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Archive for the ‘economic empowerment’ Category

Our June 20 Salon in New York City tackled the topic of digital jobs for African youth. Lead discussants were Lauren Dawes, who leads the GSMA’s Mobiles for Employment team, and Lillian Chege from the Rockefeller Foundation’s Digital Jobs Africa program. The GSMA will release a study on Mobiles for Work in July, and Rockefeller has recently announced a 7-year, multi-million dollar commitment to creating digital jobs in six African countries.

The wealth of experience in the room led to lively discussions and debates around roles and responsibilities in this area. The stagnant global economy is a major underlying problem when it comes to youth employment, and jobs cannot be created out of thin air. Salon participants shared how they are trying to work around this by identifying areas with potential for youth, preparing youth for these opportunities, and seeking to match youth skills with private sector demand. Alternatively, some Salon participants focus on helping youth enter into different forms of entrepreneurship.

What do youth want?

When surveyed for a previous GSMA study on Mobile Learning, young people indicated more interest in using mobile devices for finding a job than for learning math or English. Most youth prioritized work skills to get jobs. So the GSMA conducted a second study (forthcoming) with youth in Spain, Ghana, Indonesia and Bangladesh to identify where mobile devices could help with youth employment. The study’s preliminary findings indicate that youth want support for learning and training; finding a job (connecting to employers, knowing what to say to them, understanding the process of getting a job); and obtaining skills and capital to start their own businesses. Surveyed youth identified interest in manufacturing, catering, teaching, and the ICT and mobile sectors, including sales, selling mobile phones and mobile accessories, and jobs in the mobile industry.

Do youth have a sense of what is possible?

Listening to youth is very valuable, but some Salon participants felt that youth might only be aware of what they see around them. How can we help youth discover new areas and expand their horizons, they asked. Might there be jobs and possibilities that youth are well suited for but do not know about? The fall back position of “start my own business” is another example of what  youth see around them in poor economies where there are no formal jobs. Youth’s ideas will likely be very experience-based. One Salon participant told of an innovation contest, where youth in Kenya submitted new and creative ideas, whereas those from some other countries submitted ideas that closely mirrored NGO programs commonly seen in their communities. Stimulating youth to think bigger and exposing them to new opportunities and ideas is an important part of youth development and youth employment programs.

Soft skills for formal jobs

As the GSMA study noted, a big challenge for youth is understanding the job seeking process and gaining the skills needed to find a job, communicate with employers, and then keep a job. Many youth do not know how to manage an interview, or how to retain connections. Placing someone who has never experienced a formal setting into a formal job, even at an entry-level, creates a whole set of issues. In some cases these may be more basic, like personal hygiene, arriving to work on time, or simply knowing how to navigate a formal work environment. New kinds of hierarchies may need to be learned. For example, in some contexts males have never had to work with or report to females. On top of these situations, there may be additional, deeper challenges. In one employment program, a Salon participant noted, 8 of the 10 girls recruited were survivors of rape. Once youth land a job, an entire family is relying on them and their income, and this generates a great deal of stress. The traditional education system does a very poor job of helping youth gain soft skills, As one participate noted, it still aims to prepare youth for an industrial economy yet today’s world requires completely different skills to succeed.

Skills for entrepreneurship

The state of the economy is such that many youth will not find formal employment and are considering starting their own businesses. In the GSMA study, youth identified a desire for capital and support in this area. A Salon participant outlined 3 kinds of entrepreneurship: high impact/high growth (Silicon valley style); lifestyle entrepreneurship (small and medium enterprises, family businesses); survival entrepreneurship (low-skilled, informal businesses). Each of these is quite different, and adequate risk analysis and targeted support and skills training need to be developed for each according to the context. Most youth in developing countries will not work in Silicon Valley. They will instead need to develop skills for lifestyle and survival entrepreneurship. Soft skills as well as technical know-how are critical for entrepreneurship, and many investments are unsuccessful because these skills are not strong among youth. Generational gaps also make it difficult for older people to mentor younger people, because things are moving from print to digital and relationships are also changing. Innovation hubs are aiming to fill this gap and provide youth with a relevant space to learn the hard and soft skills required for high impact, high growth entrepreneurship in the tech sector.

What about young women?

