Author Archives: zswartz

ICT4D Final Refelctions

Before taking this course, I always had marveled at how fast technology has developed and how dramatically it has changed so many lives but I have always felt intimidated by actually using it. I’ve also never been a huge fan of social media. I use Facebook regularly to stay in touch with friends and keep up with different events but often feel resentful towards it because it allows me to waste so much time and I have to filter through so much over sharing to just to keep up with my close friends. I also thought that twitter was also just another way for people to over share and I never had any interest in using it. However, now I realize that ICT4D is actually quite access able to non-tech people and that social media has a much broader and more significant role in development than I previously thought.

I think that learning about the digital divide and understanding the difference between rates of access and use are some of the most important concepts learned because they apply directly to international development field work. As we’ve seen from readings, especially from looking at OLPC case studies, bringing technology to people is easy but overcoming the digital divide and ensuring that people are actually making use of the technology is the hard part. There are so many systemic reasons, including lack of education, language, distrust  of outsiders, and lack of infrastructure, that can impede the success of an ICT4D initiative. Therefore, another major lesson that I learned, is that ICTs are closely interconnected to all of the other aspects of development that had already interested me. Going off of this, I think that most important theory and framework that studies was the Human Centered Design Guidebook. This really lays out how to make sure that I project is needs driven and that local community knowledge are involved. It also gives great ideas for working as an effective team and for studying a community in an non-intrusive way.

I also learned that ICT4D projects don’t have to necessarily be fancy or “cutting edge” in order to have a big impact. I especially saw this through our readings and discussion of radio. Living in the US, radio seems like a dying medium of ICT but it has the ability to spread so much information to so many people in the developing world because of its simplicity. I was particularly impressed with the work done by Farm Radio International because they seem to be developing very high quality radio shows that give farmers access to important information about climate change and environmental sustainability. Small rural farmers have the potential to greatly suffer from climate change so I think it is so great that Farm Radio is giving them quality importation that allows them to adapt to changing conditions.

I also really liked learning about GIS and crowdsourced mapping. I had never heard of crowd sourced mapping or Ushahidi before this class think that they are such interesting and useful development tools. I like that crowd sourced maps incorporate local knowledge and have a such a wide range of uses, from disasters to food access to public safety. Understanding the significance of the physical environment through local knowledge of specific places is extremely valuable to any development project.


Your Social Media: A Matter of National Cyber Security?

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The Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) is a bill that would allow private companies such as Facebook, Twitter, and Google to share user information with the federal government without a warrant. To many this seems like complete breach of privacy but in reality it could soon be law. On Thursday US House of Representatives approved CISPA , but it is still unclear how the senate will vote.

So, what exactly does the government get to see and why do they want to see it in the first place?  To answer the first question, CISPA allows the government to ask communication providers like Facebook or Twitter to provide personal information if they think it pertains to a cyber security attack. Facebook and Twitter could also give information to the government if they notice suspicious behavior on their sites. The problem is that the wording of CISPA is very vague and as a result many privacy activists feel that it gives the government power to see way too much. According the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the bill is worded so that communications providers could share anyone’s emails, text messages, or files stored on clouds with the government. This gives communication providers a lot of power since they are the ones who ultimately choose what the government gets.

However, those in support of the bill maintain that CISPA is necessary to protect national cyber security, especially because they believe that cyber attacks from countries like China and Iran are becoming more likely. The author of the bill, Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) says that “this is not a surveillance bill,” meaning that the goal of the bill is not for the government to monitor domestic social networks but rather for the government to respond more quickly to potential cyber security threats.

Currently, President Obama is prepared to veto the bill unless some significant changes are made. He is worried that this bill oversteps civilian privacy rights too. I personally think that communication providers should be allowed to share information with the government but only if they have some sort of evidence. Just like I wouldn’t want the police barging into my house without a warrant, I don’t want the government to have access to all of my most personal emails and texts without cause.


Mapping Violence with Plan Benin

In addition to producing the ICT4D project guide, Plan also is running a number of it’s own projects to promote child rights through participation and media in Africa. One interesting example of this is Plan’s program to increase the reporting of child abuse in Benin. In Benin, reporting violence generally goes against the cultural norm and many feel that they either don’t have access to communication with authorities or that the authorities won’t act on the information. To address this issue, plan has partnered with Ushahidi to produce crowdsourced maps on incidences  of violence.

