Calliope decided to license it to them and take their own version off the market. Instead, they partnered with WDSU to create a similar app which is currently available on iTunes for free.

However, there have been many strengths and weaknesses associated with both the iVacuate app and the WDSU app. With the number of evacuations in New Orleans, there is a definited need for this app. It provides integral information during an evacuation. For example, the maps feature something every evacuee desires as it is less of hassle than dealing with paper maps. In addition, contraflow procedures can be confusing for many drivers. The contraflow provides directions letting evacuees know which route to take if they would like to head to Texas versus Mississippi. The apps are very user-friendly. They are easy to navigate between the different features, and it is easy to read and understand information. In addition to the strengths, there are some weaknesses to the apps. The iVacuate was only available to a limited audience of iPhone users. However, the WDSU app is available in both iPhone and Android versions. Though, again, the app is limited to only smartphone users. Everyone cannot afford an iPhone and some may choose not to buy one. Thus some the features that are available on the app may not be available to the people for whom it would be most helpful. For example, the Pick-Up component would be most useful to those who cannot evacuate by themselves and lack their own mode of transportation. However, this group would include the low-income people and the elderly who would least likely have iPhones or other smartphones.

More information on the application can be found in this article by New Orleans Tech. More information about Calliope and Evacuteer can be found on their respective websites.

Lessons Learned: ICT4D

In Week 3 of this ICT4D class, we discussed the goals and interests of ICT programs. From that class, one specific point has stuck with me throughout the semester. The issue concerned the question of why ICT4D projects fail. In previous international development classes, I learned a great deal about non-governmental and non-profit organizations. I marveled at NGOs and non-profits’ ambitious goals and missions and all of the great work they were doing. However, when discussing the ICT4D projects, I never realized how few organizations were able to achieve those missions and goals.Instead, they were culprits of making various mistakes which weakened the effectiveness of the programs.

As someone who has considered working in NGO and non-profit sectors, this was an eye opening realization for me. As important as it is to learn about the successful organizations and projects, I think we can learn more from the mistakes people have made. For example, people have plenty of good ideas and good intentions. A person might decide to be generous and donate some computers to a school in a rural village in Africa. However, if that village does not have electricity those computers will be rendered useless.  It is very important for someone who desires to work in international development to understand fully the environment in which they hope to produce change. A development worker has to consider every factor and stakeholder involved in their project. Understanding the needs, desires, and situations of the stakeholders and working with them will result in higher success rates for the project. While these failures were specifically for ICT projects, I think they can be applied to all development projects. The lessons learned from Youtube video about the top 7 reasons ICT projects fails is something I will definitely utilize beyond this class.

Aiding Those Who Provide Aid: iMMAP and Oasis

iMMAP is an organization which stands for Information Management and Mine Action Programs. The purpose of the organization is to provide information management support to help guide and maximize the efforts of organizations providing relief aid. The organization started with working in post-conflict areas by evaluating the impact of landmines. Since then it has been involved in several post-disaster relief efforts such as the 2006 tsunamis and eartquakes in Southeast Asia. iMMAP has gathered and disseminated information regarding transportation, supplies, and locations for shelters to government organizations, non-profits, and NGOs providing humanitarian aid. One problem iMMAP observed was the increased level of danger for the organizations providing humanitarian aid in the post-conflict countries. It developed the Operations Activity Security Information System (OASIS), which seems to be a GIS tool similar to the Ushahidi tool. OASIS is a free information management tool which allows data sharing for the aid workers. People around the world are able to input data onto the map about the areas they are working as precautionary and warning advisory for others. If you are interested in seeing how the OASIS program works, please check out the link.

Increased Social Media Censorship in China

We have all heard of the restraints China has put on its population, especially in relation to social media. The Chinese government is not as open to hearing dissent from its citizens. The government severely monitors and restricts content on websites such as Google and Facebook. However with the advent of microbloggers, the government had slightly loosened its restrictions. Though, that may have been just temporary. With the protests in the Spain, Greece, and the Arab world, the Chinese government is afraid of the influence such events will have on its own society. The government has thus decided to conduct a more serious crackdown on the media.  The have ordered Internet companies managing the microblogs to implement stricter policies on censorships. In addition blogger will have to create accounts using their real names and thus be unable to keep their anonymity. It will be interesting to see how long the Chinese government can suppress the voices of their citizens because I am sure as many doors as they try to block people will find away to express their opinions.

For more information, click here.

The Relationship Between Education and ICT

I found a working paper about the relationship between ICT and education by the World Bank. One of the interesting points the makes is the way perceived this relationship between technology and education. Usually the technology is conceived first and then we try to find educational applications for it. However, it would be more productive to develop technology for the critical areas of education in which it is needed. The paper discusses some of the pitfalls in this relationship, but proposes some general principles in order to resolve those pitfalls. One of the more interesting obstacles the article addressed was the use of ICTs to help students teach themselves and thus eliminating the role of the teacher. We’ve all seen this form of technology through programs such as the Kahn Academy and the vast information found on the Internet in general. However, according to the paper there has been not strong evidence to support this idea of replacing teachers and promoting self-teaching. Finally, the paper ends with some general principles. Some these general principles are familiar to other areas of development as well such as emphasizing monitoring and evaluation and finding holistic approaches to the use of ICTs. One of the general principles is the idea of not putting your eggs in one basket. Technology is very costly and it is constantly changing. I like the idea that ” Educational priorities should drive technology choices — and not the reverse.”

Microfinance Debate

Originally posted on Blackboard by Tanseem Chowdhury

Microfinance has been a very popular topic in the last few years, especially after Muhammad Yunus won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006 for his work in the field of microfinance. Most observers reveled at the maverick idea of alleviating poverty by providing small loans to the poor. Yunus’ work with Grameen Bank showed the revolutionary powers of microfinance with banks facing minimal defaults and women being empowered. However, in the last three years, microfinance has been confronted with a great amount of backlash, especially with the events which occurred in the Indian region of Andhra Pradesh. In Andhra Pradesh, borrowers were unable to repay microloans and the microfinance system in the country was on the verge of collapse. Observers, politicians, bankers, and economists threw scathing remarks at Dr. Yunus and the sustainability of microfinancing. However, I don’t think Dr. Yunus intended microfinance to be a profit-seeking enterprise. It should be questioned whether providing small loans at high interest rates, as was done in Andhra Pradesh, should be referred to as microfinancing as intended by Yunus.

Improving Health, Connecting People

There was a study called Improving Health, Connecting People conducted in 2006 by HealthLink Worldwide, National Institute of Health, and AfriAfya on the role of ICT in health in developing countries. The study was based on the idea the ICT has the potential to be integral to the development of public health and health systems. Something very interesting I found in the paper was its seven conclusions about the use of ICTs in the health sector. The conclusions, while concise, were also very much to the point. The seven conclusions were:

1. Keep the technology simple, relevant, and local.

2. Build on what is there (and being used).

3. Involve users in the design (by demonstrating benefit).

4. Strengthen capacity to use, work with, and develop effective ICTs.

5. Introduce greater monitoring and evaluation, particularly participatory approaches.

6. Include communication strategies in the design of ICT projects.

7. Continue to research and share learning about what works, and what fails.

I think these conclusions are something we should all keep in mind while thinking about the relationship between improving health and building ICT.