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Archive for November, 2011

A recipient signs for a cash transfer (Photo: http://www.plan-international.org)

The popularity of cash transfer programs in the academic and aid blogosphere over the past few years, got me wondering what the difference is between the kind of cash hand-out programs that sponsorship organizations were doing in the early days and today’s cash transfer and conditional cash transfer programs.

What prompted the shift in thinking from ‘line up and get your cash’, to ‘cash handouts are paternalistic, ineffective, unsustainable and create dependency,’ to ‘cash transfers are innovative ways of achieving development gains’ and/or ‘cash transfers empower local people to purchase what they really need?’ How are cash transfers different today from 40+ years ago?

I happen to work for an organization that raises a good percentage of its funding through child sponsorship. From what I’ve heard, for the first few decades of our existence, cash handouts were simply how the organization worked. Along with most other development agencies, we moved away from direct handouts in the 80s. Like some other organizations, by the end of the 1990s we had adopted a rights-based approach. We are also now doing cash grants again in some cases such as this program in Vietnam. I’ve asked around a bit internally and haven’t found anyone able to point me to documentation on what in particular prompted the move from cash handouts to community-based development in the 80s. Obviously it was a change happening most everywhere, not just in the organization where I work. I assume there was a process and a lot of discussion around this like there is with any change in approach, but it’s most likely on paper and not on-line. I do wonder what has been or could be learned about cash transfers from that process of discussion and change in methods.

There is certainly a lot of debate today about cash transfers. When I’ve asked people outside my organization what the difference is between today’s cash transfers and those of 40 years ago, most pro-cash transfer folks say that today’s approach to cash transfers is different or that cash transfers are included as part of broader programs, or that cash transfer programs that succeed are done by governments and not INGOs.

The anti-cash transfer folks tend to feel that cash transfers are not sustainable development, encourage dependency, and cause community conflict, and that they do nothing to improve systems or infrastructure in the long run; eg., what good is having cash if there is no health system? no food to purchase?  no school to attend? Or they consider cash transfers to be individualistic rather than a way to support an entire community or district’s development or worry that conditioning cash transfers can cause unintended consequences. (Here’s a fun piece that talks about what the cash transfer debate says about the international humanitarian community.)

There are tons of studies (mostly by economists it seems) showing that cash transfer and conditional cash transfer programs have improved health, nutrition and education enrollment. Some caution that cash transfer programs such as Brazil’s Bolsa Familia are not a panacea and need to be complemented with other types of programs.

I liked this recent paper ‘Richer but resented: What do cash transfers do to social relations and does it matter‘ by MacAusland and Riemenschneider (HT @rovingbandit). It questions the impact of cash transfers on less visible, more contextualized local and national relationships and power dynamics and suggests a need to go beyond material analysis during design, implementation and impact evaluations of cash transfer programs.

Especially helpful for someone like me who is trying to better understand the discussion around cash transfer programs is the paper’s reference to Copestake’s (2006) aspects of well-being (material, relational and symbolic) and three views on social protection as applied to cash transfers.

I’m pasting in the paragraphs I found especially useful to tempt you into reading the whole paper. I liked the excerpt below because it provides good insight into how different development theories color the objectives set in cash transfer programs and the way that success and impact are measured.

‘…An „income-first view of social protection focuses on the consequences of cash transfers for recipients’ incomes and on their costs, including fiscal costs and perverse incentives to stop working or to seek rents. Second, a needs-first view starts from a more multidimensional view of poverty and focuses on the states role in guaranteeing access to basic needs, including livelihoods, assets, and public action. This would criticise the income-first view for being too narrow. Third, a rights-first view identifies injustice as a key cause of poverty, and criticises the „needs-first approach for being paternalistic.

Very broadly, these views can be identified with philosophical approaches to development. The income-first view is most closely identified with a  modernisation theory and Washington Consensus approach, which is rationalist, individualist and utilitarian in nature, measuring utility primarily in terms of income. The appeal of this view in part lies in the measurability and equivalence of outcomes and costs – so that outcomes measured in dollars can be compared to costs measured in dollars. This possibility is very attractive for planners, since it enables an unambiguous (on this single metric) judgement of whether an intervention should proceed. In terms of approaches to social protection, the income-based view is reflected most clearly in the safety nets approaches of the early 1990s (World Bank 1990).

