Tag Archives: rural development

Mobile Money: Development’s New Banking System?

One of our classes this week focused on mobile phone case studies and some of the impacts of mobile phone implementation in rural populations. One of the studies, “Mobile Phones and Economic Development: Evidence from the Fishing Industry in India” by Reuben Abraham, was about Indian fishermen using mobile phones to check market prices of fish, coordinate with buyers, etc. The study concludes that there is some positive effects on reduced waste of fish, and a small increase in profits for fishermen, but overall the impact of the phones in the studied community was nothing super amazing. Abraham also asserts that information gaps in markets can be remedied by the creative use of technology, which inspired me to find some creative uses of mobile phone technology that might have a serious impact on development.

When I found the Mobile Money for the Unbanked program from the GSMA, I thought there might be some real potential in it. The basis of the program is to support mobile providers in rural and undeveloped areas to offer banking services to their subscribers. The reason that this is such an intriguing idea is that it uses the mobile platform to provide a service that is already so established in its standard form. The banking system in the US has adopted credit cards, debit cards, and even apps that allow you to check your accounts, but this program is a form of banking that is very new in is conception.

Mobile Money allows subscribers to load money onto their SIM card and use the money to pay for things like taxis or groceries. They can also withdraw cash from it at one of their provider’s locations. This is a great solution to the lack of banking in rural areas, and because of mobile provider recognition many people already trust these companies. The program also gives GSMA great data measuring tools for financial indicators, which is otherwise very hard to collect from people without any documented transactions. The website provides a really cool tracker tool that shows where they have employed the program and where they are planning to.

The Mobile Money for the Unbanked program is one of the really cool and successful examples of taking an existing technology and using it in a non-traditional way to improve ICT4D. I am really excited by the potential for mobile banking, and though there are now apps like Venmo, which allows people to make quick bank/credit transfers, making the mobile providers the bank is a very different approach all together. I will be interested to see if this catches on in the West, or remains in the developing world.

Do You Have The Power?

New and old technologies, from mobile phones and computers to radios and lighting, are all connected by an essential common thread: they require power.  ICTs might have the ability to improve networks, reduce poverty, or empower women, however, without an energy source the use-value of these technologies are rendered ineffective and irrelevant. Importantly, access to a power supply can be an extreme factor within the digital divide, and more specifically, rural residents often face the burden of this divide. The combination of my five-month experience in Ghana and this week’s ICT4D class has allowed me to raise a few important questions: what do you do when you can’t just “plug it in”? Further, how does ICT become relevant when power and electricity in and of itself is needed?

According to an article written by experts at Linkoping University and the University of Nairobi, the biggest barrier across Africa to ICT is power and electricity. Importantly, they explain that what will improve the livelihoods of many residents, particularly those in slums and rural areas, is not a new piece of technology, but access to energy. This finding echoes a publication from Rural21, the International Journal for Rural Development, titled Without Energy no ICT!. As exposed by Rural21, technologies cannot be useful to the daily lives of people if power and electricity are unavailable. I bring these articles up in conjunction with each other because it is imperative to listen to these needs in the development arena if ICT is ever going to be a realized factor in the lives of these marginalized communities.

Even more, as Rural21 pointed out, inventive and renewable energies might be the power solution that makes developing countries capable of utilizing ICT. Instead of expanding the power grid, why not harvest wind from the “windy coastline” or build new businesses from new environmentally-friendly battery sources (as seen in case-study of Zambia pay phones)? Ultimately, I want to emphasis the need for the ICT4D community to step back and see the real needs of people before simply implanting a flashy technology. While we can always find a power supply for our phones and computers, not everyone can. Therefore, let’s find the energy to power development, for this first step has the potential to empower more people in the long-term.

Rural Telecenters- What Works, And What Doesn’t?

In Richard Heek’s ICT4D Manifesto, he describes how rural telecenters became “the archetype” of the ICT4D 1.0 movement of the 1990’s and 2000’s. Tried and proven successful in North America and Europe in the 80’s, they were attractive to the West for multiple reasons: they were simple to install, they directly delivered services to the poor, and they were tangible projects in poverty-stricken communities. Yet Heeks is quick to point out that they were inherently flawed from their inception. They were unsustainable over the long term, as they fell into disrepair and qualified maintenance professionals were hard to find. They had limited reach, as they were only accessible to those in walking distance and could not be used by many in the community. Finally, monitoring and evaluation were overlooked, and those stories that were successful were over emphasized to the detriment of those telecenters that did not find the same outcome. Given these systematic failures Heek’s description of ICT4D 2.0 leaves rural telecenters out entirely as he strives to detail projects that are less inherently flawed.

