Tag Archives: Africa

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.

http://www.smh.com.au/it-pro/business-it/the-next-currency-killer-african-emoney-mpesa-20140331-zqp9j.html


Government-funded Laptop Project Faces Opposition… From Parents

This week in class we studied the One Laptop Per Child organization and had a lengthy discussion about its obvious flaws. As IDEV students, we often find ourselves criticizing the various projects and organizations we study; its rare, however, that we see the beneficiaries of these projects condemning them as well. This article from the Associated Press in July 2013 discussed why a group of Kenyan parens voiced their opposition to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s $615 million plan to give laptops to 1.2 million school children. Parents felt that the money for the computers should be put towards raising teachers’ salaries and feeding impoverished students.

As one member of the Kenya National Association of Parents explained, “the program is bound to fail in a country that lacks enough teachers and where others strike regularly for better pay”. In 2013, Kenya faced a shortfall of 40,000 teachers. Additionally, more than 200,000 teachers in public schools across the country went on strike to protest unpaid allowances that the government had promised 16 years earlier. These parents felt that current teachers did not have the capacity to implement laptops into the classroom due to lack of training and a government-developed curriculum for the project. Additionally, a previous incident where 70 million textbooks in a public primary-school went missing added to worries that many laptops would be lost, stolen, or sold for food money.

One government spokesman defended the laptop project, saying it was crucial to Kenya’s goal of training a digital-savvy workforce. The Consumer Federation of Kenya, on the other hand, said the project had noble intentions but was “not well thought out and was politicized beyond redemption.” Many parents also felt there were better alternatives to how the government’s money should be spent when it comes to public education. In order to meet the population’s education demands, Kenya needs 42,000 classrooms. The money used for the laptops could be put towards building more schools to expand the country’s education system. Alternatively, some of the money would be better used to fund more children in the nation-wide school food program, meant to help poor children to stay in school, improve their health, and encourage nutrition.


IBM TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO VITAL HEALTH AND EDUCATION INFORMATION

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.


Mobile Phones in Rwanda

This week we discussed the use of mobile phones in developing countries. We read this article about how fishermen in India used their mobile phones to predict demand and anticipate which types of fish would be in demand. While reading more about this topic I found this article also from the ITID Journal that discussed how mobile phones impact “microoentrepreneurs” in Rwanda. Rwanda is one of the most underdeveloped nations in the world but even in this difficult situation in Rwanda mobile phones made a difference. Microoentrepreneurs are people who start businesses with 5 of few employees. In the developing world one household may be the site of multiple microenterprises. My article discussed the story of a baker in Kigali who credited his purchase of a mobile phone with the rapid expansion of his business. He claimed, “business increased 30% due to the mobile, so much so that he had been able to move his family into a larger more comfortable home.” Since buying his phone customers can call him to place orders, he can call his suppliers to buy materials, he can take orders from all over the city and not only his neighborhood, as well as constantly communicate with this employee. He has also been able to expand his business into wedding cakes orders, which are phoned in from throughout the country.

His mobile phone had the added bonus of allowing him to keep in close contact with his wife and children while at work.

Mobile phones expand the market place and make business owners better able to respond to the needs of their area. Microoentrepreneurs, like the baker in Kigali, can save time by calling suppliers and customers rather than having to visit them in person and increase productivity by expanding their customer base by taking phone orders.

There are countless uses for mobile technologies in the developing would but better technological infrastructure needs to be created to fully utilize all the possibilities of mobile technologies.


Do You Have The Power?

New and old technologies, from mobile phones and computers to radios and lighting, are all connected by an essential common thread: they require power.  ICTs might have the ability to improve networks, reduce poverty, or empower women, however, without an energy source the use-value of these technologies are rendered ineffective and irrelevant. Importantly, access to a power supply can be an extreme factor within the digital divide, and more specifically, rural residents often face the burden of this divide. The combination of my five-month experience in Ghana and this week’s ICT4D class has allowed me to raise a few important questions: what do you do when you can’t just “plug it in”? Further, how does ICT become relevant when power and electricity in and of itself is needed?

