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Youth learning to use GPS in Pitoa, Cameroon (photo: Ernest Kunbega)

Last Monday I attended Africa Gathering London. The topic was ‘Social Media Revolutionizing Africa: How is new media changing Africa, giving voices to the voiceless, improving governance and transparency, and changing narratives?’

The event stimulated thinking and brought up some hot discussions around technology, traditional and social media, aid and development, participation and governance. (Big congratulations to Marieme Jamme  for curating a great line up that brought in an interesting and engaged group of participants and to William Perrin of Indigo Trust for keeping things on track and generating good debate!) See the program, the speaker bios and some short video interviews.

Some quotes, thoughts and debates from the day:

  • If your purpose is to bring more people into discussions, remember that radio, Facebook, and Twitter audiences are distinct and be sure you are thinking differently about how to engage them all. Remember that many people in Africa prefer to talk not write.  (from BBC’s Africa Have Your Say – @bbcafricahys‘s presentation)
  • You can’t resolve all of Africa’s issues with one approach. The countries are very different and local context really matters. But you also can’t design something for every tiny demographic. Where is the sweet spot between localized and scale? (discussion after the morning workshop)
  • People should not sit in the UK deciding and develop things for Africans. Develop things with Africans, or support Africans to develop things themselves. This idea got retweeted a lot, with lots of agreement. But H Taylor – @HFTaylor88 also commented via Twitter that this rhetoric has been around for ages within NGOs…. (discussion after morning workshop)
  • It’s great that the market has been able to bring mobile phones to so many people in Africa, but the market can’t do it on its own as many are still left out. There needs to be more incentive to reach remote areas. There needs to be education, cash transfers, government regulation if we want to really realize the potential of mobiles. Mika Valitalo – @vatamik commented that in many African countries, mobiles are still taxed as luxury items, making them more expensive than they should be. (Clare Melamed -ODI – @claremelamed‘s “Is the Mobile Phone Revolution Really for Everyone”.)
  • Any big story today on CNN has a social media component, yet there is still the idea that social media only breaks news and ‘it won’t make the history books until CNN or BBC report on it’. If CNN is not planning to do a story but sees everyone is talking about it on Facebook and Twitter, they will cover may rethink covering it. CNN finds good opinions and stories on social media, but their primary news source will continue to be their correspondents. Emrys Schoemaker – @emrys_s however questioned whether mass media use of citizen journalism is a broadening of voices or if it’s cheap content for big media – or both. (Faith Karimi/CNN/@faithCNN’s presentation and resulting discussions.)
  • Social media gives African youth an uncensored worldwide platform, letting them feel included in shaping Africa’s image, but the youth using social media in Africa are still the middle class and the rich. We need to find ways to include other youth. (Faith Karimi – @faithCNN’s presentation and resulting discussions.)
  • The Guardian’s Global Development Site and Poverty Matters blog are trying to get away from the vision of ‘poor Africa’ and have only been accused of ‘poverty porn’ once in 9 months (which Liz said irritated her to no end as they really try to avoid it). (I remember the case…) They stay away from the typical ‘flies in the eyes’ photos, but sometimes there really is starvation in Africa, and in those cases, a photo of a starving child might actually represent reality. (Someone countered that African newspapers should use photos of drunk, vomiting Brits to illustrate stories about parliament).  (Liz Ford/deputy editor/@lizford‘s talk and discussion)
  • Is the Guardian’s Global Development site one-sided, taking the view that aid is good rather than other ideas on how to best achieve development? Development is much larger than ‘aid’ and when talking about development we need to remember the bigger picture and the alternative views that maybe aid is not the best (or only) way to ‘do development’. The Guardian is quite open to new thoughts and ideas and invites anyone with ideas for blogs or stories to be in touch with them. They consider their site a ‘work in progress’. (Note: I like the Guardian’s site very much as it is one of the few media sources that discusses and seems to really promote and engage in the ‘#smartaid / @smart_aid‘ discussion). (Liz Ford’s talk and discussion)
  • Many African leaders, not to mention the public and the media, will listen when high level people call their attention to something, but problems can’t be solved by the same people who created them, especially if those people are considered morally bankrupt. Karen Attiah – @karennattiah  commented in from Twitter that a big part of development work should focus on rebuilding the broken social contract between governments and citizens in Africa. So how can we connect policy makers with ordinary Africans? How to bridge the gap between policy makers and grassroots approaches and implementation. (Panel with Alex Reid/@alreidy and Carolina Rodriguez /@caro_silborn – media heads at Gates Foundation and at Africa Progress Panel)
  • Not all sources are created equal – this is true for traditional and for social media. Social media is not about the technology, it’s about the human need to communicate. You can make traditional media more social also. Even those without access to social media will get around harsh barriers to tell their stories because of the urge to communicate. So the best thing is to create a social experience, not to worry so much about getting ‘jiggy’ with the technology. (from Kevin Anderson/@KevGlobal‘s presentation. See Putting the social in media.)
  • New technologies can impact on public debate, people’s political capabilities, citizen-state relations, relationships with other government actors. Frontline SMS Radio, for example, could be a very useful tool for this because radio is still the main way to communicate with the majority of Africa. Using Frontline SMS Radio, stations can sort through messages they get, understand them better, and use the information to orient their radio programs as well as other things. Radio can play a very strong and useful role in governance. (from Sharath Srinivasan/ @sharath_sri‘s presentation. See FrontlineSMS at Africa Gathering.)
  • Youth can have a big impact on community development if given space to influence. There is money (eg., in Cameroon, at local government level) but it needs to be better spent. Informed and involved youth can hold government accountable for spending it better. Local level advocacy has a greater impact on youths’ lives than global level initiatives because you can make as many laws as you like, but unless people are putting them into place and practice at a local level they don’t matter. Organizations should listen to young people but not make them dependent on NGOs because the real duty-bearers are family, community, government. NGOs need to be models of their own methodologies; eg., if an NGO is encouraging people to criticize the government, the NGO should be ready to receive the same scrutiny around its own work and behaviors. Social media can play a role in this process by showing what is happening at the local level to a global audience. (from my presentation and the resulting discussions. See Youth Empowerment through Technology, Arts and Media)
Julia Chandler (@juliac2) did a great round-up of the day’s presentations and discussions on her blog: Part 1 and Part 2. The Guardian continues the discussion here and of course the Africa Gathering website is a great place for more information.
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Update – more posts about Africa Gathering:
Great perspective from Tony Burkson – @tonyballu – who I really enjoyed talking with at the post-event drinks: A Day at Africa Gathering.