During a search of Heek’s manifesto bibliography, I was led to an publication that offered an alternative to a localized rural telecenters. The newsletter, published by a id21.org, described a project known as “Mobile Ladies” that is active in rural Bangladesh. In 2004 in Dhaka, the Development Research Network established a Rural Information Helpline that linked rural villagers to internet- connected responders to which they could give “common livelihood” queries. However, as 20% of the country still did not have mobile telephone coverage, millions of people could not access the Helpline. Thus ‘Mobile Ladies’ was formed, an initiative that employs village women by giving them a special cell phone so that they can listen to their neighbor’s issues and advise them on possible solutions within several days. According to id21, over 1/2 of the cases are health- related, and other inquires are related to agriculture, human rights issues (including legal advice in cases of rape, physical assault, or dowries), and education. Statistics reveal that 80% of those served are satisfied with the information they receive, 36% of the beneficiaries are housewives, and 89,000 women could potentially be employed by the project. Mobile Ladies also upholds a ‘no exclusion’ policy so that every villager can access the telecenter regardless of their caste, literacy, gender, or physical status, a vital approach in communities where many are marginalized on the basis of these characteristics.

Case studies from Bangladesh offer personal accounts of how Mobile Ladies has provided villagers with vital information that they otherwise would have been unable to obtain. The project has its flaws, however. It is expensive, and it is difficult to monitor the Mobile ladies themselves. Information can be lost in translation, and it is hard for the poor to turn it into action when they lack even the most basic of resources. However, with research I found that Mobile Ladies has adapted to changing trends in technology by offering social media and skype connections to their clients, revealing how the project is making strides towards sustainability as the first world innovations widen the digital gap. Mobile Ladies does not improve infrastructure or establish the backwards linkages and processes Heeks calls for in his manifesto, but its ability to acquaint rural villagers with modern technology and to provide hundreds of women with pay checks makes it an intriguing developmental tactic. Mobile Ladies provides a buffer against the widening gap as Bangladesh tries to catch up and ensures that some of their poorest citizens are able to benefit from ICT.

Preventing Heart Disease in Africa One Tablet at a Time

As we’ve discussed in class, actual technologies themselves have little impact on development. It is only when they are used to effectively deliver the aspirations of poor people that they may be able to positively influence their lives and livelihoods (Unwin, 76). That is what Arthur Zang, a young Cameroonian engineer, had in mind when he built the first fully touch screen medical tablet that could soon save hundreds of lives. The Cardiopad enables people with heart disease living in remote locations to perform heart exams, while the results are transmitted from the nurse’s tablet to that of the doctor who then interprets them. In a part of the world where there is one cardiologist per 70,000 people, where many have great difficulty traveling to urban centers to seek medical care, and where the cost of medical exams is prohibitive for most of the population, the Cardiopad is bound to save thousands of lives.

Taking in factors of development, the Cardiopad has advantages and disadvantages. The factors that might inhibit the Cardiopad from being effective are infrastructure, user interface, and cost effectiveness. Access to high bandwidth and electricity is limited in remote villages, so a wireless solution might fall short. Cables and wires are also susceptible to deterioration and tampering, making the physical infrastructure an inhibiting factor. However, the engineer assures that “the Cardiopad is equipped with a battery that can independently power the machine for more than seven hours.” The other issue is user interface. Nurses and doctors in remote areas will have to be trained on how to use the heart exam software, and that will cost money. I’m not saying it cannot be done, but general acceptance and motivation could be an inhibiting factor. Then there is cost effectiveness. Because the Cardiopad is still in its pilot stage and not yet available on the market, its price isn’t fixed. Hospitals in remote areas are already underfunded and in poor condition. The tablets will have to be privately funded or petitioned for public funding – which isn’t guaranteed. But hopefully like other tablets for development we have learned about in class, they will be available under for $100 and subsidies can cover at least part of the cost.

Overall, I think the Cardiopad is a huge step forward in putting ICTs to use for development. At only 24 years old, Arthur Zang has engineered a device that crosses not only thousands of miles across the African continent, but also propels humanity years into the future towards saving the lives of more people in more regions across the globe.

Coal Discovery in Mozambique Leaves the Poor Behind, Enhancing the “Digital Divide”

An article in the NY Times demonstrates just how difficult it is for those living in rural areas of an already extremely impoverished country to improve their standards of living. The article discusses the recent discovery of coal in Mozambique and how such a discovery will provide a massive economic boom for the country. However, the money that would flow in from the mega-project ($6 billion) will hardly help improve the livelihood of its residents, according to a report by USAID that was addressed in the article.

The untapped coal was discovered in an area where already many people were living. In order to extract the coal, all of the people living there had to move. Most of the villagers thought this project would bring jobs and a brighter future. Instead they were moved 25 miles away and are faring worse than they were before.

