Tag Archives: Erik Hersman

The Importance of Cyber Security in Developing Regions

On Wednesday night, Tulane Hillel and the World Affairs Council of New Orleans invited Professor Ralph Russo of Tulane University and Mark Liggett of Tulane University’s Technology Security Services team to discuss the threats of cyber security and how to make oneself less vulnerable to cyber attack. They shared some of their personal experiences working with technology security and informed the listeners, many of whom were previously uneducated on the subject, of the behind-the-scenes effort that IT security analysts and our government take part in to ensure our safety. The stress that Professor Russo and Mr. Liggett placed on behind the scenes regulation and protection made me wonder about the security of the ICT that is being implemented in developing countries.

This topic in relation to Erik Hersman’s article about ICT4D as condescending made me think, does he have a point? As a developed country, we can afford the security measures that are required to maintain secure ICT networks. However, do developers think about this aspect when creating ICT initiatives for developing regions? Developing regions are already vulnerable to threats and forcing ICTs into their societies may only open another gateway through which they may be weakened. It is important that ICT4D project designs include cyber security measures to protect potentially weak and already vulnerable populations.

Prior to this weeks lessons, I had not considered cyber security in ICT4D projects  to be a top priority. However, it is key to the sustainability to the success of a project and to the development of a region.


Niall Winters’ response to Erik Hersman

Erik Hersman’s “The Subtle Condescension of ICT4D” makes many controversial points. Niall Winters’ blog seeks to answer some of his rhetorically phrased questions.

  1. Hersman questioned whether an ICT4D project in America would still be considered “4D.” Winter argues that “development” applies more to a region then a specific country. There is more emphasis on the socio-economic and cultural aspects then location.
  2. Winter agrees with Hersman’s point that Africa is ready to be treated like a business in the sense of encouraging African innovation and expertise.
  3. Although Hersman’s point regarding the lack of sustainability is valid, Winter states that no project’s initial intent is to be unsustainable.
  4. In terms of classifying ICT4D projects as such, Winters claims we must look to those who are being targeted. If the group is marginalized, and the project seeks to lessen this marginalization, then it is ICT4D. On the other hand, an innovative app or technology in a developing country does not automatically qualify as ICT4D.
  5. I think Winter’s best point comes when she is answering: “Is ICT4D basically branding for emerging market tech?” ICT4D deals with much more then just the technological innovation side. ICT4D is the implementation of these technologies to a broader cultural, economic and political context.

Although originally I thought Hersman made some good, albeit slightly controversial points, I also enjoyed reading Winters’ critique. She raised many interesting points especially regarding terminology. For example, ICT4$ really is just the same thing as any other ICT start up. Both Hersman and Winter’s articles point to the need for a more congruent classification system for ICT4D projects. These new definitions/classifications would need to attempt to be as “large-canvasing” as possible in order to avoid being condescending. I’d definitely recommend people check out Winters’ blog, especially if they are interested by how education can be improved through the use of technologies (more specifically in Africa). I liked her critical stance on how Apple could be doing so much more as far as education innovation is concerned. Also, in another post, she attempts to further define ICT4D by exploring the meaning of “4.”

Consideration of ICT4D and ICT4$ in the Wake of Hersman’s ‘Blog Bomb’

Linda Raftree is right… “There is “So. Much. To. Think. About.”

This week’s readings propel us on a multifarious journey, as we are to deconstruct a seemingly harmless four letter word—ICT4D. As we explore her intricate and dense post, The field [formerly known as?] ICT4D is messy, we are prompted to consider an overflow of opinions. I would like to focus on the work of Wayan Vota in particular, as he picks apart the “blog bomb” Erik Hersman dropped on the scene a little over a year ago. (His work is entitled, The Challenge of Defining ICT4D Or Why Erik Hersman is ICT4$).

After exposing his initial reactions to Hersman’s work, (frustration–>a state of productive reflection), Vota prompts an important question. How would ICT4D look to the average African? And how to we ensure that “ICT4D” carries benefits to those who need it most?

In considering these questions, we must reflect upon the similarities and differences between ICT4D and ICT4$. According to Vota: (1) ICT4D and ICT4$ are two who different industries, (2) Projects can be ICT4D and ICT4$, and (2) ICT4D and ICT4$ should be symbiotic.