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I spent a few days in Nairobi early last week with our education and our ICT staff from Ghana, Uganda, Senegal, Mozambique, Kenya, Egypt and a few other folks, including the brilliant Mika Valitalo from our Finnish office and people from regional and headquarters levels. We were looking at goals and challenges in our education programs and thinking about where ICTs might play a role.

The process was really interesting. Starting a few months back, each country shared their education context analysis onto a wiki. In a second round they narrowed down to a specific area in education, looked at the information and communication flow and gaps, and identified areas where there might be an ICT solution. They focused mostly on mobiles, but in many cases mobiles were supported by computers, servers and laptops as well as non-digital information and communication tools and also solar technologies. Each country team met by Skype with Mika and an external consultant to discuss the concepts and get ICT advice and support. Then they updated their concepts and got additional feedback. For the third round, they added rich pictures to show what the specific ICT solutions might look like. Everyone had an opportunity to give input into everyone else’s ideas via the wiki.

At the meeting in Nairobi, we spent a day sharing the concepts with each other for clarification and focused input. Colleagues shared the broader education context in their countries and specifically in the communities where they are working. Then they illustrated the specific education issues and the ICT solutions that they were suggesting and/or the places they felt ICTs could help. Some of the ICT solutions focused on a very specific technology or device. Others showed how different types of ICTs could be integrated at different points in the process. Others required development of a totally new ‘solution’.

Some of the areas where colleagues thought ICTs could support education included: teacher training for those working in remote communities, adult literacy (especially literacy retention post literacy training), improving exam scores, livening up and improving in-class curriculum, and transparency and accountability in education. We spent 2 days then working in different small groups on the concepts, cross-pollinating ideas and deciding which of the concepts were most relevant to all 6 countries (in order to make it more possible to scale them) and which were most feasible and do-able.

The ideas were all a good fit with our global education strategy (see page 9) which focuses on service delivery (in partnership with local governments and communities); organizing and empowering rights holders; and grassroots participatory advocacy to influence education policies, financing and practice. The strategy prioritizes actions around equal access to education, quality of education, and education governance (see page 10).

Accountability and transparency in education

One of the concepts that captured the most interest from the whole group was that of using ICTs to improve accountability and transparency in education. Education is one of the areas where “Quiet Corruption” is often found. ‘Quiet corruption, which can take the form of absenteeism among teachers or doctors, the distribution of fake drugs, or the sale of diluted fertilizers to poor farmers, is having a damaging effect on people in Africa, according to the African Development Indicators report released by the World Bank….’ (March 18, 2010 article)

It's time for class.... where is the teacher to be found?