The needs-first view starts from a similarly utilitarian and individualist standpoint but broadens this by introducing other dimensions of well-being, largely adding material dimensions (such as education, health, and livelihoods) but in some cases relational aspects (such as a capacity for social action). This draws in part from Sens capability perspective (Sen 1985) and is currently being operationalised through the Millennium Development Goals and now multidimensional poverty indices (see e.g. Alkire and Foster 2009). In the social protection literature, this view is closest to the transformative social protection approach (Devereux and Sabates-Wheeler 2004) that emphasises the role of social protection in overcoming not only material shortcomings but in enhancing self-esteem and social status.

The rights-first view has developed rather differently, in part from Latin American traditions of dependency theory and structuralism, which place more emphasis on relational and symbolic aspects of well-being. One application of this tradition can be found in Figueroa (2001) who argues that persistent inequality in Latin America can be explained by processes of social exclusion (based on cultural difference) leading to political exclusion from social protection programmes and education, and resulting economic exclusion. As Copestake (2006b: 4) summarises, this interpretation highlights: “the extent to which economic growth and inequality reduction are dependent upon cultural and political mobilisation, not least through advocacy of human rights. This is in stark opposition to the more common assumption of economists that improved human rights are more likely to follow economic development than to be a precondition for it.”

The consequences of these different views for assessments and planning of cash transfers are quite profound. For instance, the different views will put quite different weights on the negative consequences of excluding members of the community from controlling payments or targeting as opposed to the problems associated with additional costs of targeting. The decision whether to pay for additional community participation will look very different depending on which view is held. Similarly, the different views will imply quite different judgements on whether cash transfer programmes should be replicated, given different material, relational and symbolic outcomes.’

I still don’t really know what I think about cash transfers, (I suppose “it depends’ is always a good answer) but at least I have a bit of a better framework for thinking about them and analyzing what I read about them. Copestake’s three areas (material, relational and symbolic) also give a good framework for analyzing other types of aid and development programs, beyond cash transfers (such as Gift In Kind, as @cynan_sez points out).

I also still haven’t figured out how the old style sponsorship cash handouts were different from today’s ‘innovative’ models. Any old timers out there with insight to share on that?

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I had the great pleasure of participating and serving as a moderator* for TechChange’s Mobiles for International Development course from October 15-November 4, 2011, along with a great group of people interested in how mobile phones can support development processes.

Course topics included mMoney; mHealth; mobiles for monitoring, evaluation and data collection; mobiles and radio; and mobiles in education.

The first week of the course went both broad and deep via a compilation of blogs, videos and longer documents from a range of thinkers and doers in the mobile space.

The second week introduced participants to a number of mobile tools, including MPesa (Mobile Money Transfer Platform), InSTEDD GeoChat and Riff (Mobile Collaboration and Data Stream Analysis Software), RapidSMS/Souktel (Mass Texting Software Interface), Sana Mobile (Mobile Diagnostics Platform), Medic Mobile, TxtEagle, FreedomFone.

The third week offered a number of chats with well-known practitioners and thinkers in the above mentioned areas or developers of particular tools that had been covered in week 2.

Things I liked about the course:

  • Platform. The TechChange platform is really nice. It’s engaging and well-designed. Things are easy to find making participation smooth. It took me a day or so to learn where to find things, but after that, it was easy to join in and access the course materials.
  • Format. This was my first ever on-line course and I found it very energizing and thought-provoking. I loved that the first week was an in depth overview on ICTs and development in general. We were exposed to a huge range of thinking from very positive to very wary and critical of the use mobiles and ICTs in development work. Long and short videos, blogs, guides and research were made available and these really stimulated a lot of discussion around development models and frameworks, the role of NGOs and corporations, e-waste, top down vs bottom up, innovation and local capacities, and all kinds of issues. The second week dove deeper into particular areas and many of these discussions continued, but now with different groups as people began self-selecting according to their particular interests (health, education, etc.) Unfortunately I missed most of the 3rd week because I was out at another conference, but the roster of experts who came onto the platform to chat with the group was stellar and according to participant feedback, quite stimulating as well.
  • Discussions. The format was conducive to great discussions, from small group Skype discussions (each participant was assigned to a small group at the beginning, and these groups held a few discussions over the course period), to random chats, to forums and sometimes Twitter. These discussions were very useful to generate new ideas and dig into topics and tricky issues.
  • Participants. On the one hand it might be nice to have courses aimed at levels of experience, but on the other hand I liked that there were all levels of expertise chatting and discussing, and people from a wide range of backgrounds. This enriched the group discussions and the variety of inputs.
  • Organizers. The organizers did a stellar job of engaging and encouraging the group and being responsive to any technical difficulties encountered.

