Bruce Lee explains why many open data and technology-led initiatives go wrong.
(See minute 1.14).
Posted in accountability, development, governance, ICT4D, ICTs, mobile and technology, open data, open development, open government, participation, politics, random, musing or confusing, wait... what?, tagged bruce lee, emotional content, finger pointing at the moon, ICT4D, open data, open development on October 20, 2013 | 1 Comment »
Bruce Lee explains why many open data and technology-led initiatives go wrong.
(See minute 1.14).
Posted in book review, development, ICTs, mobile and technology, random, musing or confusing, tagged book review, buddhism, chade, Google, meditation, meng, mindfulness, search inside yourself, self awareness, self confidence, tan, work on June 3, 2012 | 4 Comments »
“Google employees get to take 20% of their time to do their own thing,” is a phrase that is often repeated and praised in the circles where I run. I have to agree that it’s a fantastic idea — I’m a big fan of side projects.
Chade-Meng Tan works for Google, and he took his 20% time to work on the idea of bringing ‘mindfulness’ into the workplace. (His long-term goal is the loftier one of world peace–but more about that later.)
Meng’s idea turned into a course for Google employees called “Search Inside Yourself” (pun intended). It was a kind of meditation course for geeks and engineers. His book (by the same title) walks readers through the course, going from very very simple ‘learning how to meditate’ to (my favorite) ‘mindful emailing’ and onto his idea that if we each start by developing peace and happiness within ourselves, we will develop compassion, and if everyone is happy, at peace, and compassionate, we can create the foundation for world peace.
I was skeptical about reading Search Inside Yourself because I’m not big on self-help books or reading about hot business management trends or which ’7 Habits’ will transform my life. I’m also not super touchy-feely. I did enjoy the book, however. It was a pleasant and easy read, and I’m guessing it rolls the key points of most of those other self-help books into one. (Though I could be mistaken, since I haven’t read any of them!)
Search Inside Yourself is meditation and mindfulness merged with emotional intelligence and research on how the brain works applied to the workplace, relationships and life in general. Throughout the book are quotes and conversations with renowned Buddhists such as Matthieu Ricard, (noted for being ‘the happiest man in the world’), the Dalai Lama, Richard Davidson and Jon Kabat-Zinn (pioneers in the field of contemplative neuroscience), Norman Fischer and Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche.
Meng starts us off with very accessible exercises to learn to meditate. (Chapter 1 is titled ‘Even an Engineer Can Thrive on Emotional Intelligence’) Starting with 2 minutes a day, he says, you can get going. (I tried, and even I was actually able to slow myself down for 2 minutes). He moves on to ‘mindful activity,’ and ‘other-directed mindfulness,’ and ’mindful conversation’ exercises that help develop non-judgmental listening, empathy and compassion.
Next, he walks us through moving from emotional self-awareness to accurate self-assessment to self-confidence, focusing quite a bit on the concept of ego. Following this, Meng covers ‘self mastery,’ managing pain and stress, and dealing with distress and managing emotions. One quote I particularly liked was by Thich Nhat Hanh: ’wilting flowers do not cause suffering; it is the unrealistic desire that flowers not wilt that causes suffering.’ There is a nice section on dealing with emotional triggers and managing negative emotions with calm.
Meng backs up his ideas with neuroscience and behavioral theories, including those of Tony Hsieh who started Zappos Shoes and Daniel Pink who emphasizes that the best way to find motivation at work is to spend most of our time and energy working towards higher purpose rather than short-term pleasure chasing. ‘If we know what we value most and what is most meaningful to us, then we know what we can work on that serves our higher purpose. When that happens, our work can become a source of sustainable happiness for us,’ writes Meng.
I found the parts of the book that talk about empathy to be quite applicable to the work that aid and development agencies (and non-profits in general) do, especially in terms of results, accountability and effectiveness and how development agencies interact with staff and partners at all levels, internally and externally. People often imagine that at non-profits, everyone is there for a good cause, therefore everyone is nice and there are no nasty internal politics or bad management issues or unpleasant interactions with ‘beneficiaries’ and participants or staff. I promise you this is not true – non-profits need to work on this every bit as much as for-profits — and maybe even more since there are usually less resources to go around or to invest in management and staff training in these areas.
