Tag Archives: thought leader

ICT4D Professional Profile: Deborah Elzie

After hearing Deborah Elzie eloquently respond to my question about the White Savior Industrial Complex in class, I wanted to write my thought leader profile on her because it was my first time hearing or seeing any white person in the international development field mention white privilege and furthermore, even acknowledge her role as a white person working in development.  I was even more excited when I realized that she had assigned that specific reading because it was the first time anything related to white supremacy had been brought up by any of my professors at Tulane.  I e-mailed Ms. Elzie one night, and within four hours, I had a response from her with a time that day for a Skype call!  During the interview, Ms. Elzie discussed how she got involved with Information Communication Technology for Development (ICT4D), her current work, and her feelings about the international development field.

While she has been working in Uganda with Tulane as she described in class, she has also been working on community projects founded by local people.  Ms. Elzie began making connections with people in Uganda virtually when she was still in the United States.  Through twitter and volunteering with a team virtually, she formed relationships with people in Uganda and eventually was able to work on Story Spaces in Uganda, with the founder and other Ugandan members of the team. She claims to be most engaged with mobile phones since she is working on four mobile phone projects; one for physicians and community health workers to help with difficult pregnancies, another in a competition, and two fun apps related to language and sports.  Even so, she explains that twitter has been crucial in communicating with others and in the sharing of ideas.

Ms. Elzie brings up how hard it has been as a woman working in technology.  Because she does more “front-end design, user interface, and graphic design and…[her] whole background in educational psychology and the cognitive piece…[she] thinks a lot about those interactions” when thinking about how hard it is in the United States for a woman (Elzie).  She feels as though Uganda has given her more opportunities than she would ever get in the United States because she has started later in life and isn’t a young MIT graduate.  She says, “I have found it easier to build relationships with African techies and mobile programmers than I have with US folks” (Elzie).

As an international development worker in the field, Ms. Elzie recommends people to have “practical experience somewhere on the ground in another culture even if it’s not a foreign culture abroad” in order to be prepared for the “inner personal communication skills” needed for working in another cultural world.  Additionally, she believes people need to come with the mindset that they will be working with others and learning from one another, not just the development worker coming in as the expert.  People should have “some knowledge of what you’re walking into instead of just walking off the plane and saying, ‘here, look at my great tool’” (Elzie).  On the academic side, she hopes for students to learn through more scenario-based exercises in the classroom and work as a team member with organizations abroad started by local people, rather than outsiders.  She thinks it’s definitely possible for development to become more locally driven, and has real hope for this generation.

I think Deborah Elzie is a really great example of a woman working in international development who is cognizant of her white privilege and the important role that the community should take in leading development projects.  I find her really inspiring and I encourage others to look into her work or contact her.  She’s really great!

Also, here is what our professor has written about her!

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ICT4D Professional Profile: Noble Kelly

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“You don’t need our permission to make a difference. It’s up to you!” -EBB

Noble Kelly is a thought leader in the ICT4D sector of education who has done extensive work in Canada and Africa.  Kelly entered the education field in 1991 as a high school teacher and later earned a post-baccalaureate degree in Education Technology.  Over time, he has become increasingly involved in advocacy, policy development and capacity-building, which is reflected in his non-profit NGO called Education Beyond Borders (EBB).

EBB, founded in 2007, sets out to close the achievement gap “…through teacher professional development and community education,” focusing on “…self-reliance, health, and capacity.”  According to EBB, “If the key to economic development and our young people’s future is education, then teachers should have resources, tools, and access to the Internet, as well as each other.”  Well aware that “Information and communication technologies are drivers of globalization and hold enormous potential for access to free content and the training of in-demand skills, but their rapid development runs the risk of further widening the digital divide as developing regions struggle to get connected,” Kelly ensures that his organization strives to avoid the latter situation.  Kelly’s appreciation for ICTs is also evidenced by his praise of the use of mobile technologies “…to support the work that we are doing in the field,” as “Isolation can be a huge detriment, or a huge obstacle, to much of our work.”

Though Kelly is busy with EBB, he has also been a teacher trainer and mentor through the Teaching and Learning in an Information Technological Environment Post Baccalaureate Program at Simon Fraser University.  Additionally, as a “….member of the Peace and Global Education action group for the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation…” he has been active in policy development, workshop leadership and advocacy for universal safe and inclusive schools.  Internationally, Kelly has worked on capacity-building and development initiatives in South Africa, as well as on “…education reform, teacher professional development and appropriate use and integration of ICT to engage learners within a cultural/local context,” in Ethiopia, Guyana, Tanzania, and Kenya.

To learn more about Kelly, follow him!

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Thought Leader Profile: Patrick Meier

Patrick Meier is currently serving as the Director of Crisis Mapping at Ushahidi. He co-founded the Stand By Volunteer Task Force and was publicly recognized by Bill Clinton in 2010 for his leadership and contributions. He recently served as co-director at the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative’s Program on Crisis Mapping and Early Warning.

Meier also has an incredible educational background. He holds a PhD from The Fletcher School at Tufts University where his dissertation research focused on the intersection between nonviolent civil resistance and digital activism in repressive environments. He also has a pre-doctoral Fellowship from Stanford University as well as an MA in International Relations from Columbia University. To top all of these, he was a Research Fellow at the Peace Research Institute, OSLO and holds advanced certificates from the Sante Fe Institute and the New England Complex Systems Institute. But wait, I almost forgot to mention that he was born in Africa, must help a little in terms of shutting down the white savior label!

 iRevolution is a blog designed to empower individuals through radical self-sufficiency, self-determination, independence survival and resilience. The blog features short thought pieces on how innovation and technology are revolutionizing this process of self-empowerment. Blog topics address civil resistance, crisis mapping, crowd sourcing, digital activism, early warning, humanitarian technology, satellite imagery and social media. The blog encourages information sharing, which has become a key feature to all areas of development, not just ICT4D. The website holds an incredible wealth of open source information that will undoubtedly be incredibly useful to many.