It was noted that most of the existing innovation hubs are very male-focused. For example, only 16% of the iHub Nairobi’s users are female. More needs to be done to bring women into these spaces, yet it can be challenging in many contexts where girls do not complete secondary school. Female role models and mentors are scarce in these new fields and in leadership positions within companies. Mentorship is key for young women, who tend to doubt themselves, to be apologetic about their ideas, and who are often shy about speaking up. Some organizations are using Skype, Google hangouts, Facebook, and Twitter chats to reach and mentor young women. Girls from poorer communities, however, may not have access to these programs and may not see themselves and their personal experiences reflected in female role models from the upper classes. In addition, though mentoring is high touch and very powerful, in its current form it is time-consuming and not feasible for reaching everyone who needs it. The challenge is offering these kinds of support at scale.

The employment ecosystem

Some participants noted that creating one job at a large company can stimulate additional, related jobs (e.g., cleaners, nannies and cooks who serve employees at lunchtime). Others felt that the trickle-down effect is overestimated. An entire ecosystem conducive to youth employment is needed. This is not a simple thing to create, and it takes quite a long time. The role of government in creating the infrastructure for jobs and a digital economy cannot be underestimated. One participant pointed out that both “bottom up” development of the labor market and “top down” development of labor infrastructure and capital are needed. This will vary from country to country, and research should be conducted to understand the right entry points for each context. All these sectors need to work together to match the economic context, the demand, and the supply sides. The private sector cannot create jobs on its own, as one discussant commented. Jobs are created because of consumer demand and need. The private sector can, however, get better at identifying which jobs are on the horizon, and it can work with education, training, and non-profit partners to ensure that youth are prepared for these jobs.

Comprehensive programs are needed

When we train youth for non-existent jobs, we create expectations, said one Salon participant, citing an ILO study that reported 40% of job programs had negative impacts on youth. In addition, programs cannot only look at one side of the issue. Youth employment programs should not be just hard skills, just soft skills, or just mentorship. Rather they need to be comprehensive. The issue of supply-demand balance is rampant across development programs, noted another participant. We train women to go to a clinic, and they go, but there is no midwife. The need for a holistic perspective is something that has been learned the hard way, and this learning needs to transfer into youth employment programs. Impact sourcing is a newer concept where socially responsible businesses are encouraged to hire youth from less privileged communities for lower end jobs, for example, at call centers. The Rockefeller Foundation is working in partnership with the private sector and institutes such as Digital Divide Data to train and place youth in these types of jobs and will expand to sectors outside of the business process outsourcing (BPO) field in their new Digital Jobs Africa program. In some cases, 100% of participating youth have been placed into formal economy jobs. The program is also looking at other high growth sectors (such as agriculture, manufacturing, and the hospitality industry) where digital jobs are growing. The Foundation collaborates with governments to support creation of an enabling environment that will allow these efforts to achieve scale.

Scale and speed are imperative

While scale is one factor, time is the other, according to one participant. Hubs and ground-up entrepreneurship can move the ball down the field, but this will take time. A grand and widespread effort is needed. In part, this can be boosted by identifying and building on existing infrastructure. Libraries can serve as information hubs for job seekers, financial literacy, digital spaces and places to find support for job training and seeking. Telecenters are also playing a role in helping youth access information and build digital and life skills. More needs to be done with schools as well. The need is too great not to scale, said one discussant, it’s imperative! We need to unlock existing funding within government as well. Governments can  be a source of demand, as they also have digital needs and digital jobs. In Kenya, for example, the government is digitalizing the records for the country’s largest hospital, and this is work that youth are doing. As new hospitals are built in rural areas, now they will have access to patient records across the health system. Similar efforts can be found and youth can be trained for these kinds of jobs.

What about rural youth?

While the possibilities are exciting, much of the work is anchored in urban and semi-urban areas, including the digital jobs programs and the innovation hubs. Participants asked whether it is possible to extend services out to rural areas to cast a wider net. The latest “big thing” was also brought up – can Google’s new wifi balloons solve some of the issue with connectivity, and will that be enough to bring some of these benefits to rural populations?

Thanks to our great lead discussants, Lauren and Lillian, and to Melissa Beuoy at FHI-360’s New York City office for graciously hosting us and providing a fantastic breakfast spread!

Don’t miss our July 10 Salon on the realities of ICT access for youth in Indonesia, Sweden, Sierra Leone and Uganda. We’ll be joined by 6 youth who are visiting New York City for a UN Take Over to support girls’ education, in honor of of Malala Yousafzai.

