Category Archives: ICT4D Professional Profile

Tim Unwin: Profiling an ICT4D Heavyweight

Although our class has read many things this man has written, used his concepts to develop an understanding of what ICT4D is, and grown to talk about him like a Tulane Professor, before researching for this post I knew very little about Tim Unwin (@timunwin).

Tim Unwin @timunwin

As it turns out this now big name in ICT4D started his academic career as a geography professor with a love for wine. His early works focused mainly on geography, some even being about wine ( “Wine and the Vine” ), but for the past decade or so his focus has shifted to the world of ICT4D. His recent research has focused on helping out of school youth and the disabled in the developing world, specifically how ICTs can be used to do so.

Currently holding title as Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (CTO), Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission in the UK, and Emeritus Professor of Geography and UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London. His previous titles are also impressive and exhaustive.

His views and experience come across in his blog, so to leave you with a few words of wisdom from the man himself:

“Try not to worry about things over which you have little control; concentrate on those things about which you can have the most significant effect.”

-Tim Unwin

Author Profile: Anita Kelles-Viitanen

Anita Kelles-ViitanenAnita Kelles-Viitanen is the Secretary General of the Advisory Board for Relations with Developing Countries in the Finnish Ministry for Foreign Affairs.  Our class read an article by her for our 1.10 class on Poverty Reduction.  This article, named “The Role of ICT in Poverty Reduction” shows Kelles-Viitanen’s long background as a supporter for ICT4D.  She is a former manager of Social Development at the Asian Development Bank (ADB), whose new mission is to reduce poverty.  According to this article written by Kelles-Viitanen on Project Syndicate, ADB changed its objective from “economic growth: to “poverty reduction” in the late 1990’s; this may be the reason Kelles-Viitanen left.  As with many NGOs participating in micro-finance, who discard NGO status to become true banks when the costly to operate program incurs high transaction costs.  Although ADB still seems to be considered an NGO, their current motto of “an Asia and Pacific region free of poverty” seems mere invention. Kelles-Viitanen is an accomplished writer, and you can find many of her books on amazon, many on international development in Asia.   In my Google search of her, I found two more articles written for the Indigenous Peoples Assistance Facility (IFAD) Innovation Mainstreaming Initiative (and the Government of Finland).  One, titled “Custodians of culture and biodiversity: indigenous peoples take charge of their challenges and opportunities”, I talk about here, the other you can find here for further reading.  From the executive study, I deduce that Kelles-Viitanen is a strong believer in climate change, and approves of the mitigation approach versus adaptation.  For this article, Kelles-Viitanen went through 1095 proposals submitted for funding, proposed by the indigenous peoples and their organizations (from NGOs, CBOs, business organizations and companies, exporters’ associations, ministry departments, state institutions, municipalities, trade unions, university departments/academic institutions, church associations, and co-operatives to consultancy organizations).  These organizations, from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, the Pacific, the Caribbean and Latin America, suggested solutions to solve indigenous poverty.  On the cover of this article is a Chinese painting, taken from her collections, showing she not only has the dedication to read through copious proposals, but that she also truly is a “custodian of culture and biodiversity”.

Misconceptions in development research

From studying development for almost three years now, I have learned the importance of understanding the context of information given to me. Information, including data and analysis, differs depending on the definitions of terms/indicators, the source, presenter/author, and much more.

Before beginning the book for our class, ICT4D, I decided to google the author, Tim Unwin.


It turns out he has a blog himself. First, I looked at his “About Me”. His accomplishments were lengthy and his experience was understatedly impressive. As I started scrolling through his blog posts, I found one called “On “cyber” and the dangers of elision.” The post explained the true definition of “cyber” and all of the misunderstandings surrounding the word, especially when used in relation to development. This is a common occurrence in development work and it’s important to bring attention to the fact when it happens like Unwin did in his post.

Misunderstandings and misconceptions about information/terminology has been a main topic of discussion in our last few classes. For example, even the most basic regions may be defined differently from report to report. It becomes even more confusing once you start considering “happiness” indicators.

The moral of the story: When reading a paper about development, one can never make assumptions about parameters/indicators without looking at the way they were defined.

ICT4D Professional Profile: Richard Heeks

Richard Heeks is a Professor of Development Informatics in the Institute for Development Policy and Management, at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. He is currently the Director of the Centre for Development Informatics located at the University of Manchester. He attended the University of Cambridge where he studied the natural sciences. He fulfilled his MPhil at the University of Leicester and later completed his PhD at the Open University. His experience in the ICT4d field began with him working as both a volunteer science teacher and software developer in Nigeria. He would later take up research positions at first the University of Leicester followed by the University of Manchester.

His contributions to the ICT4d field are long and varied. He is one of the pioneers of the Software Export Success Model, which came about through his research and study of the Indian software industry. This model is used to evaluate the software sectors in developing countries. He also created a widely used model called the Design-Reality Gap model. This model is used to evaluate ICT4D initiatives.