Things I would like to see in future courses:

  • Less hours per week. It was hard for me to clear my schedule to participate in everything as I would have liked. Dispersing the activities over 4 rather than 3 weeks (as the organizers are planning for the future) might help with that. Of course this might be an issue with me, not with everyone. The good thing is that course materials are available for a few months after the course has closed.
  • Short sessions on setting up specific tools. I was really glad that Tech Change took the full first week to look at the big picture before focusing in on tools and  I was super impressed with the wide range of materials they pulled together to get people thinking and discussing all the different aspects that need considering before deciding on a technology tool or “solution.” I think it would be really helpful, following the big picture thinking, to offer some short courses or sessions focusing on the actual technical use of particular tools so that participants can get hands-on experience also.
  • General courses as well as in-depth courses. This course was fantastic for getting a general overview, and good for both people with little experience with mobiles in development and for those who already have technical or practical experiences with programs with a mobile or ICT element. It would be great to also have courses that focus an entire 2-3 weeks on one aspect such as ICTs in Education, mHealth or mMoney. I certainly could have spent 2-3 weeks learning about and discussing a single aspect of “m” something. I’m sure TechChange has their hands full with new course offerings, but as they expand, this would be great to see.
Overall, I really enjoyed the course and hope to participate in another one in the future. I’d definitely recommend these courses to others interested in ICTs and development.
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*Note – I attended the course gratis in exchange for helping TechChange shape the content and curriculum and serving as a moderator during the course. (Thank you, social media. Thank you, barter system!)
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A few other posts related to development of the course:
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The funny thing about ICTs and Development (and mostly everything else in this world) is that just when you think things are plugging along, you get the rug pulled out from under you and have to re-think everything.

A couple of weeks ago, I was heading off to the ICT for Rural Development (ICT4RD) Conference in Johannesburg. Before I left, I got an invitation from Ken Banks to participate in an ”ICT4D Postcard” project, which I thought was a nice idea. I took a moment to find a photo and pen a few lines and went on my merry way to Joburg.

Little did I know that several of the key thinkers and writers in the ”ICT4D” space were going to deconstruct the concept over the next fortnight in a flurry of sometimes harsh and pointed, always thoughtful posts.

The day the ICT4RD conference started, Steve Song posts his Three reasons why M4D may be bad for development rant wherein he makes some pretty strong (and relevant) points, such as:

“…the future is going to be a surprise and tying the notion of development to a particular mode of technology [eg., the mobile phone] is as bad an idea now as it was in 1999” and “Mobile operators have entrenched themselves with development agencies as the saviours of access … what the mobile operators have achieved through this embrace is the effective sidetracking of debates about competition and affordability.”

Then Ken’s ICT4D Postcards post goes up, and no more do I look at it and have a think about the photos and captions, then Erik Hersman (White African) throws up his rant on The Subtle Condescension of ICT4D, which gets the whole ICT4D-slash-anti-ICT4D world in a tizzy and which has a lot of good, strong points, like:

”I was recently discussing this term with one of my Kenyan tech friends, where he stated, ’I always picture a team from the UN putting up toilets in Uganda when I hear of ICT4D’” and ”It also feels like [ICT4D] is how international NGOs are trying to stay relevant, by creating a new department and new initiatives that the big funders will buy into and support (themselves to stay relevant). Ask yourself, how many ICT4D projects in Africa are more than pilot projects? How many are just Westerner organizations parachuting in, which have no hope of staying alive beyond the time and funds put in by their organization? Sounds like the same old ’aid story’ to me.”