One section I really liked was where Meng refers to Patrick Lencioni’s five dysfunctions of a team: absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results. The only way to change this, says Meng, is starting off with sincerity, kindness and openness and with 3 assumptions: that everybody in the room is there to serve the greater good until proven otherwise; that no one has any hidden agenda unless proven otherwise; and that we are all reasonable, even when we disagree, until proven otherwise. Also helpful, he says, is ‘empathetic listening’ and ‘political awareness,’ eg., the ability to read an organization’s emotional currents and power relationships.
Meng talks about compassionate leadership and offers advice on turning foes into friends and on dealing with difficult conversations and situations, based on David Rock’s SCARF model for the social brain which describes how status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness are major drivers of social behavior. This is where we get our tips on ‘mindful emailing.’
The book closes out with an explanation of how Meng would like to see meditation and mindfulness enter the public sphere in the same way that exercise has. Eg., one day everyone will know that meditation is good for them, anyone will be able to learn how to do it, companies will understand that it is good for business, and meditation will be taken granted: eg, ’Of course you should mediate…. duh.’
Search Inside Yourself is great example of what can be created when employees have time to think and work on those side projects that add meaning to their lives and value to the greater good. I enjoyed seeing where I’m already being mindful, empathetic and compassionate, analyzing where I could improve, and having some clear and concise instructions on how to get started working on areas that need more effort. Meng has taken an excellent step towards his dream of making these concepts accessible to everyone.
Thanks to TLC Book Tours for sending over the complimentary copy of Search Inside Yourself for review!
Posted in anthropology, barefoot running, capoeira, ICTs, mobile and technology, random, musing or confusing, wait... what?, tagged apps, barefoot running, capoeira, facebook, fitness, getting started, joint, motivation, nike gps, pain, vibrams on May 18, 2012 | 4 Comments »
I’ve been a runner for probably 7 or 8 years now, but it wasn’t until this past January that I finally started ‘barefoot running‘. The funny thing is that I still wear shoes when I run, but I’ll get into that later…. The story starts about a year ago with the purchase of a new pair of same-shoe-new-model Nikes that trashed my knees and ankles and spiraled me into not being able to run, gaining a few pounds, struggling to keep up my capoeira game, and dealing with the thought that I’m just going to have to face the fact that I’m getting old.
Luckily my mid-term memory is better than my short-term memory, and I kept thinking about the book I’d read over Christmas break in 2009: Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super Athletes, and the Greatest Race the World has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall.
Hype generally turns me off (and there is certainly a lot of hype right now around barefoot running), but this book touched all the right nerves: anthropology, natural fitness, shifting paradigms, sticking it to the man, history and culture, a great story, good writing, running, and being barefoot. It finally hit me, after 6 months of joint pain, that I could blame everything on those damn Nike shoes and start over.
Meanwhile, 2 of my brothers had also read Born to Run. My youngest brother has always been a slender, healthy runner. My middle brother is tall, super muscular and has perpetually complained that his bad joints prevent him from running. Without even knowing it, the three of us were on the same barefoot running track.
My middle brother and I spent last Fall obsessively sharing information about barefoot running on Facebook, dropping articles and videos and instructions back and forth. My youngest brother would chime in now and then, though he was already easily doing double-digit mile runs in the San Francisco hills.
Finally while I was visiting my middle brother in New York in December, he and I decided we’d both get serious, invest in some official barefoot running shoes, and (re)train ourselves to run.
‘Barefoot running shoes’ (oxymoron much?)
This is where I explain that most people who ‘run barefoot’ actually wear some kind of ‘barefoot running shoe’. Normally this means Vibram Five Fingers, which look like a wet suit glove for your feet; huarache sandals (apparently the ‘next big thing in barefoot running’); or some kind of minimalist shoe, as in the photo below.
All this footwear is designed to be as minimal as possible while still protecting your feet from concrete or glass or whatever you might find on the ground while running. Part of the logic behind barefoot running is that the overdone structure in most running shoes weakens the muscles in your feet and calves (kind of like putting your foot into a plaster cast). Regular running shoes also encourage you to land hard on your heel rather than gently on your forefoot, causing all kinds of knee, ankle, back and hip stress and injury. Running with proper form (see graphic below) reduces shock to the joints and allows you to put less stress on your body. It is one of the main reasons that people learn to ‘barefoot run‘.