While I was reading the article, I kept wondering how people who live so far below the poverty line in countries rich with resources can use ICTs to their benefit. In the case of Mozambique, it seemed almost intangible for many communities to ever reach a point in which they could seriously benefit from ICTs. It also begged the question of how we can exploit the natural riches of a country and then channel the resources derived from such in order to benefit those who most deserve it – something that seems is taking a very long time to actually happen.

Even though the article didn’t directly address ICTs, it was nonetheless a serious indicator of some of the obstacles facing ICT4D, especially in the “bottom billion” countries. After having discussed the digital divide in class, it was clear that there are still so many places not even close to being able to close the gap – especially the rural and marginalized.

CAMELTEC: Minimizing the Effects of Climate Variability in Peru

This case study focuses on radio’s contribution to the livelihoods of Alpaca farmers in the Peruvian Andes. Over recent decades Alpaca farmers have seen an increase in climate variability, which has led to a set of cold spells that have killed livestock, reduced birth rates, introduced new diseases, and reduced yields of their herds. In 2008 the Peruvian NGO Desco joined with Oxfam GB to pilot the CAMELTEC project “aiming to address technological, social, political and institutional issues that affected these communities.” CAMELTEC was based around information access–using radio to offer meteorological warnings and advice on how to reduce the impact of climate variability on animal death. Radio broadcasts were provided in preparation of weather events and throughout the events themselves. Additionally, CAMELTEC offered information on market pricing for alpaca wool, institutional support from local governments and more.

Specifically, CALEMTEC applied this information through a weekly radio broadcast called Amanecer Alpaquero (Alpaca Farmer’s Daybreak), provided in both Spanish and Quechua (the most important indigenous language of the region). This program was popular not only because of its informational value, but because of its use of humour and music. The program also offered women a unique opportunity to provide input, giving farming women opportunities for learning which were unavailable before because of cultural and family reasons.

This radio program was very successful, reaching around 2,000 people instantaneously at a very low cost (only $900 a month). More than 80% of respondents said the tuned in weekly to the show and since the start of CAMELTEC the mortality rate of alpacas has been reduced from 18% for adults and 25% for calves to 12% overall, saving about $500 worth of livestock per farmer.

Dr. Vandana Shiva, the WTO, and GMOs in India

During our class discussion of the future of rural and agricultural development, the idea of GMOs as a future means of alleviation of poverty and hunger was advanced. Although a contentious issue, it is an empirical fact that genetically modified crops offer increased food security through drought resistant and higher-yield crop varieties. However, we should not let the promise of the technology blind us to the trade policies of some of the largest GMO producers and pushers. One of the chief problems that has arisen is the patenting of life. Large multinational corporations like Monsanto enter a country, extract the seeds and strains they consider of value, and patent them. They can then claim sole rights over the seeds and sell them back to the community they were taken from, at a premium. Given that multinational corporations have the backing of the WTO, smallholder farmers are unable to export any patented crops unless they pay a licensing fee that cuts deeper into the razor-thin profit margins of the millions of smallholder farmers in India alone. So far in India at least, the result is a surge in bankruptcy and suicide among smallholder farmers, fueled by an acutely increased sensitivity to price fluctuations and poor harvests due to the increased cost of farming for those least able to afford it.

Several developing and developed countries are actively fighting the WTO agreement that patented life (TRIPS Article 273B) and/or the rise of GMOs in general. One of the breakout stars of the resistance movement is Dr. Vandana Shiva, who succinctly and I believe convincingly argues against the WTOs IP legislation in the video embedded below. How we look at agricultural rights has important implications for discussions of globalization and human rights, which I believe makes everyone a stakeholder in the fight for agricultural sovereignty.

I have included several other resources below for learning more about the current seed-war, as well as a link to the website for Navdanya, Vandana Shiva’s organization:




Connecting the First Mile — Reading Overview

Connecting the First Mile: A Framework for Best Practices in ICT Projects for Knowledge Sharing in Development is a study published by Surmaya Talyarkhan which aims to create a framework for best practice for knowledge sharing within the field of ICT4D.

