Category Archives: Business & Economy

Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing

This blog post I’d like to draw attention to WIEGO, or Women in Informal Employment: Globalizing and Organizing. WIEGO is a “global action-research-policy network” seeking to improve the status of the working poor in the informal economy, especially women. The concept of “informal economy” is defined as a diverse set of economic activities, enterprises, and workers that are not regulated or protected by the state, leaving them vulnerable to rights abuses and unsafe working conditions. The informal economy constitutes half to three quarters of the non-agricultural labor force in developing countries. When agriculture is incorporated, that number rises to as high as 90% of economic activity in certain African nations. The core of WIEGO’s mission is to empower these workers, under the belief that equal economic opportunities and rights should be available to all.

After hearing Keshet Bachan’s lecture on the impact of ICT’s on adolescent girls in developing nations, I began to realize how vulnerable women in particular are to injustice and malpractice in the informal economies they generally occupy. While informal economies are linked both with poverty and economic growth, human rights regulations are incredibly necessary in these fields to ensure that abuses do not go overlooked, and exploitation can be avoided.  WIEGO’s particular focus on “waste pickers”, or those who do the primary collecting and sorting of waste materials in developing countries, provide a great example of laborers who suffer in the “informal economy”.  While waste pickers provide widespread benefits to their communities, municipalities, and environment, (in many countries providing the only form of solid waste collection), they face low social status, poor living and working conditions, and little support from their local governments.


International Girls in ICTs Day: April 24th

Started in 2010 by the International Technological Union (ITU), the International Girls in ICTs Day is centered around the idea of celebrating and promoting female involvement in the international technology sector. While ITU itself does not put on any events for the day, it encourages all ICT related organizations and stakeholders to be involved, stating on their website, “these are events where girls and university students are invited to spend the day at the office of ICT companies and government agencies so they better understand the opportunities the ICT sector holds for their future.” The website also provides various resources and promotional materials for general International Girls in ICTs Day events and profiles of female role models in the technology industry from around the world. Additionally, they provide archives of current and past events for the day to encourage groups around the world to become involved in the cause. 

One event put on last year in Swaziland brought two communications companies in the nation together with 160 high school girls from around Swaziland in the first annual Girls in ICT Communications Installations Tour. The groups visited national and regional communications stations and viewed presentations from sector female and male professionals among other things. 

While the gender gap in the ICT sector around the world is far from solved, events and celebratory days like this are crucial to encouraging and promoting the involvement of women and girls in ICTs. The growth of events like these and the idea that girls and women can and should have equal roles as men in the technology industries play a large role in the path towards gender equality, access, and education.

ATMs at risk

Our speaker on Tuesday mentioned an interesting fact that most ATMs in the world rely on outdated operating systems. I found this fact interesting and researched it further. It turns out that 95 percent of the world’s ATMs run on Windows XP, a 12-year old operating system. This fact has been in the news recently because Microsoft will stop supporting Windows XP in a matter of days on April 8. The very reason that Microsoft is no longer supporting XP causes concern for ATM users: “XP no longer meets the needs of modern computing and doesn’t have the cyber-security safeguards in place to protect against the current generation of threats.” Banks have had plenty of time to switch over to newer technologies because Microsoft announced the April 8 date back in 2007. While some banks, like JP Morgan Chase, have purchased service extensions, others will let their ATM technology go unserviced. This fact puts banks and their customers at risk for cyber attacks that are becoming more and more sophisticated every day. The average consumer has no way of telling if they are using an unserviced ATM. Customers around the world will be nervous to use an ATM, but few people in developed countries will stop using them. We know that our banks and governmental regulatory agencies insure our money if hackers steal it. But people in developing nations, where there is often little trust in the financial sector or government will be even less likely to trust technology that is meant to make their lives easier. If hackers do steal money from people who use ATMs, there may not be any ways to get that money back. Unserviced ATMs are a vulnerability that hit developing countries especially hard.

The Value of Crowd-Sourcing and Private Sector Data Analysis in Disaster Response

Today, Senior Geospatial scientist Steven Ward presented to the class the ways in which his company ‘DigitalGlobe‘ combines ICT, geospatial data, satellite imagery for use in a number of industries, including development. DigitalGlobe operates a number of satellites that take images of the earth’s surface and disseminates them to a number of clients, including the US government, Google, the UN, and various NGOs, among many others. An even more critical aspect of the company is the data analysis it provides, which is largely supplemented by crowdsourcing techniques. For example, scientists like Steven Ward will publicize certain images of a disaster area, such as satellite photographs taken of a mountain range in which climbers have gone missing. DigitalGlobe employees will then look at trends of information tagged on these pictures by the public, an analysis that is augmented by a number of algorithms that help to determine the degree of validity of the information they are receiving. They can then analyze the aggregate data to try and find precisely where the missing climbers set up their base camp, climbed, and eventually fell (find the story here). Though this specific case is tragic, it reveals a host of ways in which vital information can be amassed through ICT techniques such as crowdsourcing, as well as how tech-based firms can contribute their innovations and analysis in times of need.  The company is an important example of the private sector’s role in aiding humanitarian crises as well as its contributions in developing key information systems that can make or break disaster response.

