Before this ICT4D course I was unaware of how important technology can be for development. This class has exposed a few salient themes in relation to technology and development. First and foremost, access to ICT is truly an asset or a barrier to the livelihoods of people, especially those in developing countries. This stratification of access, also known as the digital divide, is therefore a key structure that needs to improve if meaningful development is going to occur. I have grown particularly interested in the digital divide because, often, the dimensions to technological access are interconnected with other systemic problems. Specifically, physical infrastructure, language, age, income, gender, and identity can all be barriers or access points to ICT as well as other facets of development, like jobs, healthcare, and resources. Curiously, bridging the digital divide will not only improve ICT in developing countries, but can also improve other sectors within a country.
The other salient theme that pervades ICT4D is the initial technological needs of a community. While it is great to design and implement new, cutting-edge technologies, it is important for development agents to meet basic needs first. More so, a community should have a niche request for the technology being incorporated. Sounds like a basic needs assessment? Indeed, it is! Needs assessments, along with stakeholder collaboration, and monitoring and evaluation, are critical to all development projects, even those non-ICT related, because ideally the purpose of the project is to improve the quality of life and livelihoods of real people. ICT4D projects must use discretion, creativity, and humility in order to utilize the most-fitting technologies for individual communities. Along the same lines, there is no one-size-fits-all ICT for development purposes, and therefore innovation should be a priority. Ultimately, ICT can be a highly effective mode in development, however only when such projects take into consideration the lived experiences, needs, and desires of the affected peoples.
In last week’s reading Erwin Alampay discussed the capabilities approach in regards to ICT in developing nations. The article spoke about how an understanding of the capabilities for developing nations is critical to integrating ICT in a nation’s social and economic structure. If a nation aims to provide assistance to another nation in the use of ICT they must understand the productive capabilities of the particular society. This means that a humanistic approach is considerably important to success in development. In understanding a nation’s capabilities, the individual’s freedoms, values, happiness, and human welfare must all be understand for effective implementation of ICT in any country. One-size-fits all methods to ICT4D are not truly effective ways to aid developing nations in development by maximizing their existing capabilities
This brings about the idea that developed nations must have a strong grasp of their own capabilities to ever be able to effectively assist another nation. If a developed nations like the United States does not understand how to utilize existing technology in school systems in rural states, they should not be in the process of implementing these technologies in rural states in the developing world. There are still many divides in ICT usages across the United States that lead educational inequality and differences in individual capabilities. This is especially evident due to the lack of national guidelines that regulate technology in public schools. I grew up in the public school system of rural Maine and received a very progressive education that incorporated ICT in our daily lives. Beginning in middle school each student was provided with a laptop and later an iPad for personal and school related use. All classrooms were equipped with ‘smart boards’ and all students were required to take computer applications and related courses in order to graduate. When I arrived at Tulane it was shocking to see the difference in education that I received from some of my other classmates who had attended schools in different areas across the US. Although ICT in the school system across the nation has improved, there still exist issues of inequality between different areas. When the United States and other developed nations decide to assist a developing nation with ICT use, they must first look to their own national capabilities and attempt to learn from this information so it can be curtailed and tailored to each nation’s development needs.
As mentioned in our lovely textbook, the Intermediate Technology Development Group, now known as Practical Action, is one of the few programs using ICTs to provide the information needs of the poor people, not the donors. The reason most projects do not focus on the demand side is because “people cannot ask for things of which they are not aware or have not yet experienced.” (Unwin, 57). The important point to take from this blog post is that there are similarities in the needs of the poor in different countries, but there are also significant local differences in need and ability to gain access.
Therefore, with no further ado, let me introduce you to this organization by asking you to watch this hilarious two minute video on what they do in Peru, then we will move on to a case study in Zimbabwe (my country for this class)!
If you don’t want to watch the video, here is a short description of the organization: it is an NGO that uses ICT to challenge poverty in developing nations. Enable poor communities to build their knowledge and produce sustainable solutions for things like energy access to climate change to enabling producers to create inclusive markets.