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Salons are in-person only events held in Washington DC, New York, San Francisco, Nairobi and London. We hold to Chatham House Rule, thus no attribution has been made in the above summary post.

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Verone Mankou of VMK with Senam Beheton of EtriLabs, who organized Verone's US trip.

Verone Mankou of VMK with Senam Beheton of EtriLabs, who organized Verone’s US trip.

We switched things up a little for our May 21 Technology Salon and had an evening event with Verone Mankou, the head of VMK, a company in Congo Brazzaville that designs and produces the Way-C Tablet and the Elikia smart phone. The event was graciously hosted by ThoughtWorks, and Verone’s US trip was organized by Senam Beheton of EtriLabs.

Verone told his story of starting the first African company to make mobile devices. In 2006, he said, the cheapest computer in Congo cost $1000 USD, and the cheapest Internet package was priced around $1000 per month. Verone worked in the tech industry and wondered why there was no computer or Internet that could be reasonably accessed by people in Congo. Everyone laughed and said he was young, fresh out of school, and that within 2 years he would understand the business and stop dreaming.

Verone persisted with his idea that computers and the Internet were not just for people in offices with suits. Everyone wanted to access Internet, he believed, but they just didn’t have the money. So in 2006, he started working on ideas for a laptop. After 6 months he concluded that it was impossible. To create a laptop you need a lot of money for research and development, and, unfortunately, his bank account only contained about $100 USD. He had no contacts with suppliers. Verone had a big dream but problems executing it, so he put the laptop project on hold.

In June 2007, a friend told him to hurry up and turn on the news. Steve Jobs was presenting the iPhone. “This is what I want to do,” Verone thought. “Make a big iPhone.” He felt keyboards were a deterrent for most people who were new to a computer, and that “a big iPhone” would be a solution. He started working on the idea of a tablet. It was difficult to find any suppliers on the African continent – no CPU factory, no battery factory. He could not find hardware engineers because in Congo there is no engineering high school. He realized he needed to go outside, to Asia. He made a first trip to China in 2007 and learned many things. By 2009 he had a plan, an Android system, and a finished project.

The next problem, however, was that he had no money for mass production. “In Congo we don’t have venture capitalists. Also as a youth, you cannot get any money. You will have a bad experience if you go to the bank to ask. People will tell you to start a hotel and not to waste your money on something different.” Verone did not go quiet when he could not find capital, however. He kept looking.

Meanwhile, Steve Jobs presented a new device: a big iPhone – otherwise known as the iPad. Verone was disappointed that Jobs had moved more quickly than he could with his tablet launch. On the other hand, everyone suddenly understood Verone’s project.

His miracle came a few months later when a minister from Congo was on a plane from Brazzaville to Singapore and came across a magazine article talking about a boy in Congo making a tablet. The minister could not believe someone in his country was doing this and he did not know about it. He contacted Verone and asked how he could help. Verone asked for $200k USD and gave the minister a prototype. Within 2 hours, the minister secured the funding and Verone was able to begin manufacturing.

He had enough funds to do a mass prototype of 1000 tablets and imagined that he could sell them in 3 months if they were marketed well. There was a buzz around the tablets, however, and they sold out in 1 week and he increased production to 10,000. Compared to the cost of an iPad in Congo (around $1500), Verone’s tablet was going for $200-300. He set his sights on making a good quality, low-cost smart phone.

Good quality is key for Verone. “Why do Samsung and Nokia come to Africa and think Africans need cheap, low quality devices?” As an African, Verone felt uniquely placed to create something for the continent – something cheap but good quality. He did this by eliminating unnecessary features and keeping only the necessary elements.

Next he needed to ensure that there was good content and an opportunity for monetization. Africans needed applications and content for their own purposes and context, he felt. Not maps of pharmacies in New York City. However most Africans do not have credit cards, so another way to pay for content and applications was needed. VMK created a marketplace for Africans that used scratch cards for payment, since everyone understands how scratch cards work.

VMK launched their smart phone in December of last year and  plans to sell 50K units in Congo Brazzaville. The company is also working on a cheaper phone with lower capacity that should run about $50 USD. In addition, they are working on identifying content partners and launching an “updateable school book” that would be accessible also at around $50 USD, so that students and teachers are not using outdated text books, which stunt the development of African children’s minds.  Verone’s vision is to give people access to good quality technology at a good price.