The system allows victims or witnesses to send text messages to a special number through an application called Frontline SMSImage to report the abuse. The website is carefully monitored and all reported cases are verified. Children can also email their stories or send audio or video testimonials. This allows the project to gain a deeper more personal understanding of the accounts. Once the stories have been verified, they appear on an Ushahidi map. This both allows locals to be aware of incidents of violence and alerts the authorities. Plan can also try to match children and their families to the appropriate support service.

While mapping cases of violence is a valuable tool for raising awareness and changing the culture against silence, privacy is still a top concern. Linda Raftree, one of the project coordinators, describes the challenge in the Plan report as such, “‘Can we capture all the information that comes in, yet scrub it before publication on Ushahidi so that it doesn’t identify the victim or alleged perpetrators, yet keep it in a file for the local authorities to follow up and respond? And a second challenge: If everyone knows everything that happens in the community,how can we ensure privacy and confidentiality for those who report?”’ These are all quite important to consider since the backlash from perpetrators can be severe. However, I think that crowdsourced mapping is a great wait to begin to expose acts of violence without revealing too much about the victim.

As with most ICT4D projects, this technology presents a number of other challenges and limitations that have to do with the digital divide. Of course, if a person doesn’t have access to a cell phone or computer, than this technology is useless. There are also issues with illiteracy. Many people who are illiterate would prefer to call instead of text or email but the system is not set up for this. This would require phone operators and make the system more like a hotline. Also, sending text messages is not free so some people don’t have enough phone credit to text in a report. PlanBenin says that they are working with the government to try to set up a charge free number.

Because of all of these problems, this project is not the ultimate solution to child abuse. However, it is beginning a discussion and working to change a culture of silence and abuse. I’m not sure how effective this technology will be right now for bringing individuals to justice but it does work at the root of the problem so I think it definitely has merit and is worth expanding.


Monitoring Hate Speech over Social Media

One of the greatest strengths of social media is that it is completely uncensored. As demonstrated by the Arab Spring, this feature makes social media invaluable for organizing protests and spreading information that oppressive governments may not approve of. The complete freedom of speech over social media certainly promotes democracy. However, when it comes to hate speech, social media can be a double edged sword. Hate speech over social media has a wide scope and can range from high schoolers bullying each other on Facebook to tribes calling for mass violence against one another.

The latter is a huge issue for Kenya, especially during election seasons. Kenya’s 2007 elections resulted tribal violence that slaughtered over 1,200 people. With tension high for the upcoming elections, Kenyan government and civil society hope to prevent another mass outbreak of violence. One prevention strategy is to monitor hate speech over social media. This article on rueter.com describes the work of Kagonya Awori who runs Umati, a web-based project monitoring dangerous speech. The government has already banned the media from reprinting hate speech against other tribes in full but have no way of preventing viral hate speech over social media. Image

Previously most political and tribal hate speech in was spread though radio but now most occurrences are over Facebook. Over Facebook there is no anonymity, since the poster’s name and location are displayed. This allows groups like Umati to monitor specific individuals who are making threatening posts and predict the locations of possible violent outbreaks. The government is taking Awori’s work very seriously and head of criminal investigations in Nairobi is threatening to prosecute anyone who spurs violence over social media.

Kenya clearly has different freedom of speech laws than the US so it does seem like monitoring hate speech is within the governments legal bounds. Preventing violence should of course be a top government priority, however, this article does bring to light the murky line between civilian protection and repressive censorship. It’s hard to say if governments should be able to prosecute their people for what they post other social media, even if it seems justified. Given that much of social media’s strength to incite change comes from a complete lack of censorship, fear of arrest could greatly weaken its force.


Radio for Climate Change

Reading about Farm Radio International for class, I was very impressed by the organization and became increasingly more impressed by the the effectivity of radio as an ICT4D. This led me to explore their websiteImageo to learn more specifics about their mission and projects. FRI incorporates into its mission eight core values: equitable development, community self-reliance, sharing knowledge, use of media, partnership, integrity and solidarity, environmental sustainability, and international solidarity.

Of these, environmental sustainability stuck out to me as an area of particular interest. FRI says that “We support practices, policies and technologies that promote sustainable and equitable development. We promote the conservation of natural resources and bio-diversity for the benefit of all.” I never really thought of radio as a way to support environmental sustainability but from reading about FRI, it makes perfect sense. Even in the US, there are so many misconceptions about climate change and how to live sustainably so it makes senses that rural communities in developing countries would have the same information gap, even more so in areas that don’t have access to electricity or internet. Many development agencies spend a lot of time and money bringing more sustainable agriculture techniques to rural areas but delivering up to date environmental and agricultural information to these communities through radio could possibly be a much more cost effective and sustainable since it doesn’t require the constant presence of a development agency.