In a rural community in Zimbabwe, residents now have electricity, unheard of in most rural areas of the country. This is due to the implementation of a micro-hydro generator constructed by Practical Action Southern Africa, funded by the European Union. It has provided life-changing scenarios in basic education, sanitation, and healthcare, not to mention the ease of television to receive the local news. Before, one farmer had to travel 64 kilometers (39 miles) to find out the current market prices. What is so very neat about this case study is that it is very sustainable (as well as renewable and good for the environment), meaning that this community can fix the system themselves and enjoy significant improvements in their lifestyles and prosper from their electricity supply.
Empowering poor individuals and marginalized communities is what one main goal of ICT4D should be, and this organization is a good example of an “appropriate balance between supply and demand, between the aspirations of those seeking to implement the initiative and the needs of those who will be using and implementing them.” (Unwin, 70).
In class discussion we have been noting that we cannot always take data or opinions for face value. We have to delve deeper to see what fallbacks, flaws, or gaps are in the information presented. Most data is presented on a very broad scale, largely paying attention to region or country. This is understandable considering the noted difficulty in acquiring information and specific data from so many countries with different measurement standards, languages, and capabilities. What this leads to is a lack of full understanding of the issues at hand and what specific groups may have more difficulty accessing ICT. In Alampay’s article “Beyond Access to ICTs” we find subgroups such as gender and age that have an important role in understanding the digital divide. I believe this is very important in understanding the full scope of a nations digital atmosphere. These particular factors make portions of the population more challenged than our general understanding of the ICT capabilities of a country. If we do not examine these factors in a case-by-case manor, we may apply the same solutions to countries with similar rankings while we don’t understand the root issues on a micro level.
We discussed the challenges gender and age have in our own Western, primarily American, technology culture. These revolved around whether women are less skilled or just less exposed to technology, whether age is a absolute factor affecting access and skill. If these are so rampant in our own society, what makes us believe that these aren’t even more challenging in developing countries? By addressing these shortcomings we can better modify our approach to closing the digital divide.
This week we read an article by Erwin A. Alampay, an ICT specialist from the University of the Philippines. In his article, he explained how information and communication technologies can be used for development and how universal access policies are beginning to address the problem of the digital divide. Alampay raises the idea that policymakers need to understand not only who has access to ICTs but also where and how. While this information is still very hard to analyze and requires more research, it made me wonder if countries that lack access to ICTs are employing any innovative methods to bridge the digital divide. I found a few but none more impressive than Burundi’s project.
Burundi, a small country in Sub-Saharan Africa, is one of the world’s poorest countries and the adult literacy rate is very low. But Burundi’s president, Pierre Nkurunziza, has established an ambitious project to redevelop the country through the use of ICTs. He has partnered with contractor, BBS Company, to install fiber optic broadband infrastructure and as of August 2012, the network covered 8 of 17 provinces in the country. President Nkurunziza believes that ICT access development will help bring the country out of poverty and has even begun using ICTs to ensure government transparency and accountability. Furthermore, Nkurunziza has laid out plans for the ICT sector to continue to grow over the next decade and become a regional hub for information and communication technologies. With Burundi hoping to address education, poverty, health and gender problems through the use of ICTs it is clear that not only developed countries but developing countries as well are beginning to utilize ICTs to accelerate development. Nkurunziza seems to believe that ICTs are the key to solving problems in Burundi and I think that is the same for the rest of the developing world. If leaders and policymakers from other developing nations copy Nkurunziza’s ICT development plan, I think many of the challenges these countries face, like poverty, unemployment and education, will be resolved.
In class we discussed the difference between knowledge and information. When these two terms were dissected, we decided that knowledge is the understanding and use of information that can be applied to the formal sectors of society. This brings apparent the idea of knowledge and information societies. The United States and much of the developed world can be considered a knowledge society as they are responsible for producing and sharing present information to all members of society to improve human conditions. Knowledge societies process the data and information to further economic, social, and political wealth.
The concept of knowledge societies are extremely important to the relationship between developing and developed countries. Since knowledge societies are responsible for making all information and data available to their own nation, the responsibility of these developed societies in bridging the knowledge gap between the developed and developing world can often be in question. Particularly with information technology and the digital divide, new information is constantly being circulated throughout the developed world. As a knowledge society with a moral responsibility for the social welfare of the developing world, the United States must further use its available knowledge to aid developing nations and build an infrastructure that will allow these countries to also further advance as knowledge societies.