According to an article written by experts at Linkoping University and the University of Nairobi, the biggest barrier across Africa to ICT is power and electricity. Importantly, they explain that what will improve the livelihoods of many residents, particularly those in slums and rural areas, is not a new piece of technology, but access to energy. This finding echoes a publication from Rural21, the International Journal for Rural Development, titled Without Energy no ICT!. As exposed by Rural21, technologies cannot be useful to the daily lives of people if power and electricity are unavailable. I bring these articles up in conjunction with each other because it is imperative to listen to these needs in the development arena if ICT is ever going to be a realized factor in the lives of these marginalized communities.

Even more, as Rural21 pointed out, inventive and renewable energies might be the power solution that makes developing countries capable of utilizing ICT. Instead of expanding the power grid, why not harvest wind from the “windy coastline” or build new businesses from new environmentally-friendly battery sources (as seen in case-study of Zambia pay phones)? Ultimately, I want to emphasis the need for the ICT4D community to step back and see the real needs of people before simply implanting a flashy technology. While we can always find a power supply for our phones and computers, not everyone can. Therefore, let’s find the energy to power development, for this first step has the potential to empower more people in the long-term.


Is Radio Tuned in to Our Needs?

There are estimates that say between 80-90% of family households in Africa have access to a functional radio. Radio, in many aspects, has been an amazing tool for development in many countries, particularly for those in Sub-Saharan Africa.  In an area where large percentages of the population are illiterate, radio is often the main way in which people receive current information. The information given through radio broadcasts can include weather reports, news reports, or other pertinent information. Electricity in many of these rural areas is also often very limited or nonexistent, giving battery-powered radios another major benefit.  But there are some important aspects to radio use that can’t be ignored.

Radio, in its common and traditional form, is a one-way flow of information from broadcaster to listener. As a consequence, this doesn’t necessarily foster any engagement or communication between the two parties. Imagine having a conversation with a friend where you weren’t able to ask them questions but could only passively listen to them.  While you might gain some valuable knowledge, this kind of communication has its limitations. With the rise of other technologies such as mobile phones and internet, is radio on its way out? There are many other types of ICT that allow for two-way exchanges, but could they fully replace radio? Have you heard of any initiative that attempt to somehow combine the two? Radio has so many benefits including its affordability and its prevalence and availability in these rural areas. I’d be curious to know what other people think about radio’s future role in the ICT4D world.


How does Farm Radio International Expand?

Farm Radio is a non-profit organization based out of Canada that works with radio broadcasters to help improve food security and certain modes of agriculture for small African farmers.  Here’s an example video of how to program works

After watching this video I understood the basics of how the Farm Radio program works to help farmers gain knowledge and information on crops and food that they would have not otherwise had in small parts of Africa.  The video did seem slightly puzzling as to who the audience was targeted towards.  It seems as though the target audience is for a very “dummed-down” English speaking individual that would be a potential donor.  If farmers in these rural parts of Africa don’t have the technology to understand information about the crops they are dealing with, then how would they be able to view this video that explains to them how Farm Radio International works in a simplistic manner. 

After looking over the Farm Radio International’s website it is shown that the organization works with a great deal of individuals across Africa.  It is great to see that the organization realizes the technological capacity that is present in Africa, with 76% of African farmers with access to a radio set and only 3% with access to Internet.  My only question here is how does Farm Radio International expand to reach a larger population in a continent in which food is so scarce.

 Here’s the link to their website: http://www.farmradio.org/

Eduction and Poverty Reduction

In the fight against eliminating poverty worldwide, there is one tool that is the most effective – education. According to the Global Partnership for Education, if all students in developing countries completed school with basic reading skills, global poverty could be cut by 12%. A good education can also reduce infant mortality rates, improve life-expectency and improve nationwide stability. There is an undeniable link between education and poverty reduction, and its up to those in the development community to try and improve access to education worldwide.

Thankfully, there are many industrious and innovative professionals who have taken this call to arms. These individuals are using ICTs to close the education gap, especially in rural communities. In an article for Human IPO, an online news journal for African tech news, author Gabriella Mulligan details the impact that Kusile Labs & Technology has had on schools in rural South Africa.