A Wired Science article (To Run Better, Start by Ditching your Nikes) by Dylan Tweeny notes “strong evidence shows that thickly cushioned running shoes have done nothing to prevent injury in the 30-odd years since Nike founder Bill Bowerman invented them, researchers say. Some smaller, earlier studies suggest that running in shoes may increase the risk of ankle sprains, plantar fasciitis and other injuries. Runners who wear cheap running shoes have fewer injuries than those wearing expensive trainers. Meanwhile, injuries plague 20 to 80 percent of regular runners every year.” (Unfortunately, now the shoe industry is going to make a killing out of making those cheap shoes really expensive…)
(Ditching the Nikes – The new model of Nikes that I mention in the first paragraph were Nike Frees. I had been wearing Nike Frees for a long time, but the new model had a slightly different design and more spongy cushioning than the old model, and this turned out to be a bad thing for my ankles and knees.)
According to a 1997 study in Sports Medicine (Hazard of deceptive advertising of athletic footwear), “Athletic footwear are associated with frequent injury that are thought to result from repetitive impact. No scientific data suggest they protect well. Expensive athletic shoes are deceptively advertised to safeguard well through “cushioning impact”, yet account for 123% greater injury frequency than the cheapest ones.”
A team at Harvard is dedicated to “comparing habitually barefoot runners with runners who normally run in modern running shoes with built-up heels, stiff soles and arch support”. Their research notes that “barefoot runners experience a shock of only 0.5 to 0.7 times their body weight, whereas shod heel strikers experience 1.5 to two times their body weight–a threefold to fourfold difference.” (Unfortunately much of the ‘barefoot running’ research is funded by shoe companies like SOLE and Vibram, so I like reading around and finding testimonies by real people who aren’t trying to sell me shoes, too.)
Social fitness and apps
So anyway, my brother got the funny looking Vibram shoes and I went for the less obnoxious-looking ones (in the photo above). As of January 1, we started re-training ourselves to run with a proper ‘barefoot stride’ for short distances on the treadmill. We’d regularly text, message and email each other about our progress. By March it was warmer and we both got to running outside. Whenever I am in NYC, we plan our days around long runs together over the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges.
My eldest brother who lives in Los Angeles had also started running (though we’ve yet to evangelize him to go barefoot). He and my middle brother started using the Nike+GPS app to track their routes, distance and pace. I started seeing all kinds of comments on their pages from friends and fellow runners, barefoot and not.
I resisted the Nike app for a number of reasons but eventually caved. Once I started using it, I joined the group of motivators and found myself motivated too. I was more aware of my pace because the app was notifying me each half mile how fast I was running. I’d always run a slow and easy pace of 10 minutes per mile over a maximum of 5 miles and had no real interest in picking it up or pushing myself. I still can’t totally keep up with my brothers and their friends in terms of pace, but I’m now running more hills and I’ve shaved 48 seconds off my mile average in the past month since I installed the app.
On top of running better and longer and faster, I wanted to ditch those few extra pounds that had accumulated from my months of not running. So in early January, I downloaded a free app called “Lose It,” which allows you to research and track everything you eat and to plug in calories burned through exercise. It helped me pay better attention to what I was eating, make healthier and more natural food choices, and ensure that I was not eating more than I was burning off through exercise. My daughter downloaded it too, and it’s been a helpful neutral tracking tool for us to motivate each other. Being lighter is helping me to run more gently, and it’s also meant my speed and agility in capoeira have picked up. Not to mention, my knees and ankles feel great (knock on wood).
The barefoot running obsession is not only mine and my brother’s. My son was with us at the shoe store in December and hinted around that he needed a new pair of running shoes. My brother told him that if he read Born to Run, he’d give him $50 towards a pair of Vibrams. Deal complete, my son got his shoes in March, worked on his barefoot stride a bit, and is off and ‘running barefoot’ as well. Via Facebook I discovered a few other friends are into it, including a college roommate I hadn’t seen in 4 years and a fellow development worker, Weh Yeoh, who does barefoot running training in Phnom Penh and has even done a “Nerd Night” talk on it. (Check out Weh’s awesome other project here). Below is his video on how to run with proper ‘barefoot’ stride.