Links to his:

–       U Manchester Profile: Here

–       Twitter Account: Here

–       Linkedin Account: Here

Profile: Arundhati Roy

Arundhati Roy is an Indian political activist who has focused on environmental sustainability and human rights in her development career. She became famous for her book The God of Small Things, but became known more for her involvement in anti-neocolonial development, as well as pro-environmental sustainability and human rights. Roy has acted as an important advocate of development, particularly of India and Kashmir, outside of the pre-established Western pattern of development, namely at the expense of less developed economic nations. Arundhati as engaged in activism including public demonstrations against corrupt and pro-neoliberal governments in India. As far as her role in environmental sustainability goes, she worked on the Sardar Sarovar dam project, protesting the dam in the name of environmental sustainability, claiming this would end up being a backwards step for India’s development.
I chose Arundhati Roy because I identify with her mission and with her approach. I want to work to promote women’s rights in Islamist nations and Roy was also known for her ardent feminism. I want to do the same work with human rights that she has done as well as in the same way. I want to use political activism and political paradigms to affect change in International development. Also, I want to work to shatter the neocolonial paradigm that Roy herself condemns. I chose Roy for our ideological and methodological similarities. I found inspiration from her story.


Richard Heeks and the Design-Reality Gap Model

In his article “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?” Richard Heeks questions the Millennium Development Goals and criticizes their Western-biased “do as I say, not as I do” approach. One of Heeks’ suggestions for how to use ICTs in an effective way for development is ICT consumption. Specifically, Heeks references “the use of technology in applications like e-commerce and e-government.” According to Heeks, these are areas where ICTs are being used in a positive way to make real effective change in development. In order to understand his perspective, I think that it is important to take a look at who Richard Heeks is and the work he has done. Heeks, a native Englishman, is the current Professor of Development Informatics in the Institute for Development and Policy and Management at the University of Manchester. When he was younger, Heeks worked as a volunteer science teacher in Nigeria, an experience that could influence his critiques of development policies created by the global North for the global South. Heeks is considered one of the founders of the ICT4D field. One of his most important contributions of the study of ICT4D is the Design-Reality Gap Model, a monitoring and evaluation tool used to measure the success of ICT4D projects, especially e-government projects.

The basis of Heeks’ model is the idea that there are two points in any e-government project: the reality, that is ‘where we are now,’ and the goal of the project, that is ‘where the e-government project wants to get us.’ It’s really quite simple. The larger the gap between these two points, the more difficult it is to successfully complete the project. The small the gap, the higher the chance of success. Heeks’ claims that there are 7 dimensions that determine this gap. These 7 dimensions are: information, technology, processes, objectives and values, staffing and skills, management systems and structures, and other resources: time and money. These 7 aspects of e-government analysis can be helpfully summed up in the acronym ITPOSMO.

The Design-Reality Gap Model created by Heeks is an important contribution to the field of ICT4D because it provides a systematic and uniform way to monitor e-government projects and assess their success. I think that Heeks’ emphasis on e-government and e-commerce, while not the most exciting of all development projects, is what is really making a difference on the ground. It is essential to focus on projects that are effective and sustainable, even if they are more ‘behind-the-scenes’ than a typical ICT4D project. Richard Heeks is an important figure in the ICT4D world because of his contributions such as the Design-Reality Gap Model. It might sound dull, but efforts such as these are what make real improvements in the developing world.

Frugal Digital: Digitally Inclusive Design

Q: What do you get when you cross a mobile phone, a lunchbox, and a flashlight?

A: A digital projector.

No, this isn’t a confusing popsicle stick riddle, it’s one of Vinay Venkatraman’s technology crafts.

Venkatraman is a founding partner at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design. His design philosophy seeks to equip people at the bottom of the economic pyramid with useful technology through the work of his “Frugal Digital” research group.

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Production takes place at a local level.

The group’s work in reverse engineering was inspired by a visit to a street market in Mumbai where this kind of tinkering is taking place. Venkatraman met an electronics shop owner in Mumbai who, in addition to selling prepaid phone cards, fixes gadgets for people. Frugal Digital wanted to tap into this local fix-it culture and channel its energy toward social innovation.

Though the parts may be cheap and the devices simple, the implications for developing countries are significant. An alarm clock and parts of a television remote and computer mouse become a basic health screening tool, envisioned to help local ASHA health workers direct people to more specific care rather than overloading the clinic system. The lunchbox multimedia platform empowers teachers as digital gateways to information.

Frugal Digital team members test a lunchbox projector in a school in rural India.

Frugal Digital team members test a lunchbox projector in a school in rural India.

Technological capacity is a critical factor in determining the efficacy of projects for ICT implementation in developing countries that is often overlooked. Indeed, certain ICT4D initiatives in developing countries have been criticized for taking a flashy approach to development that is unlikely to have a real impact on people’s lives. Simply put, giving impoverished communities the newest iPhone or MacBook is not sufficient to close the digital divide, in part because these areas typically lack the necessary infrastructure to support the technologies.

For this reason, the frugal digital concept is a key step forward for ICT4D initiatives and a plausible alternative to a Western idea of technology and gadgetry. It recognizes the implicit value in the use of local economies and expertise to generate useful products and works on a reasonable scale that encourages community feedback and dialogue about what is needed, and, just as importantly, what isn’t. It shows that the most useful technologies don’t always come out of silicon valley and aren’t necessarily manufactured according to economies of scale. It makes technology that works for people, not corporations.

By salvaging parts and reconfiguring them into new technological gadgets, Venkatraman hopes to empower community members to help create a digitally inclusive society. He’s on the right track.

Watch the TED talk here.