When we look at the Tech start up world, ICT is seen a means to make money. We have explored the success of such pursuits such as M-Pesa (which are intended to be sold at a profit to venture capitalists and people under served by the market place). I cannot help but think back to the overly smily M-Pesa video we watched in class. But even though the aim is financial, the intention doesn’t undermine the positive effects the program is having in the context of Kenya.

But if we move to consider the international development world, ICT is used to deliver services such as healthcare and education at very low costs to those under-served by the government. Impact is the focus. But as we have seen, this more altruistic (and less capitalistic) aim doesn’t always succeed. Many of the projects we have explored in the course are failures and there are endless lessons to be learned.

As Vota so clearly outlines, projects can be a combination of ICT4D and ICT4$ and neither one is perfect. Vota counters Hersman’s claim that we need to focus more on ICT4$, although he contends that focusing on financial sustainability is key. And when sustainability does not occur, we should celebrate failure. It is difficult to find the balance between development and business goals. So do we side with Hersman’s cynicism and think less of ICT as something that’s about development? Is it right to focus on ICT4$ > ICT4D?

It is readily apparent that Hersman’s ‘blog bomb’ has successfully disseminated a wide-range of responses. This discourse is critical in the ICT4D field.

‘The Subtle Condescension of “ICT4D”‘


This article, written by Erik Hersman, a co-founder of Ushahidi, is about the negative impacts of using the term “ICT4D”. Hersman argues that the term “ICT4D” is hypocritical in that it is often used to describe technologies and projects which, if implemented in lower income regions or communities in developed nations, would use a different descriptor such as ‘civil society innovation.’ He claims that technology in the developing world is automatically labeled as ICT4D and that this terminology sets technological innovation in the developing world as somehow different than technological innovation being used for social good in the developed world. This, he maintains, is problematic because it undermines technology start up businesses and prevents the growth of the tech industry in developing regions (he discusses Africa in particular). If technological innovation is labeled as ICT4D, it is dismissed as something other than a legitimate business, which can attract investors, create value, and make money – and perhaps more importantly for the interest of development, might be more sustainable than projects implemented by NGO’s and development organizations. The article concludes by supporting a focus on ICT for profit rather than development, in order to promote the tech startup culture and the viability of technological solutions.

I agree that there can be condescending connotations to the term “ICT4D” where it concerns tech start ups who would be more effective as legitimate businesses. I think that the growth of a strong tech industry would be positive for development in Africa, that grassroots efforts can be realistically more sustainable than efforts organized an implemented solely by ‘outsiders’, and that bias against for-profit companies can be counterproductive. If technological solutions are helping people and meeting real needs within communities, then that is development whether or not it is labeled as development. However I also think it would be problematic to make “development” a negative word; the problem, in my opinion, isn’t that the field development or development efforts are actually condescending but that there are unfair perceptions of the word itself; if the meaning of “development” and the connotations associated with development efforts were to broaden to include for profit growth as well as ICT for social good in what we consider ‘developed countries’ then “ICT4D” wouldn’t necessarily be a condescending term.

ICT4D Professional Profile: Erik Hersman

It’s all a matter of perspective, and Erik Hersman (aka WhiteAfrican) is fortunate enough to possess a truly unique one. Born in Kenya and raised in both Kenya and Sudan, Hersman feels truly connected to his African roots. Despite having the opportunity to go elsewhere and being educated in the United States, Hersman returned to Kenya after getting his B.S. in Business Management from Florida State University where he splits time when he cannot be with his wife and three kids in Orlando, FL.

Hersman is the leading voice behind popular blogs such as AfriGadget and WhiteAfrican, and he has also co-founded Ushahidi and iHub. As a result of Ushahidi’s success in the aftermath of the Haitian earthquake, Hersman became an important voice in the discussion of cyber security and subsequently weighed in on “The Subtle Condescension of ‘ICT4D’.” He was also one of the first members of the TED organization, and today enjoys the title of senior fellow.

His advice to young professionals entering the ICT4D field really stood out to me as an indicator of his way of thinking. “It’s easy to talk about things,” Hersman says “and funders know this. You know, make sure you build it, get some use cases, hear back from people who are actually using it, and then go to the funders and you’ll have a much better chance of furthering that project.” With this pragmatic approach to issues, and scientific method for making changes, Erik Hersmean has built a reputation for himself as a practical problem solver and an important voice in the definition and progression of ICT4D.