Edison, Charles and Erik, our colleagues from Uganda, did a short skit illustrating the different points in the primary education system where corruption happens. Their points correlated well with this summary of quiet corruption in education from a July 5, 2010 article in the Independent:

‘Early this year, the Transparency International (TI) Africa Education Watch Programme report: Africa Education Watch: good governance lessons for primary education showed that the government’s perception that massive enrollment is a sign of success of the UPE [universal primary education] programme must be revised to address the problem of overcrowding in classrooms, studying under trees, poor financial management, illegal fees, and lack of school inspection. The report exposes irritating embezzlement of UPE funds and abuse of authority by head-teachers who charge illegal fees, make students offer labour on teachers’ projects, sexual harassment, and systematic teacher absenteeism. The report noted that 85% of schools surveyed had either deficient accounting systems or none at all. In most cases, financial records were either unavailable or incomplete. The survey found limited financial documentation at district education offices and at schools. Most people who handle school grants had no training in basic finance management.

Another survey titled, The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda, conducted in 2007 by the Ministry of Education to determine efficiency in provision of education services found an average rate of teacher absenteeism of 27% in Uganda, compared to other countries like Zambia (17%), and Papa New Guinea (15%). The aggregate loss caused by this absenteeism constituted 19% which translates into Shs 53 billion out of the Shs276 billion of the Education ministry’s wage bill.

In a swift headcount at the beginning of this year, the Education ministry established that the number of pupils listed in primary school registers was 25% higher than those actually studying. Similarly, the report established that the number of students in lower secondary schools had been exaggerated by 12%. For instance at Amaji Primary School last year, the school register had 816 pupils. But when the headcount was conducted the school administration could not account for 302 pupils.

It is reported that many districts’ chief administrative officers have failed to show proper accountability for the UPE and USE funds.’

The Uganda team also explained that:

  • Parental interest in education is very low because since Universal Primary Education launched, parents feel it’s the government’s responsibility. Some youth we were working with in Kenya last year made a short film about poor performance in primary schools covering the same issue  (see below).
  • Teachers’ salaries are paid directly to their bank accounts, and there is no way to punish them if they don’t show up.
  • There are mechanisms to ensure that donor funds go from the national level to the district level and then on to the school, but no accountability mechanisms to ensure that they get from the school to the classroom and are translated into quality education for children.
  • District level government authority and accountability ends when they transfer funds to the schools; school directors can report to them that they have received funding and that everything is going fine when it’s really not.
  • Local school committees are often made up of people who are not neutral and who do not have the best interest of the children in mind. In some cases, school committee positions are used for personal gain and to launch individual political careers and political campaigns.
  • Lack of parental and community involvement in the education process and in school governance means that no one is demanding accountability from teachers and schools.
  • Sexual and physical violence in schools is very common and underreported. When it is reported, often nothing is done about it.
(Start playing the video, then click the small ‘cc’ button to turn on captions in English)

Colleagues from the other countries face the same challenges in their work and in their own children’s education.

Can ICTs play a role?

What is the solution then? Colleagues suggest that motivating parents and the community to get more involved in school governance and demanding transparency and accountability can begin to change the situation. This obviously requires a lot more than ICTs. So several different actions would be taken to engage and motivate parents and the community to take a bigger role in their children’s education. Then ICTs can be integrated into and support the process for sharing education information with parents, such as student absenteeism, grades, parent-school meetings, exam dates and scores, etc. Parents and students would also be able to report when teachers do not show up or suspected corruption. Students could also report abusive teachers, absent teachers, and other issues they are not happy with at the school. A neutral party would manage and hold the information that flows in and out to protect students from reprisal and to protect teachers from any abuse of the system in case fraudulent or incorrect information is reported. Commitment from those responsible for overseeing education to respond to the issues raised and take serious action is also needed, and this may be the biggest challenge overall. Plan can play a role there, leveraging existing relationships with local and national governments and Ministries.

The idea needs quite a bit of further work, a closer look at feasibility, and more research and input from local communities and parents. As mentioned, the ICTs are actually a small, but potentially very important, part of a much larger initiative to get parents and communities involved in school governance to demand transparent, accountable and quality education and budget spending.

Challenges in the process

Some of the challenges that we had to manage well during this initial piece of the longer process included:

