As an International Development major, I’ve been familiar with the Millennium Development Goals for quite some time. The United Nations’ MDGs have always seemed like a fairytale to me. The goals paint a glossy picture of what they (whoever decided on these outlandish goals) think the world should look like. They categorized the goals into eight wonderful boxes and asked the world to accept them.
Though it seems nice, we can not shove all of the world’s problems into eight boxes. Many of the problems are too complex and interconnected to be put in different categories. While the first category, “Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger” seems over simplified by placing these two problems together.
Hunger and poverty are absolutely intertwined, but they don’t necessarily have to be. As an avid gardener, I believe we can be rich in food even if we are poor by the rest of the world’s standards. Not everything has to be solved within the system we have now; not everything has to go through the economy. Not everything can be put into boxes.
Something interesting I came across while researching the MDGs was a map. The UN has created a map to monitor the progress of the goals. This map below shows the percentage of the population who are undernourished. Surprisingly, Canada and India are very close at 8.9% and 8.6%. The map also shows Spain at 24.0% and Côte d’Ivoire at 5.0%. Take a look and make conclusions for yourself by comparing the countries.
In the end, we like having everything in boxes and categories because it makes the problems seem less daunting and easily conceptualized. However, here lies the real issue. If we convince ourselves that these problems are less complex than they really are then there is no hope of solving them
In our last class we dedicated a good majority of the time talking about Richard Heeks’s article ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track? We discussed whether the conclusions he made in this article are fair, and which parts we agree and disagree with. We definitely came to a consensus that Heeks has some good points, but also that not all of the conclusions he came to are problems that we see with the MDGs. I decided to dig a little deeper to find more of his comments on the MDGs and I stumbled upon his blog. In his most recent blog post Analyzing the Post-2015 Development Agenda he looks at three different articles that outline a lot of the development goals post the 2015 MDG deadline. He analyzed the documents in two different ways. One was simpler, a tag cloud, which is defined by Google as “a visual depiction of the word content… to represent the prominence or frequency of the words or tags depicted.” In the tag cloud on this blog post the largest word was “development.” The next largest words were “sustainable,” “global” and “countries.” Of course it makes sense that these four words are the most frequent words seen in the reports considering that they are talking about sustainable development of countries all around the world. The other way that Heeks analyzed the data was using a chart and he calculated the frequency of the term seen every 10,000 words. The term “sustanib” was seen 94.6 times every 10,000 which was more than twice frequency of any other word in the report. The next three most frequent words were system, partnership and environment, all with the frequency of 33-38 times every 10,000 words.
When analyzing this data Heeks came up with 10 main points within the documents. One of the points addresses that sustainable development seems to be the consensus as the core model that needs to be achieved when making strides after the MDGs. Another point that he made was that the two most important items on the agenda for development are addressing poverty and the environment. The next point that he made was that there are three main categories of development; social, economic and environmental, which do have some overlap. Heeks also noted that the majority of the ideas seen in the new development plan relate to the main ideas that are in the MDGs. He remarks that the main ones that are focused on are the first six goals; poverty, women (women’s rights and health), access to food or hunger, and education just to name a few.
Within the post Heeks never expresses what his opinions are on the documents. While in class and discussing whether or not the MDGs have a purpose and are promoting development, or actually inhibiting it. I agree that the MDGs aren’t perfect and that there are ways that they could be seen as deterring development, however, when I look at the MDGs I see them for what they are: Goals. Goals are something you strive for and may not fully reach, however, they give the community something to work for and push towards. For me, these new documents talking about development after the MDGs supports this ideology. Clearly not everything is yet solved in our world, but since so many of the improvements that need to be made are the same as the MDGs it means that the MDGs were on the right path. They may not have been reached by the goal of 2015, but now that the international community knows what needs to be worked on to improve conditions and development we can keep working towards this goal. The MDGs have shown us different tools that work, and different tools that don’t work. It is now time for the international community to keep working at them until there is no longer a need .
As many of the other bloggers this week have stated, our study this week was focused around the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the good and bad seen through their implementation. While all addressing the applications of ICTs in International Development and development theory, Erwin Alampay and Richard Heeks had very different takes on the subject. Erwin Alampay’s article “Beyond Access to ICTs” focused more on the various ways that access to and ability to use ICTs can change from person to person due to differences in human development and individual differences. In his articles “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?” and “The ICT4D 2.0 Manifesto,” Heeks, instead looked at the process of utilizing ICTs to achieve the MDGs, the results of such attempts, and how such efforts can be altered to better apply what has been learned. While I am familiar with the MDGs and have previously read about the access issues related to individual differences, I had not read much before specifically on the usage of ICTs to achieve the MDGs. I found it very interesting to learn of a Development Informatics scholar’s view of such implementation and his opinions on how to better use ICTs in reaching those goals.