Erik closes with “We have to thinking less of ICT as something that’s about development, and more of it as a commercial venture. We need more focus on ICT4$ than ICT4D.”

And I am left thinking, well very much yes! …and also, sort of no…. But I can’t get straight in my mind what makes me hesitate. Maybe it’s that in my experience, not all ’development’ initiatives are the stereotypical foreigners parachuting in with new gadgets? Or maybe it’s because I am super wary of the trickle-down economic growth model and I think that the world needs something different?

I don’t have to wait long before Jonathan Donner drops some good points into the debate in his post More letters, more problems, concluding:

”I don’t think we’re going to move off ICT4D as the default compound term, at least for a while. But I like these discussions and think it is important for the community to have them from time to time…probably quite frequently since the field/ community of practice is increasingly methodologically diverse, and growing. The conversations are not easy as some might like them to be, but that is because they are about a “compound” community. Regular bouts of reflection are not just navel gazing – they should help us remain reflective, careful, and precise in the use of the terms we use to describe what we do and why we do it.”

Followed by Wayan Vota who pops in with the Challenge of Defining ICT4D or Why Erik Hersman is ICT4$, whereby he defines ICT4D and ICT4$ as two wholly different industries. Projects can be ICT4D and ICT4$, neither approach is perfect and there is plenty of failure in both, and the 2 should be symbiotic, he says.

“Let us not confuse two whole different uses of ICT. In the tech start up world, ICT is a means to make money. Software developers code products like MXit or M-PESA and hope to sell them at a profit to to venture capital funders and people that are currently under served by the market place. The focus is on $. This is ICT4$ and they should be proud of their efforts.

In the international development world, ICT is used to deliver education, healthcare, etc more efficiently. We have great products like FrontlineSMS, ChildCount+, and Ushahidi, and sell them to donor funders so we can deliver them free or subsidized to those under served by government or in market failure situations. The focus is on impact versus $. This is ICT4D, and I am proud to use the term.

Notice the different focus. In no way should a tech startup and its funders seeking to maximize profit seek to work in ICT4D, just like it would be laughable for a development organization (funder or implementer) to run a tech startup to be the next Facebook.”

Not to be left out, one of the top critics of ICT4D, the ICT4D Jester, pipes in on the stupidity of any acronym that sounds like a Prince Song [I wholeheartedly agree!]. He gets to the political heart of the discussion about ICT4D and ICT4$ in his post ICT *or* Development, Part 3: The Jester Meets the White African:

”The underlying issue is a deep one that goes straight to the heart of economic development. To compress the last century of economic history into a nutshell,* countries that attempted centralized socialism lost to capitalist countries in the contest to make as much money as possible as quickly as possible.…

In the last few decades, however, countries like the United States have been running the experiment of rampant free-market capitalism. Among other things, this led to the dramatic financial crash of 2007-2008, a population unable to wean itself off of resource consumption, and increased inequality, not only economically but also in terms of health, education, and well-being. If that’s what happens under what could be argued is the closest thing to a “pure” free-market capitalism, any reasonable person should be reconsidering the lesson of the Cold War victory.”

The Jester goes on to explain that ”progressive activity” is necessary to counterbalance capitalism and mitigate the inequality caused by capitalism and that ICT4D in practice tends to embrace this progressive side of things.

ICT4$ is needed, but someone also needs to focus on D. (The Jester, of course, does not necessarily say that D should proceed via ICT4D!)”

He sums up with, “Yes, ICT4D is a four-letter word (with a number), but wear it proudly in your progressive technology activities, and cast it off – way,way off – for your for-profit ones. Meanwhile, don’t forget that the world needs both types of activity. Of course, the one thing you can’t do is split yourself in two.  And, that, perhaps, is another reason why it’s so difficult to make a profit and serve a poor population simultaneously.”

David Kobia continues in his post ICT4D Cont (first acknowledging that he’s ’whipping a dead horse’) that ”ICT4D and indeed then [sic] term ICT in general in this breakneck environment has come to symbolize access to technology at the lowest rung – basically a booster seat at the table with the adults. He asks, ”Is there a very remote chance that the role of technology in development has been slightly overemphasized?”