Kusile Labs & Technology works to install mobile science and computer laboratories in rural schools in an attempt to better educate these communities in the areas of technology and innovation. These mobile laboratories work to teach students important science and ICT concepts through laboratories that can easily be implemented in any environment. With these mobile laboratories, students can perform experiments through using and learning ICT tools.  Hopefully, more organizations will follow the lead of Kusile Labs and will continue to help in the fight to bring improved educational technologies to the rural communities that need it most.


6TH ANNUAL ICT4D CONFERENCE

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Next month Catholic Relief Services’ 6th Annual ICT4D Conferencewill take place in Nairobi, Kenya. Through exhibitions, presentations, workshops, and open discussion sessions the conference aims to “provide an opportunity to listen, discuss and test innovative technology solutions with practitioners and providers who are using ICT to build the resilience of communities across Africa, Latin America and Asia”. Over and over again our textbooks and readings remind us of the importance of communication and information sharing in the Digital Age. With the plethora of technologies available now, conferences such as this one can help hone in the discussion to truly relevant issues and encourage collaboration amongst attendees. The conference explicitly reaches out to individuals, institutions, and corporations that seek to “enhance the quality and accountability of development and relief programs”. This sentence in and of itself signals an important shift in recent development strategy outlined in Richard Heek’s ICT4D Manifesto: “ICT4D 2.0” should focus more on improving the use of existing technology and measuring its effectiveness.

All past conferences, apart from the first, have been hosted by African cities (the exception being Washington DC). This signals the importance of an emerging digital market in the continent. Although Africa consistently ranks lowest on ICT indicators in terms of access, quality, frequency, and availability of various technologies it is in fact one of the fastest growing markets: “Africa is the region with the highest growth rates over the past three years and mobile-broadband penetration has increased from 2% in 2010 to 11% in 2013.” (International Telecommunications Union ICT Facts and Figures). This being the case, perhaps the conference should seek to attract actual users as opposed to solely focusing on institutional participants. Providing an opportunity for such individuals to voice their opinions and experiences could offer valuable input to the ICT4D movement as a whole. Currently the conference only offers one type of registration fee- $275 for general admission. Perhaps by offering various types of tickets the conference could attract a wider variety of participants.


Sometimes the Answer is Right in Front of You…

In reading Unwin’s chapter this week on information and communication, I was surprised by his discussion of theatre and dance. IDEV classes here at Tulane have stressed to me the importance of including local stakeholders and the importance of demand driven development. However, all development projects we have studied seemed so structured and for lack of a better word, rigid. Theatre and dance come from a completely different perspective. As part of the arts, they seem more personal, expressive, and overlooked as a serious form of communication. However, Unwin brings up a good, and even obvious point, that this type of communication can be very prevalent and important in other non-Western cultures. It can often be a main way in which information is communicated throughout generations. I decided to delve a little deeper and explore a project that was theater and dance based. What I found was surprising.

Wise-Up is an education program based in Botswana. It is is a national campaign being undertaken by the National AIDS Coordinating Agency in Botswana in partnership with UNICEF with a purpose to give young people accurate information about HIV/AIDS, and it does this through theatre.  Through singing and dance, participants express different situations and stories relating to the virus while also giving important, accurate information about how to protect yourself against it. It’s goal is to get young people to ‘wise up’ about the nature of the disease and to arm them with accurate and correct knowledge. To learn more, check out the video below.

In learning about this project, it’s pretty clear that it was designed with a culture in mind such as the one existing in Botswana.  Theatre (dance) and singing are already integral parts of their society, and have been for some time.  They are using this skillfully to combat the threat of HIV/AIDS within their communities. To me, it seems like a perfect match. Would a project like this (TfD) work in the US? What about another developing country struggling with similar issues? I think it would certainly depend on the nature of their already existing culture, which is another point that Unwin stresses in the chapter for this week. I wonder what other development projects are using Theater for Development (TfD) and what sort of communities they are in. TfD can definitely provide a lot of benefits, as it brings a familiar setting of dancing and singing to an important and uncomfortable topic. I hope to see it used in many more projects to come.