I’ve never been someone who needs to have the latest shoes or apps or gadgets. But since January, this perfect storm of information, communication and technology (books, videos, articles, blog posts, social networking, improved shoes and a couple of mobile apps) along with self-motivation and the encouragement of family and friends, has allowed me hit my sweet spot and reach my health, fitness, running and capoeira goals.
For some really interesting research, reasoning and background on barefoot running, check out this 2009 post by fellow anthropologist and capoeirista (check out his book) Greg Downey - Neuroanthropology: Lose your Shoes: Is barefoot running better?
Posted in development, disaster and emergencies, economic empowerment, random, musing or confusing, wait... what?, tagged cash, conditional, hand out, sponsorship, transfer on November 21, 2011 | 8 Comments »
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 state‟s 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 Sen‟s 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?
Posted in development, economic empowerment, ICT4D, ICTs, mobile and technology, m4D, politics, random, musing or confusing, wait... what?, tagged ICT, ICT4$, ICT4D, ICTD, term on November 16, 2011 | 9 Comments »
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 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 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’.”
(@hapee) Hapee 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!
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
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?”
“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.”
The number of international aid and development blogs has expanded rapidly in the past few years, and the number of people reading them has also grown. But aside from retweets, comments, and ’hits’ to our blog sites, those of us who blog about aid and development really haven’t got a very good idea of who reads our blogs, what interests our readers, if our posts have any kind of impact, and what our readers do with the information they find on our blogs (if anything!).
To get a sense of that, several aid and development bloggers have joined together to do a small survey of our readers to see what we could find out.
I’d be quite pleased if you, dear reader, would take 5 minutes to take the survey (click here). All responses are anonymous.
If you also have an aid or development focused blog, please share the link on your blog too.
Thanks very much!
Why yes, thank you very much, I would like to review that book…. My snark glands start working in anticipation.
Book arrives in the mail and I open to the preface where I read that Stefan Templeton, the troubled and risk-loving misfit hero of the story, has an innocent bright-eyed son and a good, virtuous, hard-working wife in the kitchen. Neither his son nor his wife knows about his sordid past. He risks his family’s well-being to be “a recurring presence in the aftermath of some of the last decade’s worst man-made and natural disasters”. He’s now heading to “the genocide-ravaged Horn of Africa…. On this mission, as on all the others, he would receive no payment.”
OK, so this will be a story about one of those self-made, selfless martyr, I-have-seen-the-light types who wakes up one day and feels compelled to give up everything to save the world. And there will be fighting too!
We learn that the author David Matthews and Stefan, the hero, grew up together off and on in a hard-knock area of Baltimore, MD. That they are both ‘mixed’ race and that Stefan loves fighting and telling elaborate, hard-to-believe stories. Matthews’ re-encounter with Stefan starts off something like this:
“You taking all this stuff? I yelled to him in the bedroom…
…What’s this? I pointed at the black square.
I removed the device. A block of plastic the size of a primordial cell phone.
He shook his head. It’s a Taser, knucklehead.
Jesus, I said, Get pretty rough out there saving babies?
Stormy clambered into the room, midway through his drawing. What’s a Taser, Poppa?
A Taser makes bad people jump, Stormy-bear. Stormy held up his drawing. I could make out some red and black stick people with what looked like blue arrows raining down on them.
That’s amaaazing, Stefan said.
It’s the African children when you put water on them, Poppa.”
Jesus. I thought. Get pretty rough out there writing good dialog?
Regardless, I continue. The book starts to flow a little better as the story takes off.
I read that Stefan’s parents are from very different cultures — his father: a rigid African-American martial artist from a well-educated family in a rough Baltimore neighborhood, permanently affected by a stint in Vietnam; his mother: a Danish flower child from a wealthy family that runs a new-age spiritual healing school where people do primal screaming and other types of psycho-spiritual curing.