And Tony Roberts chimes in with his own Rant In Defense of ICT4D, where he joins the Jester in pointing out that the ’free’ market hasn’t done anyone [eg., the 99%] any favors in the ”developed” or the “developing” world.

”The problem with relying on commerce is that the ‘free’ market is fundamentally flawed; for 300 years it has abjectly failed to meet the needs of millions of people at the periphery. Whilst elites in capital cities enjoy relative opulence, marginalised communities are unable to secure adequate nutrition, basic healthcare or human rights. These divides continue to widen. In response people form not-for-profit organisations to have their voices heard and their community development needs addressed; sometimes employing ICT for these Developmental ends. Not-for-profits exist because of the failure of markets.

ICT4$ alone is not capable of fixing this problem….

When communities refuse to accept injustice and deprivation and form associations of solidarity with those at risk we should give them our respect. If they seek practical assistance in applying ICT for Development we should offer whatever assistance we are able. There will often be a positive role for ICT in community development.

ICT4D alone, of course, is not capable of fixing the system.”

In addition to all the blog posts that Erik’s provocative post spawned, there are some great points made in the comments section:

For example, Paul comments (and I summarize)

”Left to its own devices, ’ICT4$’ will mostly chase the same set of rich urban market users, just as the bulk of SV consumer startups chase the same demographics…. So, yeah, make these things follow commercial logic and thereby sustainable, but the answer is not to deprecate the ’D’ in favor of the ’$’. Both need to be kept in mind because a rising tide raises all Gini coefficients…. Local capacity, sure, but that isn’t always the cheapest/fastest way to do it (which is what commercial logic would dictate). Again, to care about advanced capacity building, you have to care about the ’D’.”

(@hapeeHapee says ”To me the container ICT4D is useful as a hashtag for twitter, as a common ground for research and practitioners, social movements and ngos still play a role as do active citizens, open source is still an alternative used to prevent closed source standards and the market is still something to be very careful about because the driving force of profit is not the same as creating change.”

So. Much. To. Think. About.

It’s a really messy world out there and the field [formerly known as?] ”ICT4D” is no exception.  The issues being wrestled with are much broader than ICT and D. I’ve picked out points and angles that resonated with me from the various posts. I can’t say that any one of the authors is 100% right (nor, probably, would any of them claim to be). Or maybe they are 100% right in certain situations, but not all.

Should International NGOs stop creating dependencies and killing local initiatives? Yes.

Does the ’free’ market allow for dignity and well-being for all? No.

Maybe that is the heart of the question – how to operate in a way that does not create dependency or stifle economic growth but that also does not exclude or marginalize a large part of the population. Maybe it always comes down to that ’capitalist’ vs ’some other kind of inclusive and sustainable growth model’ discussion… And maybe a clearer divide between ICT as a growth sector and ICT-enabled development programs that aim to reach the most marginalized (where the market does not reach) is needed. Or maybe not, if you believe ethical business models can achieve both. (I’m still waiting for those models to become the widespread norm and don’t see it happening any time soon, anywhere).

And what about ICTs as tools to improve civic participation, voice, access to information, transparency, accountability and good governance so that [ideally] exclusion is reduced and resources generated by economic growth (and/or resources allocated to fill the gap where the market fails to reach, or resources designated toward improving services that are/should be provided by government) are better and more honestly allocated… And what about new technologies that support more transparent political and decision making processes? (What is the acronym for those kinds of ICT uses?) Oh, so messy….

In any case, I think the discussion is helpful in raising issues and making us all think more about the terms we use, and the processes and products we support, drive and promote.

If there is one thing the field [formerly know as?] ’ICT4D’ does do, it’s bring together good people who think deeply and who honestly care about how they are contributing to making the world a better place.

Take some time to visit the links and read the full posts if you haven’t yet, they are very much worth it!

*****

Updates:

16 Nov 2011:

RT @kiwanja: Check out the #BBCClickRadio podcast for a slightly extended debate on the merits of ”#ICT4D” terminology. http://is.gd/HUK37e

RT @hapeeg: More ICT4D Please! – My take on the ICT4D debate by @david_barnard http://tinyurl.com/c55tpg4 #ICT4d #ICT4RD #Tech4Dev #Africa.