How will VMK compete with Chinese products as prices continue to go down over the next 10 years? “We will learn fast,” Verone says. “We will not sit while others advance.” He believes that expanding to African countries and developing the industry there will be good for the continent, good for developers and good for business. It’s not yet possible to do mass production in Africa because of poor education and lack of / high cost of Internet. People still cannot easily access relevant and updated information. But Internet is getting cheaper, access is improving and things are changing. People are starting to understand the importance of education. VMK currently has teams working in China and India, but they hope to move these functions to Africa as soon as possible. VMK plans to train staff up, offer internships and to get African youth skilled up in order to do this work.

The important thing is not to sit still, Verone says. “We can’t just keep waiting for things to change. We need to change them ourselves.”

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This week the mEducation Alliance* will host its second symposium, bringing together institutions and organizations that are interested in and/or supporting the use of mobile technologies in education.

The main theme for this year’s Symposium is partnership, and sessions fall into the following categories: public-private partnerships, mobiles for reading, mobiles for inclusive education and assistive technology, mobiles for education system strengthening, mobiles for youth workforce development, and mobiles for education in crisis and conflict settings.

One reason I’m excited about the Symposium is that I’ll be sharing preliminary findings and seeking input on some research around mobiles and youth workforce development (mYWD) that I’m working on for the mEducation Alliance. The research will culminate in a landscape review published around this time next year. The topic is timely considering the so-called ‘youth bulge’ in many countries, the huge numbers of young people (including those of all education levels) unable to find or create sustainable livelihoods, and the increasing ubiquity of mobile devices.

In general, youth workforce development programs seek to identify the skills and knowledge that specific industries need and to support youth to improve their education and develop the hard and soft skills required to work in those industries. Mobile technologies are being integrated in a number of ways in YWD; from mobile phone repair training to the use of ‘pico’ projectors for training to micro-tasking.

The mYWD landscape review will revolve around key questions such as: Which organizations are working on mYWD? How are mobile technologies currently being used in youth workforce development programming? Are there additional areas where they could be considered? What factors hinder or facilitate the use of mobile technologies in YWD programs and what are some of the challenges? Is there any evidence that mobile technology is having a positive or negative impact on youth workforce development? One important aspect of the study will be its consideration of the intersection of gender and mYWD from a few different angles, including how gender impacts access to mobile youth workforce development programs, how mobiles affect access to youth workforce development programs, and whether mYWD programs have a differential impact on young men and young women.

A working group will be formed to delve more deeply into the topic of mYWD. At the Symposium, we’ll be gathering initial input about what the working group’s priorities should be and what are the best channels and means to discuss topics and share mYWD-related learning. The working group will be open to a wide range of organizations and institutions interested in a more in-depth examination of mYWD.

In connection with the working group and the landscape review, five learning events will take place over the next several months on mYWD sub-themes. These will be documented for sharing and on-line discussion on the mEducation website. I’ll also be doing some key informant interviews and constant scanning of the literature and the field in general over the next several months. If you have something to share, please be in touch!

If you are attending the mEducation Symposium and you are interested in youth, mobile technologies, and workforce development, be sure to check out the mYWD track. (And don’t forget to RSVP for ICT4Drinks on Thursday evening!)

If you’re not attending the Symposium or are otherwise unable to attend the mYWD sessions, keep an eye out for the upcoming Learning Series events or contact Matt French (MFrench [at] jbsinternational [dot] com) or me (lindaraftree [at] gmail [dot] com) for information on the landscape review or to join the working group.

I’m still casting the net far and wide for information on mYWD, so any relevant information is most welcome!

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*The Mobiles for Education (mEducation) Alliance is an international collaborative effort between bilateral and multilateral donors, NGOs, foundations, private sector partners, academic researchers, and implementing organizations. Our collective agenda is to explore cutting‐edge intersections between mobile technologies, education and development, to reduce duplicative efforts, and promote collective knowledge‐sharing. The increasing ubiquity of mobile phones and coverage and the current and possible utilization of other mobile devices, including e‐Readers, tablet computers, flash memory, micro/ “pico” projectors, and audio/visual devices among other technologies, provide valuable opportunities for supporting quality education impact in developing countries.