FRI recognizes that climate change is a huge threat to farmers and food security because of erratic rainfall patterns, flooding, drought, extreme weather events, deforestation, and desertification. FRI seeks to help farmers mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change by providing by providing them with information on agricultural techniques that conserve water, protect soil, produce crops in drier conditions, and quickly adapt to rapidly changing and quite unpredictable weather patterns. In Ghana, for example, FRI is working with a radio station to produce programing on climate change in two local languages. This program also uses SMS reminders and interactive voice response to improve listenership.

In general, mitigating climate change requires international solidarity, equitable development, and the spread of accurate knowledge. This is all part of FRI’s core values and it seems that their radio shows could have a big impact on how farmers adapt to climate change. Unfortunately, climate change is going to disproportionately affect small farmers, who emit little, so providing these farmers with up to date information is incredibly important to reduce the level that they will suffer.


What is the UN ICT Task Force?

The UN ICT Task Force was established by the UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in 2001.  It is a multi-stakeholder institution and includes participants from both the developed and developing world. In addition, the UN ICT Task force works closely with WSIS and the World Economic Forum. Many members of the ICT Task Force come from top computer development companies, including Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Nokia, Siemens, and Sun Micro Systems. These large companies also collaborate with a select groups of NGOs and a small UN secretariat, creating a fairly diverse membership.

This group is then divided into four working groups:

1.ICT Policy and Governance

2. Enabling Environment

3. Human Resource Development and Capacity Building

4. ICT Indicators and MDG Mapping

The main objective of the ICT Task Force is to provide policy advice to governments and international organizations, informing them on what ICTs realistically can and cannot do, in order to help combat the digital divide. On the ICT Task Force’s intro page, they summarize their mission as:

“One of the most pressing challenges in the new century is to harness this extraordinary force, spread it throughout the world, and make its benefits accessible and meaningful for all humanity, in particular the poor. The principal mission of this Task Force is to tell us how we might accomplish this ambitious goal.”

One interesting project of the UN ICT Task Force was the “Challenge to Silicon Valley,” issued by Kofi Annan in 2002. The challenge was for top companies in Silicon Valley to create ICT solutions that could be created at a price point low enough that they could be deployed anywhere in the world. The companies responded to the challenge, although by 2004, only a handful of UN programs were using ICTs.

The UN ICT TF also produces several publications on effective ICT policy and use and leads many workshops and the many dimensions of and possibilities for ICTs. Currently, the UN ICT TF is being replaced by a new group, called Global Alliance for ICT and Development (GAID), which has a direct focus on ICTs for International Development.


A Case for Telecenters Empowering Rwandan Women

Allarfrica recently posted an article about how telecenters have actually been doing some good things for women in rural Rwandan communities. The Rwandan Telecentre Network (RTN) has launched an ICT literacy campaign, designed to help both urban and rural women improve their businesses. The idea behind this program is that RTN puts telecenters in rural villages, teaches women how to use computers, and then, consequentially, women will be able to digitally access market information and sell their goods at better prices. RTN also believes that telecenters are beneficial because they allow women to connect with other rural areas via social media and email. Some women in the program also aspire to start their own computer related businesses or pursue careers in ICTs. Paul Barera, the director of RTN is optimistic that ICTs will continue to rapidly spread but acknowledges that “illiteracy and poor purchasing power are the main challenges that hamper rural people from fully benefiting from ICTs opportunities.” These are both very valid issues and the article does not go into depth about how RTN is addressing them.

RTN has also partnered with Telecentre.org to help rural women improve their digital literacy.  Telecentre.org is partned with the UN Telecommunications Union and is an organization that seeks to empower women through ICTs. Its three main goals are:

-Wide-scale digital literacy training for grassroots women

-Enlistment of partners and supporters as champions for the cause

-Recognition of telecentre women-achievers.

These telecenters have definitely provided some success stories of women running more efficient business through the incorporation of computers and other ICTs. Furthermore, there are currently 30 telecenters in every one of Rwanda’s districts and the country and hopes to increase internet penetration by 15% in the next year. Rwanda is clearly a leader in effective ICT use in Africa and it seems that their telecenters may actually be producing some positive results. It will be interesting to see how things change for rural women who now have access to telecenters and if their successes are sustainable.