David Barnard notes that “there is also more than one real “White African” serious about making a contribution to the future of this continent.” 

“These two issues represent different sides to the same coin – but often require very different approaches, and different roleplayers, to achieve the desirable objectives…. Whatever you prefer to call technology is irrelevant – IT / ICT / ICT4D / ICT4RD / M4D/ Tech4Dev, etc. What really matters is the intent, the objectives and the motivation for using it.

But, technology for technology’s stake is downright stupid. Too many technology for development projects and interventions fail because of the emphasis on the technology without understanding the development issue/s and/or what it would take to ensure the implementation of the technology will ultimately achieve success and impact. Too many technology competitions, awards and challenges place too much focus on the development of “more new tools” rather on what has been achieved.”

17 Nov 2011:

RT @mtotowajirani: New blog post: #OccupyTech: Take the money out of tech…and put the impact back in! http://bit.ly/tTAogC #occupy (Wherein Simeon Oriko takes on #ICT4$ with a new slogan – suggested by @noniemg – Take the SH out of IT… ” He says:

“Here’s the bottom line….Unless you are directly making an impact in someone’s life with you apps and all the hustle around them, you’re really doing nothing meaningful. …  Money is driving people in totally wrong directions!  Sober up and think about it for a second. What’s more meaningful and worth your hustle? Money or impact?”

And I missed Niall Winters original thoughts, including ideas from @katypearce, on this post The 4 in ICT4D.

“The ‘4’ places an emphasis on “giving it to you”, and all the issues that brings up regarding donation. I hadn’t really thought about it in that way before, coming from the perspective nicely described by Kleine and Unwin (2009):

Our preferred terminology is ICT4D, in part because it is the most widespread term, but also especially because it places explicit attention on the ‘4’, or what kind of development is being addressed. Rather than the ‘and’ of ICTD, the ‘for’ of ICT4D forces users of the term to confront the moral and political agendas associated with ‘development’. By focusing on the ‘4’ we are forced to make explicit what we mean by ‘development’. The interplay between ‘information’, ‘communication’ and ‘technologies’ for ‘development’ is one that offers considerable intellectual and practical challenges, and it is these that this paper seeks to explore.

 Hence, the ‘4’ for me is a challenge to think about the nature of inclusivity in my work, the power relations embedded within any intervention and the appropriateness of the technologies used or being developed.”

22 Nov, 2011

kdiga’s reply on ICTDJester’s blog: says we need to ask 4 questions and agree on some principles when invoking ICT4D:

1) Are we attempting to see the reduction of poverty (in all its multiple dimensions?) from the use of ICTD?
2) Are we attempting to see the reduction of inequality?
3) Are we seeing lower numbers in child mortality, an improvement through healthier families, or more student graduating Grade 12 as a result of ICT usage, less environmental degradation – how are we measuring?
4) Are we able to see less lives lost?

23 Nov, 2011

Ian Thorpe’s post “ICT4What” says part of the issue here is that ICT4D is a huge field (and a subset of “technology” which is an even bigger field, and which has absolutely everything to do with “development” – eg, read Jared Diamond’s book Guns, Germs and Steel) and people are talking at cross-purposes and using all different definitions.  ‘The development, spread and use of technology is a huge field with lots of actors each playing their part, with plenty of room for different motives and philosophical or empirical approaches – even contradictory ones  – since in the end they will all contribute to the change that takes place through collaboration, competition and even contradiction. In short it’s a complex adaptive system. Past technological spread has always resulted from the actions of multiple actors often with very different motives and philosophies: Inventors, entrepreneurs, governments, consumers, academics, not for profits and others have all helped shape the way technology is currently used both consciously and unconsciously. Using technology to make money is a key component of spreading technology that improves lives, but it’s only part of the story.”

Ian concludes that “it doesn’t matter that we don’t agree, in fact it’s a good thing. A diverse approach involving multiple actors and friction between them is in the best interests of the field because it allows different models to co-exist, compete and learn from each other, and it allows then to be judged in the market and the marketplace of ideas.”


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