Tag Archives: Poverty

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.

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All in Eight Boxes

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.

Percentage of population undernourished

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


Critical Thinking About ICT4D: A Case Study

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).


The Digital Divide in New Orleans

In class, we’ve been talking a lot about the digital divide as an international issue, but it also hits home right here in New Orleans. As most of you know the Times-Picayune now only prints three times a week, making New Orleans the largest city without a daily newspaper. This means that four days a week, the only way for people in New Orleans to read the news is online. Unfortunately, there is a great digital divide in New Orleans and many people don’t have internet access in their homes. As a result, many in New Orleans, especially lower income people, are becoming less informed about important local and international events because of a lack of access to the news.

For many poorer people broadband access is a luxury. Matt Davis of The Lens, a nonprofit journalism organization writes that “Poorer, more African American areas of New Orleans, such as the Lower 9th Ward, have broadband subscription rates between 0 and 40 percent,” meaning that the majority of poor African Americans in New Orleans now have very little access to the news. Tracie Powell on pointer.org explains that lack of broadband access is not only an affordability issue but also a policy issue in New Orleans. Powell states that “policy decisions made by lawmakers in the state minimize competition, which in turn helps keep prices of broadband artificially inflated and out of reach for poorer residents.”

“Lack of access” is a familiar statement when discussing poorer African American neighborhoods in New Orleans. For instance many neighborhoods in New Orleans are known as food deserts because they lack access to a grocery store that sells produce and healthy food. Many consider issues such as the digital divide and food deserts to be a form of racism because they primarily put African Americans at a disadvantage. Both of these examples definitely perpetuate poverty. The digital divide in New Orleans now means that residents who can’t afford broadband are less likely to make informed decisions at the polls about issues that directly affect them since they now no longer have an easy way to read about local and national politics. The digital divide is clearly a dimension of poverty and should be addressed in order to make New Orleans a more informed city.

Tracie Powell’s article on the digital divide in New Orleans can be found here

In class, we’ve been talking a lot about the digital divide as an international issue, but it also hit home right here in New Orleans. As most of you know the Times-Picayune now only prints three times a week, making New Orleans the largest city without a daily newspaper. This means that four days a week, the only way for people in New Orleans to read the news is online. Unfortunately, there is a great digital divide in New Orleans and many people don’t have internet access in their homes. As a result, many in New Orleans, especially lower income people are becoming less informed about important local and international events because of a lack of access to the news.

For many poorer people broadband access is a luxury. Matt Davis of The Lens, a nonprofit journalism organization writes that “Poorer, more African American areas of New Orleans, such as the Lower 9th Ward, have broadband subscription rates between 0 and 40 percent,” meaning that the majority of poor African Americans in New Orleans now have very little access to the news. Tracie Powell on pointer.org explains that lack of broadband access is not only an affordability issue but also a policy issue in New Orleans. Powell states that “policy decisions made by lawmakers in the state that minimize competition, which in turn helps keep prices of broadband artificially inflated and out of reach for poorer residents.”

“Lack of access” is a familiar statement when discussing poorer African American neighborhoods in New Orleans. For instance many neighborhoods in New Orleans are known as food deserts because they lack access to a grocery that sells produce and healthy food. Many consider issues such as the digital divide and food deserts as a form of racism because they primarily put African Americans at a disadvantage. Both of these examples definitely perpetuate poverty. The digital divide in New Orleans now means that residents who can’t afford broadband are less likely to make informed decisions at the polls about issues that directly affect them since they now no longer have an easy way to read about local and national politics. The digital divide is clearly a dimension of poverty and should be addressed in order to make New Orleans a more informed city.

Tracie Powell’s article on the digital divide in New Orleans can be found here http://www.poynter.org/latest-news/making-sense-of-news/178094/how-the-digital-divide-developed-in-new-orleans-what-that-means-for-the-future-of-news-there/


The ICT4D Jester: The Conflict Between Profit and Development

In our discussion of the ICT4D debate (and important actors engaging in it), my group read “ICT *or* Development, Part 3: The Jester Meets the White African,” which is Kentaro Toyama’s blog post in response to Erik Herman’s “The Subtle Condescension of ‘ICT4D.’’ Referring to himself in the third person as “The ICT4D Jester,” which is also the name of Toyama’s blog, he agreed with Hersman that the term “ICT4D” is indeed condescending and began discussing the role of both capitalism and progressive activity in the context of development.

The Jester’s post that we read for class is the third in a series he calls “ICT *or* Development.” Since I was intrigued both by his argument and his writing style, I decided to back-track and read “Part Deux” of this series. In this post, the Jester explains why “It is very difficult to make a lot of money by selling goods or services to poor people in a way that has meaningful, positive impact on their lives, particularly with ICT.” He provides six principle explanations, as follows:

1. The “Two Birds” Problem: It is more challenging to achieve two goals than it is one. Making money can be difficult to begin with, as is fostering meaningful development. Doing both together is obviously harder than doing each separately.