Early in the book, the author sets Stefan up as a pure-hearted good guy with bad luck, a poor hero who gets screwed time and time again by the system. His father’s hard-fighting rigidity combined with his mother’s heal-the-poor hippie sensibilities are lived out through Stefan who gets himself into one tricky situation after another, but only because he is compelled to perpetually defend the defenseless, to be a man.
His weakness for women is made clear early on, as is the idea that women are weak. (Almost all the women we run into in this book are extremely hot, in need of Stefan’s protection, and willing to drop anything to get with our hero.)
It’s Chapter 3 where Stefan has his “incredible hulk” breaking point transformation. A trained fighter who continually turns the other cheek, he is pushed to fight back when a couple of local thugs try to steal his house keys. He pulverizes them both and the defining moment emerges: “This was neither good, nor bad. Right, nor wrong. It was just.”
Yep, and you won’t like him when he’s angry. Superhero moment complete.
Soon after, Stefan has his first sexual experience while living in a castle in Europe belonging to his mother’s side of the family. Unsurprisingly, it’s with a sexy older woman and Stefan is quite well-endowed: “Ach… zu gross… (oh so big)….” the woman exclaims. “Your mother would kill me.”
Throughout the rest of the book, the system continues making things difficult for Stefan. He tries and tries to make something of himself and his innate superior intellect, physical perfection and sexual prowess but time and time again he’s let down or has to fall back on his unstoppable fighting techniques and knack for straightforward, ethical crime, or he’s simply forced to put himself at risk to save someone at the wrong time or place. Poor guy, he’s just trying to help and it just never works out.
So what better place for him to end up than helping poor people in Africa, Asia or Latin America? By the end of the book, he has blundered his way into humanitarian aid work, yet again, the system has no place for him and he must go at it in selfless, renegade, superhero style, saving the poor because the locals need him and the humanitarians can’t get it right.
Matthew’s writing was entertaining enough to keep me reading throughout, but the marketers’ promise was more than what the book could live up to. But I expected that. “The story of a boy from Baltimore who evolves from a safe-cracking, jewel-heisting, deep-sea diving, ultimate-fighting, international playboy into a globetrotting humanitarian” is a bit much to swallow without a grain of salt.
Kicking Ass and Saving Souls is very much a man’s book. I felt throughout that the author was imagining the story embellished a bit further and on the big screen, and judging by the public’s hunger for violent, misfit heroes and feel-good stories about helpless poor people, I wouldn’t be surprised to see it there one day.
As for me though, I’ve had quite too much of the Sean Penn style of humanitarian work to be excited. I’m wary of erratic amateur do-gooders. Not to mention I have some pretty major concerns about Sam “the Machine Gun Preacher” Childers‘ and Peter “Advisor to Michelle Bachman (and hero of this hilariously scary film)” Waldron style forays into South Sudan and Uganda and such. So I’m the wrong audience for this kind of book.
I’m sure Stefan means well, and certainly Matthews is impressed with him. But I think Stefan is more the kind of guy you would enjoy running into at a bar overseas and trading crazy stories with and leaving it at that. You’d probably go home wondering how much of his shtick was bullshit (while he went home with one of the new volunteers or the local female bartender). And you’d probably have some real concerns about his modus operandi if any of his stories were true.
But the book didn’t really grab me. I’m tired of shoot-em-up-punch-em-up humanitarian aid heroes. They take energy away from the real issues and the real people, local and non-local, who are doing the work that has long-term impact. And they can actually cause real problems, no matter how good their stories seem and how helpful they think they are being.
Thanks to the author and TLC Book Tours for sending me a copy of the book to review.
About David Matthews
David Matthews is the author of the 2007 memoir Ace of Spades, which was selected as an Editor’s Choice pick by The New York Times. Matthews’s work has also appeared in Salon, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and The Autobiographer’s Handbook: The 826 National Guide to Writing Your Memoir. He lives in Manhattan, but can’t wait to move back to Brooklyn.
In May 2008, I started a ‘secondment.’ I was loaned out from Plan’s US office to Plan’s West Africa Office for a year to work on the Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media (YETAM) project, which at that point was funded by Nokia via Plan Finland.