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When working with women and girls in conflict or displacement situations (actually, when working with anyone, in any situation), we often make assumptions. In this case, the assumption is that “economic opportunities for women and adolescent girls have positive roll-on effects”, according to Mendy Marsh, UNICEF’s Gender Based Violence (GBV) Specialist in Emergencies.

Slide from Marsh’s presentation.

We assume that when women and older adolescent girls have income, they are safer. We assume that when households have income, children are more likely to be in school, that they are accessing healthcare, and that they are better fed, says Marsh.

But do we know whether that is true or not? What does the evidence say?

I took an hour today to listen to Marsh along with Dale Buscher, Senior Director for Programs at the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC), talk about WRC’s “Peril or Protection: Making Work Safe” Campaign (watch the recording here).

GBV happens in all communities, including stable ones. But when situations become unstable, Marsh noted, a number of additional factors combine to make women and adolescent girls in conflict or displacement settings vulnerable to violence.

Slide from Marsh’s presentation.

These factors include:

  • Inadequate legal frameworks –eg., impunity for those committing GBV and a lack of awareness of rights
  • Lack of basic survival needs  — eg., food, non-food items, fuel, water, safe shelter
  • Lack of opportunities – eg., women’s and girls’ financial dependence, potential for exploitative work
  • Sociocultural aspects – eg., harmful practices, domestic violence, early and forced marriage
  • Insecurity – eg., flight and displacement, no lighting, no safe shelter, non-separate latrines or hygiene facilities for men, women, boys and girls, or facilities that don’t lock or are insecure; dependency on males for information

Emphasis during conflict situations tends to focus on response not prevention, said Marsh. Different agencies and sectors often work in isolation, but no single agency or sector can address GBV. It needs to be addressed across all sectors with strong community participation, including that of men and boys.

Often, she noted, livelihoods programs are brought in as a response to women’s needs and based on the assumptions above. There can be unintended negative effects from these programs and we need to be aware of them so that they can be mitigated.

Following Marsh’s introduction, Busher explained that because WRC wanted to better understand any potential unintended consequences from livelihoods programs aimed at women in conflict or displacement situations, in 2009 they conducted research and produced “Peril or Protection: The Link between Livelihoods and Gender-Baed Violence in Displacement Settings.

There is a very weak evidence base in terms of the links between gender based violence and livelihoods programming, he said.

WRC found that in some cases livelihood programs implemented by NGOs actually increased women’s and adolescent girls’ risks of GBV because of factors such as their entering the public sphere, going to market, using unsafe transportation and domestic conflict. The economic opportunities heightened the risks that women and girls faced. Providing them with income generation opportunities did not necessarily make women and girls safer or give them more control over resources.

Slide from Buscher’s presentation.

The answer is not to stop creating economic opportunities, however. Rather it is to design and implement these kinds of programs in responsible ways that do no harm and that are based on in-depth consultations with women, girls and their communities, livelihoods practitioners and GBV specialists.

Based on their research and with input from different stakeholders, WRC designed a toolkit to help those creating livelihoods programs for and with women and adolescent girls to do so in a way that lessens the risk of GBV.

The process outlined in the toolkit includes secondary research, safety mapping, a safety tool, and a decision chart.

Based on the secondary research, practitioners work with adolescent girls, women and the wider community to map the places that are important for livelihoods, explained Buscher. For example, the bus, a taxi stand, a supply shop, the fields.

Community members discuss where women and girls are safe and where they are not. They describe the kinds of violence and abuse that girls and women experience in these different places.

They identify strategies for protection based on when GBV takes place in the different locations. For example, does it happen year-round? At certain times of year? Only at night? Only on weekends?

They identify and discuss the most risky situations. Is a girl or woman most at risk when she is selling by the side of the road? Alone in a shop?

They also discuss which relationships are the most prone to GBV. Bosses? Suppliers? Buyers? Intimate Partners? Together the women and girls share and discuss the strategies that they use to protect themselves.

An additional tool identifies the social safety net that a women or adolescent girl has, considering that social networks are important both for livelihoods as well as for protection. Ways to strengthen them are discussed.

Finally, a decision chart is created with a list of livelihood activities and the information from the previous charts and discussions to determine the levels of risk in the different kinds of livelihood activities and the potential strategies for mitigating GBV.

