Tag Archives: grants

Three Lessons Learned, One Shared Goal

In studying ICT4D this semester, three things really stuck with me throughout every reading and every class discussion. The first was to be unwavering or relentless in your efforts to affect change. The second thing I learned was to be humble and be hungry for knowledge, not to become complacent. Finally, I learned to plan with the future in mind.

Working in development and aid, it is very easy to become burnt out. We devote a lot of time and energy, both physical and emotional, to causes we really care about and are often unsuccessful or unrecognized. Granted you can’t expect to be incredibly successful on your first attempt, and if you are, people may see it as a fluke. Don’t get discouraged. It’s important to work for causes that we’re really fervent about. As a class we developed an extensive list of best practices. It’s not like we don’t know what we’re doing and or what to expect. But successful projects/programs come from experience, so don’t be any less enthusiastic about a project because it failed the first time. Keep revamping it and adapting it until you have the results you want.

That being said, once we have seen success in our efforts it’s important not to become complacent. After a ton of hard work and resulting success, pat yourself on the back but don’t be smug. I’m not saying we should be overly critical of ourselves, but keep in mind that complacency leads to stagnation. Constantly interact with other development professionals and hear what they have to say. For the most part, a lot of our projects involve people. So if we can’t hear each other out and take others’ opinions into consideration, our projects will never evolve and we’ll be remembered as “one hit wonders.”

Finally, plan for the future. Even if it’s only a pilot program have a vision for 5 years down the road, 10 years down, and so on. Think of the greater impact that your proposed changes will have on the society as a whole and not just your target population. With most grants only valid for a year or two, we often find fault with the way in which projects are funded. Instead of faulting the funders, though, we can adjust our own practices. Have some kind of grant proposal template that you’re constantly revising and editing. When you plan your project and you write proposals for your first grants, you should already have your next proposals planned out for when the first grants run out. Also plan for the future of your target population. Will your project be obsolete in 5 years? Or even less? Have a good idea of what your project will look like 5 years out before you even think about 1 year out.

Is Development Knowledge Exclusionary?

I do not mean to detract from the theme of the specific application of ICT for development, but since our last class I have found that I cannot stop thinking about our discussion of development theory and failure. In chapter 3 of ICT4D, Unwin relates how current discourses realize the flaws of modernization theory and its belief that development beneficiaries were to be the passive recipients of Western information, for it was inherently more valuable than any knowledge that they may have possessed. Development has now embraced a people- centered model that sees traditional knowledge systems and community based approaches as critical to the development process (Unwin 40). However, though development has primarily shifted from “top-down’ to ‘bottom- up”, local information is still lost in translation, and Western actors are regarded as the ‘experts’ who can bring development to where it is needed.

Development must absolutely embrace participatory projects, but it also needs to reassess the degree to which development projects can be created and sustained by members of a developing community themselves. For, in the end, isn’t one of the primary goals of development to empower the poor to be their own agents of social change? However, the nature of development can be prohibitive of such grassroots entrepreneurship. Consider this: proper development practice, as taught to students at universities like Tulane, requires an enormous amount of literacy on subjects like management, budget-making, organizational frameworks, and perhaps most importantly, monitoring and evaluation. I have seen first hand that these topics have become skills that we must possess to be development practitioners and to carry out successful projects. At the root of this, these skills are required so that we can obtain grants and partnerships to stay sustainable and garner attention from donors. I am not naïve enough to think that development does not require people with such abilities. Yet we seem to forget that development knowledge itself is not only a Western concept, but also a privilege that many in the developing world cannot access. For example, how could a woman who has started her own village empowerment group write a monitoring and evaluation report for a grant-maker if she does not have more than a 6th grade education? Does this mean that she does not deserve a grant? Does her inability to send the grant-maker a 3-year strategic framework plan mean that her organization will fail?

My point is that development needs to go beyond cultivating practitioners in the first world. As we recognize that those who have lived their entire lives in impoverished areas know the most about what they need, we need to take the full step and embrace the fact that these individuals are perfectly capable of coming up with and executing a project on their own, although it may be in ways that lie in the margins of standard development practice. By this I mean that organizations such as the school I worked for in Ghana have found ways to sustain themselves for nearly a decade with little to no grant money per year and hardly any assistance from larger educational organizations or agencies (i.e. UNESCO). There is no M&E plan, institutional documentation is poorly organized, and the founder has not had more than a basic education, but hundreds, if not more than a thousand impoverished children have received a free basic education over the last decade and many have been given the opportunity to continue their studies at a higher level. If this is not ‘successful’ development, I do not know what it is. More importantly, it occurs informally, in a very Ghanaian context, in a Ghanaian way of doing things. This is important to realize when reflecting upon Mchoumbu’s point that “traditional channels of communication [should be] respected and not regarded as barriers to development” (Unwin 41). Development practitioners, grant-makers, and other Western actors must understand that practice and communication are culturally contingent and that seemingly improper conventions have merit in their own right. What must not occur in development is that a practitioner requires a local development worker to do A, B, and C, but that they adapt their own practice to local practice. Furthermore, a local entrepreneur cannot be excluded because they do not do things ‘by the book’. There is no room in development to be exclusionary; rather, we must take these locally made ideas and run with them, even if they do not fit status quo development protocol. These are the manners of doing things that reflect a culture and tell of the true needs of a society, and we have much to learn from how they may have been carried out before we try to change their execution.

ICTs: The Spread of Grants

This week in our ICT4D class, we have been focusing on past theories for developmental approach, and current theories that are being discussed. One of the main barriers to the use of ICTs in development is the capability issue that Erwin Alampay outlines as a factor into how individuals use technology. However, before you can focus on how an individual uses technology, they have to have the technology, which leads us to ICT4D projects.

Recently, the Information Society Innovation Fund [ISIF Asia] received approximately $350,000 [in US dollars] for ICT projects. The funds are a record-breaking amount of money for ISIF Asia, and they will allow them to grow and expand many projects that they are working on. ISIF Asia will be taking this money and distributing it as seed grants to 11 projects that have applied to receive the grants. What is most interesting about these projects is that they mirror what Heeks describes as “ICT4D 2.0” and focus on different types of access to the developing world. For example, one program in India is called Smart Phones for the Deaf Blind, Bidirectional Access Promotion Society. This program fits Heeks definition of ICT4D 2.0 because it is focusing the spread of mobile phones in a program that can actually have a long-term impact in Indian society. Other programs will be focusing on different perspectives of ICTs, like rights in regard to the internet. Whether or not these projects are moving in a direction that will establish best development practices for ICTs is still to be determined, but the only way to find out is to implement the programs.