My ‘social media guru’ friend DK and my colleague Lisa suggested I start blogging. So in June 2008, I wrote my first post on Wait… What? Reading it is a good reminder of how much you can learn over 3 years, even when you think you already know something. That first year of posts is kind of embarrassing, but in a way I’m glad they are there as they make for a good baseline when assessing my own personal and professional growth since then.
In December, 2008, my colleague Mika Valitalo (from Plan Finland) and I organized a week-long ‘Social Media for Social Change’ workshop in Kenya. I had been reading White African’s blog and doing a lot of internet research alongside more direct work on YETAM in Senegal and Rwanda. Mika and I had been discussing Ushahidi, FrontlineSMS and Global Voices. So we decided to invite them to our workshop. I honestly assumed they wouldn’t bother responding as we were not doing much with ICT at that point. To our surprise, Erik Hersman, Ken Banks and Juliana Rotich all agreed to come. In addition, we invited Tonee Ndungu from Wazimba and Daudi Were from MentalAcrobatics. The meeting was a real eye opener and set the groundwork for much of what happened since with social media and ICTs at Plan.
After I went home from the meeting in Kenya, at the suggestion of Erik and Ken, I started a Twitter account. (I was so skeptical that I used a pseudonym). But from there things pretty much started happening. A whole world of learning, discussion, writing, commenting, partnerships, face-to-face meetings and new friendships with those working in development and in ICTs opened up. I got involved with the @smart_aid group and different m4D and ICT4D networks like ICT_Works, Mobile Active and most recently Africa Gathering and they have taught me so much.
A year turned into 2 and then 3. The focus of the secondment expanded to look at the use of social media and new technology in different aspects of our programs in Africa and I had the opportunity to be involved in some really interesting projects. It turned into ‘information and communication technology for development’ or ‘ICT4D’ in general, and to helping develop a strategy at the global level for strengthening our work both internally and with youth, communities, and local partners in these areas; mostly all documented here on this blog.
I was lucky to report directly to a boss (Stefanie Conrad) who was creative, flexible and supportive of new ideas and initiatives and who always asked ‘what obstacles are you facing? how can I help move them out of your way? what support do you need? how can I improve my support to you?’ I was also lucky to work closely with Mika, the point person from the donor side. Mika really knows his stuff, but he also knows that no matter how much he knows, he needs to learn from people on the ground, and he takes the time to visit, to stop, to listen and to be sure he understands. He’s aware that process is critical and that things take time. Not to mention he is just a cool guy all around.
I had the pleasure of working with some fantastic people from our different offices across Africa and the opportunity to meet many of the people who are moving and shaking the world of development and ICTs on the continent and beyond. There were challenges (there are always challenges) and I’ve been plagued with doubt about development and where it’s headed at times (as I think I will always be) but looking back, it’s been a life-changing 3 years and I’m sad to say that as of June 30, my secondment ended.
When I went on secondment for the first year, I knew that I was taking a risk and that Plan US would not hold a job for me to return to. I also knew that I probably wouldn’t want to return to my old job anyway because I really needed a change. As the secondment comes to a close, I know that taking the risk was worth it in every way.
Not only was it worth it, but Plan’s USA has welcomed me back into a new position as their Senior Advisor for ICT4D where I’ll have the chance to put the experiences and networks that I’ve been accumulating over the past 3 years to work in a new context. Plan US has probably changed as much as I have over the past 3 years so it’s an exciting time to be returning.
As for the job itself, the plan is that I’ll be building on the work I’ve been involved in over the past 3 years and will continue to support to some of the initiatives I’m currently involved in, but from the Plan US side rather than from the Plan West Africa side. I’ll spend about half of my time with the program and grant writing teams; a third of it supporting program-related communications and efforts to bring stories and voices directly from the youth we are working with to the US public through new media; and the remaining portion supporting research around youth and ICTs and helping put Plan’s global ICT4D strategy and capacity building plan into practice.
It will be fun to re-read this post in another three years and see how much I’ve learned by then, compare what the job description is now and what it may have morphed into, and whether my thinking today sounds horribly naive and out of date.
Thanks go out to everyone I’ve met (live or virtually) and had the opportunity to work with over the past 3 years; it’s been life altering.