Talyakhan reviewed several case studies, project reports, and evaluations to come to broad conclusions about the best practices in ICT4D, specifically for knowledge sharing.  Here are some of his findings:

Key debates about the subject — the generally favored perspective is bolded (although there is much to be said about the relative value of each perspective and the possibilities of integrated approaches or compromise solutions):

  • Top-Down vs Participatory solutions
  • Global vs. Local solutions
  • Technological vs. Social solutions
  • Optimism vs. Pessimism about ICT4D

Keys to success/best practice — the points most emphasized are bolded:

  • Understand and work within the policy environment (where project is implemented)
  • Make strong connections with policy makers when possible
  • Analyze technologies available and infrastructure limits, then adopt approach or problem solve (bring in more accessible devices)
  • Build good relationships with donors (credibility, influence, legitimacy, and communication are key)
  • Work with the target population (communication is key, understanding their priorities and objectives, involving the target group in the project from the get-go, encourage local participation, build upon existing knowledge systems in place, etc
  • Effective project planning (clearly defined and realistic objectives, target groups, etc)
  • Monitoring and evaluation (be sure to learn and adjust project in response to findings)
  • Strong partnerships are essential
  • Sustainability — economic, social, institutional
  • Build capacity
  • Communicate effectively with target populations (recognize education level, traditions, culture, language, etc of target population and adjust presentation of information accordingly)
  • Use appropriate technologies (affordable and types that population can and will actually use)
  • Informediares must be carefully selected, trained properly, and be provided with the necessary materials and support
  • Two-way communication (local knowledge is important and must be treated as such)
  • Minimize social exclusion
  • Share results/communicate best practices

By integrating these best practices and lessons learned into ICT4D initiatives, we will be able to “connect the first mile,” improving connectivity and access to technologies in remote areas according to the needs and wishes of the people living in these areas.


eLearning and Peace-Building in Rural Africa

When I was working at an NGO last summer, I would often ask my supervisors about their experiences working in the field. They shared many of the joys and hazards of field work with me, and, when speaking of the latter, focused on one in particular: burning out. They told me that they could spend years on a project that, even after being implemented successfully, would be undone by conflict or government corruption. They spoke of projects that had to be halted or failed entirely because of political instability. And they spoke of the helpless feeling that, for all their hard work, what they did was simply a “drop in the ocean”–something helpful that did nothing to change the larger environment in which they worked.

Every day, thousands of development projects take place around the world. But how can these projects come together to promote wider stability and peace? A new project, eLearning for Peace, seeks to answer this question. Organized by representatives from a number of post-Soviet countries in concert with African researchers, the conference has two main goals. First, it seeks to examine the relationship between eLearning and peace-building. To this end, it does not focus on broad-based conflicts, like the Sudan-South Sudan oil dispute or Ethiopia’s border conflicts with Eritrea. Rather, it takes a grass-roots approach to conflict resolution, targeting small-scale rural conflicts, such as disagreements over cattle or land. To this end, it asks how eLearning can empower mediators to help opposing parties reconcile more effectively. Second, it researches the potential of eLearning to aid development in a variety of sectors, such as agriculture, governance, and business practices.

The project will begin with a workshop, taking place in Benin, during eLearning Africa 2012. It does not end there, however–eLearning for Peace intends to serve as an online community and forum in which theories on eLearning can be debated and like-minded researchers can connect with one another to develop projects of their own. What really intrigues me about eLearning for Peace is its attempt to tap into ICT4D’s potential in a sector ICT4D seems to generally ignore: conflict resolution. Indeed, this blog doesn’t even include conflict resolution as a category. I think this is a mistake.  There is no reason to think that, with a little creativity, ICT4D, which has so much potential in so many areas, cannot be used to help resolve the small-scale conflicts that drag down living conditions for millions of rural Africans. By emphasizing conflict resolution, this new project seems to me to be something of a pioneer. While it may not prove effective methodologically, I think it’s innovative focus on conflict resolution is inherently valuable.


All over the world, people are using the internet as a way to communicate and share information. However, over two-thirds of the world’s population still do not have access. This is due to the digital divide that exists between urban and rural areas. In the developing world, the impoverished  living in rural areas do not have the infrastructure or money needed to gain access to the internet. Thus, they are not able to access the information available on the internet that would improve their livelihoods. Also, many development organizations are not able to reach these marginalized areas because of geographic difficulties, lack of reading and writing proficiencies, and other language barriers.

An innovative software program, awaaz.de, allows development organizations to connect with these poor, rural and marginalized communities by providing on-demand information access through mobile phones. These organizations use awaaz.de to host voice-based information portals, forums for discussion, classifieds, and to broadcast market prices and weather reports to help with crop cultivation. The only thing the members of the community will need to do is to know how to use a phone. They have to dial a regular phone number through their mobile phone and navigate through an automated message board to listen to messages about the particular information that can benefit them. This program is very beneficial for these communities because it allows them to access similar types of information that other people in the world have through the internet.

This development initiative represents a very well thought out plan as it is very human-centered. It takes the wants and specific needs of these rural communities to help improve their livelihoods. The use of voice content makes it much easier for these people to use it because it is conducted in their native languages and they do not have to worry about their literacy. So far, awaaz.de is implemented in six states throughout India. So far it is working out really well and hopefully it can be implemented in other parts of the developing world very soon.