I was able to get in touch with Mr. Meier to ask for some of his input in this profile. When asked why he started iRevolution, Meier responded, “ some friend and I had just launched a group blog on technology, and I soon found myself hooked (while my friends did not blog as much). So I struck off on my own and have enjoyed blogging as way to collect my thoughts, bounce of ideas and get feedback”. I also asked him exactly what he was looking for in students coming out of ICT4D educational programs, and got a surprising response. Rather than suggesting that they receive a high degree of professional training, Meier replied, “students who are pro-active, reliable, creative and team players”. I was also curious about that Meier felt students should do to prepare themselves for the ICT4D field, and what university programs should be addressing. To this he suggested that students read up on ICT4D as much as they are able, to speak with as many professionals in the field as they can contact and to “blog blog blog”. As per university programs, Meier advocates more hands on experience both inside and outside of the classroom, and volunteering for groups such as the Standby Volunteer Task Force (I like how he slipped this little advertising ploy in here).

So, though Meier is quite the academic scholar himself, he seems to be more an advocate of self-education than university and post-graduate programs. I find it very interesting that he prefers this approach, and feels that it speaks to his confidence in the inherent capabilities of people to educate themselves to achieve their ends, whether in development or otherwise. His projects empower people to help themselves solve their own problems. This refreshing approach is most certainly the future of development; I hope more organizations will begin to follow his lead. He truly is an innovative and admirable thought leader in the field of ICT4D.

Please visit his blog, iRevolution.net, I promise you won’t be disappointed!


“Mechanics vs. Motivation” in Social Innovation

Ken Banks is a noteworthy thought leader in the field of ICT4D. For our recent short paper I chose to profile him because I used his work often in our sector presentation – he does a lot of work with conservation organizations and develops mobile platforms for them (including Frontline SMS). When prompted about what he looks for in recent ICT4D/IDEV graduates, he referred me to a blog post he wrote back in 2009 after meeting students and faculty from various universities on the west coast. He wrote that he enjoys talking to people who aren’t tech experts, and that he’s noticed that what these young people generally look for are stories – the experiences, what brought professionals to where they are now, what inspired them, etc. He complains that too often programs and academia focus too tiredly on metrics – “This world centres on business models, the quest for data, for metrics and an obsession on measuring impact”. He says that we need to foster passion and big ideas- the creative juices that build the foundations of powerful initiatives, because the technical stuff can always be worked out later.

Luckily my interview subject was someone who believes strongly and passionately in helping other people, and that includes young start-ups; in a different blog post he writes, “In the mobile world we talk a lot about project sustainability, but little about human sustainability. If we’re to have any chance of ongoing success then we need to attract the brightest young minds to the ‘mobile for development’ field, and then give them all the support they need to keep them there. Empowerment isn’t just something we do in a distant land. There’s plenty we can be doing on our own doorstep.”

So if this guy believes more in passion and big ideas to get off the ground than logistics, is he right? Recently we’ve been discussing about emotions driving the platforms of some organizations, whether it’s ethical, whether it works, etc. I think that discussion is so reasonable! I find that I have to be a bit of a pessimist in response to Ken’s words because so many people have big ideas, but sometimes for the wrong or misguided end-results. Do we want a professional field saturated with dreamers whose dreams might run short? I can’t say much in argument to a guy who literally invented Frontline SMS, but I do wonder if, academically, passion is the highest focus.

Mechanics vs. Motivation

Enabling the Inspiration Generation


Richard Heeks on ICT4D

As part of our readings and discussion for the IDEV4100: ICT4D course, one of the thought leaders in the field that we come across a few times is Richard Heeks. This post is a short round-up with some background info on Heeks, his bio, some of his writings, and where you can find more information on him and his ideas.

Readings from Class:

Short Bio (via University of Manchester)

Richard Heeks is Professor of Development Informatics in the Institute for Development Policy and Management, part of the School of Environment and Development at the University of Manchester, UK. Following a period of work as a programmer for ICL, Richard studied for a BA/MA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge, and then taught science in a rural school in Nigeria.  He worked as a researcher at the Universities of Leicester and Loughborough, gaining an MPhil for his study of personal information systems.  Richard then undertook an ESRC/SERC-sponsored PhD at the Open University on the Indian software industry.  Following his doctorate, Richard joined the University of Manchester to teach, research and consult on “development informatics” – the relation between information and communication technologies (ICTs) and international development.

He has acted as an external degree examiner in the ICT4D field at universities in Europe, Africa and Asia; and as a research assessor for bodies such as the US National Science Foundation, ESRC, Nuffield and Leverhulme.  Complementing this have been more than twenty advisory activities on ICT4D for bodies such as the UK Dept. for International Development, GTZ, IDRC and UNIDO.  Richard is also ICT4D advisor for Zunia (Development Gateway) and for the British Council, and convenes the UK Development Studies Association’s specialist group on Information, Technology and Development.

Resources for More Information

Heeks ICT4D Bibliography (via ICTlogy)

Heeks author archive from the ICT4D blog. There is some really great stuff here, particularly on frameworks for conceptualizing ICT4D, the digital divide, and specific posts on eGov and ICTs for education. I highly recommend it!