2. The Ethics Problem: Selling products or services to poor customers makes the selection of a price an ethical dilemma – losing money or breaking even on a business venture is obviously not optimal, but if one makes a large profit, the Jester wonders, “Are they laying the conditions for commercial investment, or profiting off the backs of the poor?”

3. The Cost-of-Business Problem: While potable drinking water, for example, is considered “free” in the United States, obtaining clean water can be pricey or laborious in certain developing areas. The Jester assures his readers that this is not an opportunity to make money. The “poverty premium,” as the Jester calls it, “exists exactly because poor communities are harder to serve (e.g. bumpy roads to rural villages), riskier (e.g. no credit history), and more likely to buy in small quantities (e.g. sachets).” These conditions make the cost of doing business higher.

4. The Competitive Pressure Problem: The Jester warns that social entrepreneurs willing to take a hit in profits so they can have a meaningful impact on development will not be able to beat out “not-so-social entrepreneurs” who are “ruthlessly chasing higher margins and greater share.”

5. The Branding Problem: Entrepreneurs must often choose between marketing a good or service to either the rich or the poor – rich customers will find products associated with the poor less desirable and poor customers will be intimidated by fancier products that seem beyond their reach.

6. The “It’s Good for You” Problem: The Jester argues that most people (rich and poor alike) choose not to buy things that are “good for them.” He says, “Normally, human beings are precariously perched between self-improvement and sloth. Then, when you have to pay for it, sloth looks pretty good.”

The Jester finishes his post by dispelling the idea that poverty can be reduced through consumption: “Consumption is the result of having the ability to consume, not the primary cause of that capacity. What matters in development is increasing that capacity, not selling people stuff.” What do you all think: Does the ICT4D Jester make convincing points about the conflict between making a profit by selling goods and services to the poor in developing countries and contributing meaningfully to development?


Mobile Banking Innovation in India

In his article, Shalini Mehta, argues that mobile phones have been revolutionary in India – but it is not enough. Less than 1% of the population that owns a mobile phone uses it for banking. Banks have even moved from using purely SMS banking methods to offering “banking services on mobile handsets through WAP-based internet websites…” in order to incentivize users to engage in this convenience offered. These methods have had minimal effect on the people of India where the adoption of mobile banking is largely centered around lack of banking services offered and the absence of a variety of languages spoken throughout India. The author goes on to touch on the importance of catering these banking systems to certain mobile platforms like IOS, Android, Windows, etc… This is necessary because a one size fits all solution is not conducive to satisfying a growing technological community. The lack of innovation within mobile banking is the classic case of complacency for an emerging market. Once the new technology is uncovered, its creators think that it can build itself. However, in order to be an effective business model, but more importantly to reach as many people as possible, mobile banking needs to be on the front lines of technological innovation.


Gyandoot – Why It Failed and What We Can Learn

Richard Heeks, in his ICTs and the MDGs: On the Wrong Track? article, brought up the example of Gyandoot, an initiative of computer kiosks in rural India. He states that at least one-third of projects that apply ICTs to the MDG agenda are total failures and one-half are partial failures. Gyandoot, he mentions, is a prime example of this.

Why was Gyandoot such a failure?

This article goes in depth about what Gyandoot was, why it failed, and lessons learned from its failure. Gyandoot was placed in the region of Dhar. It began aiming to make government services more accessible to villagers in rural India. Before this initiative, villagers would have to travel long distances to try to reach someone that may or may not have been there. They may have also faced discomfort, harassment, and corruption from public officials. So, Gyandoot was created, computerizing the front-end of government services in 38 kiosks across the region.

For any poor rural area, this kind of project comes with its challenges. Electric power is sporadic in Dhar; solar-powered cells, which would offer telekiosks backup for 8-10 hours, are expensive. The tele-communication infrastructure in the district is poor and most use dial-up connections which prove to be slow and unreliable. CorDECT was installed in 7 out of the 38 kiosks for faster connections, but when there were technical issues, only the CorDECT company could fix them. Also, one of the biggest problems that Gyandoot had was the simple fact that hardly anyone was using it. Out of the 38 telekiosks across Dhar, 10 were not operational and the rest only served a handful of people each day. Over time there was actually a deterioration of usage. Distance was still a problem; in areas with very remote telekiosks, confusion about services was widespread, and 30% of people still did not know of the existence of Gyandoot. The very rural poor as well as women and lower caste society did not participate because they were not comfortable using such technology, they were confined to their homes, and they simply did not know about it. And these few issues listed here are not even the bulk of them.

This is one of the Gyandoot kiosks that was placed in Dhar.

How could this have been better?

  • Appropriate Technology
  • Community Participation and Ownership
  • Intermediaries and Incentives
  • Pro-poor Services versus Financial Sustainabiliy
  • Campaigns to Raise Awareness

The solutions to failed projects like Gyandoot are exactly what we have been discussing in class. Services need to be molded to be appropriate for the area in which they are being established – government services on kiosks are not helpful if half of the population of a certain area is not comfortable with that technology. Publicity is necessary and location is important. Gyandoot certainly taught the ICT4D community some good lessons.