Another important take-way from Ward’s lecture was simply the logic surrounding open-source data analysis, which is an ICT in itself. Ward pointed out that “more hands make light work”, which is a critical notion in time sensitive situations such as Guinea’s recent Ebola outbreak, where health care experts need as much data as possible to determine the pathways of an extremely lethal disease in a population dense area. Though some might worry that information coming from the masses is more likely to be incorrect, this is actually a misconception; Wikipedia, which is a compilation made by thousands of ‘amateurs’ has a credibility ranking of 8/10, while Encyclopedia Britannica, which is a collaboration of fewer ‘experts’, has a score of 8.8/10. The fact that these sources have such similar scores demonstrates a key point of value for crowdsourcing techniques: the more people that contribute to and review the data, the more accurate it is likely to be. Therefore crowdsourcing in itself is many times one of the most valuable approaches to mapping disaster and crises, as well as other, less time sensitive development sectors such as poverty, agribusiness land-grabbing, vulnerable agricultural lands, and thousands of other factors that may be critical to the interventions of stakeholders within the field.


Are oil companies really upholding a social responsibility?

When Dr. Ward from DigitalGlobe Intelligence Solutions was speaking today, he mentioned that their program was used to identify points where oil was being stolen specifically in Nigeria. He said that the program wasn’t there to get people in trouble, but instead to help the oil companies identify which groups were stealing the most so the oil companies could work with the communities stealing the most oil to provide them with jobs, support the local economy and improve their relationships with these communities. Without meaning to sound rude, I asked him if there was any evidence that these companies were actually helping these communities move forward. He actually had personal experience with this, having lived in Nigeria while his father worked for a major oil company and collaborated with the local communities. I was interested in learning more about this topic, and I’m glad he touched on it for a bit.

In looking into it further, I was surprised about the number of articles discussing the positive impacts of the oil companies. It seems that there is an increasing expectation of oil companies to uphold their social responsibility to the countries in which they work. This article, for example, discusses how Chevron is partnering with Baylor Global Health Corp. to provide medical training and support research on child mortality in Liberia, where they are also looking for oil. The article says, “Altruism is part of it. So is business”. However, there is no way that this article is telling the whole story. It is great that oil companies are starting to take their social responsibility more seriously, but I was surprised there weren’t more articles describing the damage that big oil companies can do on developing countries.

Dr. Ward also talked about how a big challenge for oil companies in supporting the well being of local citizens is that often when these companies give money as part of their social responsibility, they have to give it through the local government. This means that they have little control over how the money is actually used, especially in developing countries where corruption is an issue and money is rarely allocated as it should be. This article discusses that many developing countries rich in oil face paradoxically face high and growing levels of poverty because of this kind of corruption. They also outline policy measures that international oil companies should take to begin to address these issues. Suggested measures include “Requiring companies to make public what they pay to governments to extract natural resources,” and “Increasing the transparency of extractives contracts and strengthening government officials’ ability to negotiate contracts that are beneficial to the country and its people.” Though the article does not talk about the role of ICTs in achieving these goals, after Dr. Ward’s presentation I think ICTs could play a huge role in implementing these measure. For example, they could be used to increase transparency of extractive contracts by making these contracts available online. As energy becomes a scarcer resource every single day, it will be important to keep in mind the impact of this scarcity on the developing world.

Mobile Banking For Everyone

Mobile banking has become very popular in the developed and developing world. It is especially beneficial in the developing world because it addresses many of the problems they are facing when dealing with cash currency. Before the use of mobile banking, small business owners and customers were forced to physically walk to each other to transfer payments. This became a problem, especially for women business owners because of the risk of theft. Another issue people living in a rural community face is distance from a bank; in many cases there are not banks within walking distance,making it difficult to withdrawal and deposit money. Because of these issues, along with others, mobile banking has boomed in the developing world.

M-Pesa is a very popular mobile banking program that started in Kenya, with 43% of their current GDP flowing through this system. (ITpro) M-pesa works with any basic mobile phone. It allows users to pay for goods or even withdrawal money from a M-Pesa office or ATM, with a simple text message and without a debit card. M-pesa has become so popular that this payment is accepted at a large variety of places including local markets, and by street vendors. It has also facilitated the transfer of money. Many Kenyan’s send money to their relatives. Before mobile banking, they would send their payments with someone going in the same direction, and many times their money would never reach the recipient. With M-pesa, transferring money to love ones is as easy as sending a text message. Some businesses even pay salary through M-Pesa. There are transfer fees as well as ATM fees, but they are comparable to other bank fees, but much simpler.

This video shows how M-Pesa has been impacting the lives of Kenyan’s.


On Tuesday, computer giant IBM announced a 10-year plan to improve cognitive computing throughout Africa. The program will work to develop data for different sectors of the African economy and will work to connect more Africans to the digital ‘cloud,’ where they will be able to assess information on health and education. According to Dr. Robber Morris, the Vice-President of the Global Labs department of IBM Research, the program will allow Africans to use their mobile phones to “ask relevant questions on health and other areas of interest to human endeavor and receive instant answers through their phone.”

This new IBM program represents an important and interesting investment by IBM into the African ICT community. As mobile phone usage continues to sky-rocket throughout the continent, the opportunity to utilize such technology for a variety of means continues. While the IBM program has not fully begun, and little information exists on the particulars of the program, it makes theoretical sense to try and take advantage of mobile phone usage and make it easier for individuals to access important information about health and education.

While the program is obviously in the early stages, I think it is very important that IBM both ensures local buy-in of their program and ensures that the information is available in a variety of languages. The program announcement does not mention working with local communities to spread information about the program, and the seemingly top-down approach that the program takes is troubling. Additionally, ensuring that the information is available in a variety of languages will ensure that it is as easy as possible for individuals to access the information.

Overall, the program is an ambitious attempt to try and improve the access of vital heath and education information to more individuals. It will be fascinating to see how the program is implemented over the coming decade.