Earlier this week, I read an article by the UNDP about the utilization of technology in the public service sector, as discussed at the UNDP’s Global Centre for Public Service Excellence’s Activate Summit earlier this month. While the article highlights the opinions of Haoliang Xu, the UNDP Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific, and examples in Asia, the ideas are applicable to development all over the world. Mr. Xu talks about the potential benefits that the usage of social media and digital technologies could provide to many governments. He emphasized the fact that uneven access and abilities creates disadvantages for some, but various efforts can help groups and societies overcome or cope with such drawbacks. Mr. Xu points out many current e-governance programs across Asia and the Pacific- something that Heeks discusses in his articles- and talks of their successes in reaching people in those nations, especially those in the many remote areas. Lastly, the article mentions the UNDP’s Global Centre’s efforts to promote more interest and production in the area of ICT4D by supporting one of the categories in the summit’s “Tech Talent Competition”- which hopefully produced many new technologies that can better help those in need in developing nations around the world.
In Richard Heeks’ article ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track, Heeks praises Kerala’s Kudumbashree initiative. He likes the initiative for the “real and direct benefits” it provides for poor communities. Heeks says that the initiative brought women who lived below the poverty line opportunities to become involved in ICTs “through hardware and services enterprises”. The women then have tangible benefits, including an income and gender empowerment. This method of ICT development has been found far more effective than other large broad reaching and over arching projects.
This initiative is also double edged sword in that it provides ICT capabilities to the region while also empowering women and increasing their income. Heeks, in his article, hopes that more agencies and governments will begin to look at ICT development this way.
Heeks describes the initiative slightly, but he didn’t go into detail about the organization. So, I got interested in what exactly and specifically the organization’s goals and mission were. I found that the ICT project was just on of Kudumbashree’s initiatives. The organization is one of the largest women empowerment organizations in the country, serving over 50% of the households in Kerala. One of the most interesting things I found on their website was a segment of their mission statement which read that they aimed to, “combine self-help with demand-led convergence of available services and resources to tackle the multiple dimensions and manifestations of poverty, holistically.”
This segment of their mission statement describes exactly the approach taken with the ICT Initiative. The organization found a demand in the community for ICT and used women who needed empowerment to meet the demand. I think Heeks is spot on with his hopes for other development agencies.
Until I read Richard Heeks’ article, “ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?” I had not considered how the Millennium Development Goals might actually be a site for which power and inequality are reproduced. As we know, the MDGs were created post neo-liberalism as a way to reconceptualize the human aspect of development. What I found interesting about Heeks’ argument is that while the MDGs are not intrinsically bad, they surely have latent effects that maintain normative power dynamics between developed and developing countries. Going further, he exposes that when ICT is incorporated into the development goals, further inequality can be met, especially if economic growth and ICT production and skills are not cultivated. Heeks’ argument about power dynamics and the MDGs raised a few questions. First and foremost, what are the underlying motives of the Millennium Development Goals that could produce and perpetuate hegemony? How does the concept of moral and humanitarian development work play a role in masking dynamics of power between nations? How do axis of identity, specifically relating to citizenship, nationality, gender, and class play a role in maintaining or deviating from the normative hegemony of the MDGs? Finally, how can ICT of any form reproduce or challenge power dynamics established by the MDGs?
After reading Heeks’ article I decided to see what others were saying about ICT in relation to development. In December, The Guardian published an article that relayed what experts were forecasting as ICT development trends for this upcoming year of 2014. They all discuss increases in some form of technology or another, with a particular emphasis on mobile technology, and as well, they all expected ICT to transform society and promote more equity. For instance, Maria Eitel, the president and CEO of the Nike Foundation predicts that providing women with mobile phones will create The Girl Effect. Point, how do predictions such as these from ICT experts perpetuate the idealistic nature of combining ICT with the MDGs? Can such ideas and predictions of ICT use actually create further problems with the one-size-fits-all atmosphere of the MDGs? Similarly, how can ICT and MDGs be reconstituted in order to meet the needs of people while also disrupting and alleviating oppression, inequality, and hegemony?
Ultimately, both articles show biased and opposing arguments that can be made regarding ICT and development. That being said, in the process of reading these perspectives I was reminded of the important influence that power and identity have on development work worldwide, even in efforts of good intentions.
Spider is a program out of Stockholm University which aims to support the use of ICT4D and poverty alleviate through project sponsorship and support in developing countries, with a primary focus on the “twelve priority countries” for Swedish development cooperation (Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Cambodia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia). Spider mainly supports projects related to the enhancement of democracy and the improvement of education and health services, which correlate with the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. I think its important to consider ICT4D as a means to achieve and end goal and not a end in and of itself. There’s a reason increasing Worldwide Internet Access isn’t a MDG! In order for a development project to be successful, the target population must be in demand of the service to be given (such as vaccines or textbooks). In Richard Heeks’ article ICT and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track?, the author addresses the controversial issue of developed, wealthy countries proposing a single, relatively inflexible path to development that they themselves did not pursue. Why should developing countries have to follow this agenda? Who says it is the right one to follow? The same goes for ICT. There’s no use in seeking to implement technology where there’s no demand or infrastructure to support it. Spider’s framework theoretically overcomes this obstacle in that it focuses in three main areas (democracy, education, and health) where there is a demand and a distinct possibility for the tangible application of technology for development and poverty alleviation purposes, with longterm results. With four “Networks” (hence the spiderweb metaphor), Spider aims to promote “synergistic collaboration and cross-breeding” based on geographic location of development theme. This allows experience and expertise to inform the various projects: “in addition to supporting and advising each other, the projects also feel that they are part of a greater effort, the compound impact of which surpasses individual parts”.