Decisions are also made by the adolescent girls and women regarding which risks they are willing to take for which levels of livelihoods.

Marsh and Buscher concluded that safe, dignified work may be the most effective form of protection because it can help mitigate negative coping strategies such as transactional sex, child labor, pulling children out of school, and selling rations.

Livelihoods, however, should not be thought of as a little bit of money to supplement daily rations. They should be sustainable and help meet basic needs in an ongoing way; and they should lead to dignified work. The amount earned and the risks involved for women and girls need to be worth it for them, considering all the other domestic chores that they are required to do. NGOs need to consult with and listen to girls and women to better understand their needs, coping strategies.

If you’d like to learn more about the research, and the toolkit, WRC offers a free e-learning tool on how to make work safe.

You can also follow the #safelivelihoods conversation on twitter.

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Original published on the Guardian’s Poverty Matters site as part of a series of year-end reflection pieces.

An Egyptian anti-government protester holds a flag in Cairo's Tahrir Square earlier this year. Photograph: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images

Waking one lazy Sunday morning and checking my Twitter feed, the first link I clicked on was a video of the Egyptian military beating unarmed protesters. The second was a series of Lego reconstructions of key moments in 2011, including the now-famous campus policeman pepper spraying unarmed student protesters in the face. It’s impossible to look back on 2011 without recalling the massive number of people who joined in worldwide protests to push for openness and inclusion – financial, political and social. No less memorable is the violence with which those protests were met.

As 2012 approaches, protesters across the world continue to occupy public spaces and fight for a voice in how things are run. They seek greater transparency, and new means of participating in social, financial and political life.

Many of 2011’s more horrifying and memorable images – captured on mobile phones, and generating global outrage and solidarity – involved systemic repression by the powers-that-be. Progress has been made in some countries, but sadly it’s not clear what the end result of the world’s uprisings will be.

Inclusion was not only a theme of large-scale world events, it was also key in aid and development. Organisations continued to push for adolescent girls’ inclusion in development initiatives and to emphasise that the most excluded and marginalised populations need to be reached in order to advance towards shared development objectives such as the millennium development goals. In June 2011, in a clear move forward on inclusion, the UN endorsed the rights of gay, lesbian and transgender people, yet the world still has a very long way to go.

Another central themein 2011 was openness. Whether it was the World Bank’s open data site, the Open Government Partnership (OGP), theInternational Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI), the Busan high level forum on aid effectiveness, the increase in “fail faires“, or grassroots initiatives pushing for more transparency – in aid and government funding as well as political decision making – “open” was everywhere.

As yet, however, the trend hasn’t reached quite far enough, and it would be good if it expanded in 2012 to encompass banks and other private sector entities. Hopefully, openness can help to advance inclusion and itself become more inclusive. All this amazing, open data needs to be re-used and it needs to connect back with people who might not be technology or data experts, have an internet connection or speak one of the major languages.

I hope 2012 sees greater effort to support communities and local organisations to access and use open data. I also hope there will be more effort to understand what information communities and local groups need to improve their own situations and exact more accountability and better governance from aid agencies, governments, service providers and the private sector.

Along with inclusion and openness, authenticity was a key concept in 2011. I enjoyed seeing critiques of simplistic media pieces about “the poor” and “the excluded”. Lakota youth, for instance, responded in a video to a Forbes [should be ABC] piece about poverty and hardship on reservations, emphasising: “We’re more than that.”. The Forbes piece, headlined “If I was a poor black kid“, caused a huge stir and response. One close reading of simplistic mainstream journalism called out the author for habitually ignoring the complex, systemic causes of poverty and exclusion.

I look forward to hearing more voices in these debates in 2012, continued questioning of simplistic messages, and more authentic reporting. New media can help previously excluded people tell their own, unspun stories and comment on simplistic reporting about them elsewhere. I hope aid and development agencies will increasingly support this, not as a gimmick or marketing ploy, but as a core element of their work and a way to better understand and share the issues and opinions of the people they aim to support through their programmes.

My wish for 2012 is that the world makes serious gains in reducing social, political and financial exclusion, in advancing participatory and accountable governance, and in achieving a better distribution of power and resources. Hopefully, aid and development organisations will continue to make progress in understanding what inclusion, openness, and authenticity in the global landscape mean for the kinds of programmes they fund and support.


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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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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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