  • We needed to ensure that we were starting with the context and the need for better information and communications, not starting with the technology and devices and building initiatives around them. Yet we also had to avoid getting lost in the overall context and missing the opportunity to pinpoint potential ICT solutions at specific places within the context. Role play and flip chart illustrations of the  ‘problem’ and the ‘solutions’ were very useful for getting more concrete (“So, Kofi is here in his community and he wants to …. So he uses xxx to do this, and then this happens and then….).
  • Though we wanted to specifically look at places that mobiles and other ICTs could support, it was important to list out all the factors that needed to be in place in order for the ICTs to work and to think clearly about the constraints we might face during implementation. One good question to help with that was, after seeing an idea or ICT solution presented, to ask “What needs to be in place in order for that to happen?” Then you start to remember critical things like community motivation, government interest to actually resolve a problem, electricity, someone to set up and manage a server, a strong enough network to download multimedia content, mobile versions of websites, educational content re-design for mobiles, teacher training on how to integrate ICTs in the classroom, limitations of SMS for doing something other than rote learning, higher versions of a mobile operating system, a smart phone, etc.
  • We had input from a potential corporate partner during the process. We learned that corporations are thinking several years ahead to what will be coming down the line; however non-profit are normally working within existing constraints and trying to find solutions that work here and now in the resource poor places where we work or ways to get around those constraints. Multi-level solutions seemed to be a good possibility; eg., ideas that can rely on SMS today, but have potential to expand as networks expand and data enabled mobiles become more available.
  • A corporation tends to think in terms of vendors, results, timelines, launch dates, price points, return on investment whereas a non-profit (at least ours) tends to think in terms of community members, organizations, process, participation, local context. Our facilitator even told us that a corporation normally does a presentation by starting with the solution, and then spending the rest of the presentation showing why that is the right solution. A non-profit usually starts a presentation by sharing all the context and background, and showing the process that led to eventually reaching the potential solution, including every step along the way, how ownership was achieved in the process, why different decisions were made and who participated in them. So keeping corporate vs non-profit cultures and languages in mind is also important when working on joint initiatives.
  • We need to remember to establish measurable indicators of success so that we can tell if this new type of intervention has a different/ better/ greater / lesser impact than carrying out a similar process without ICTs or with a different set of ICTs. This is something we will address once the full idea is developed. Impact measurement is very important to both corporate partners and development organizations.
  • This was the first time many were involved a process of this kind, so keeping the balance between technology and development goals was a constant challenge. We sometimes veered too far towards focusing on all the details of the context and then back to focusing too much on that piece of the context where a potential technology solution was seen. I think we were moving toward a pretty healthy mix of both. The process is nowhere near complete, and as we continue to work on the ideas and look at feasibility and actual implementation, we should find the sweet spot.
The work above was guided by Plan Finland’s recent publication ICT Enabled Development – Using ICT strategically to support Plan’s work.  On the whole, it was a great learning process for everyone involved, and we came up with some good ideas that we will flesh out in the coming months. Having the opportunity to patiently and carefully think through areas and ways that ICTs can support program goals around education and discussing the ideas at length with colleagues was a capacity strengthening exercise for all involved and will mean that we will be more prone in general to thinking about incorporating ICTs in our work going forward.

Resources

ICT-Enabled Development

Plan’s Education Strategy 2010-2013

African Development Indicators Report by the World Bank

Africa Education Watch: Good Governance Lessons for Primary Education by Transparency International

The Efficiency of Public Education in Uganda by the World Bank

Learn without Fear Report on School Violence by Plan. Summary and Full Report (also available in French and Spanish).

Painful lessons: the politics of preventing sexual violence and bullying at school by the Overseas Development Institute

Expel violence! A systematic review of interventions to prevent corporal punishment, sexual violence and bullying in schools by the International Observatory on Violence in Schools

School violence in OECD countries by Karen Moore, Nicola Jones and Emma Broadbent

Update: Owen Barder published an interesting post called Development 3.0 – is social accountability the answer, which refers to social accountability in education in Uganda and links to 2 other quite interesting papers: Fighting corruption to improve schooling: evidence from a newspaper campaign in Uganda; and a 2007 paper by the Center for Global Development challenging the findings of that paper: Putting the Power of Transparency in Context: Information’s Role in Reducing Corruption in Uganda’s Education Sector

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I spent the past week in New York City attending the UN Digital Media Lounge and Mobile Active’s mWomen Technology Salon. These 2 events happened alongside the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) Summit and the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), where world leaders, corporations, movie stars/rock stars, innovators, and heads of big development organizations gather. There was a lot of talk about Technology and Innovation, Women and Girls, and Public-Private Partnerships, and, well, a lot of talk in general according to some, but I am not going to go there. Saundra put together a great compilation of MDG and CGI and UN Week posts over at Good Intents where you can read all about it.

My learning highlights for the week were in the area of m4D (mobiles for development) and ICT4D (information and communications technology for development):

  • World Bank Open Data. The Bank is really moving towards opening up their data. They currently have over 2000 websites and they are trying to consolidate them and make it easier for users to access the World Bank’s Data for their own purposes. The Bank has put more than 1,200 indicators, including the full World Development Indicators dataset, on the site. In addition, there are a variety of maps, dynamic graphs where you can compare data sets, and widgets for you to add information to your own website. Check the World Bank Open Data site for more.
  • UN Global Pulse. Over at Global Pulse the team is looking at existing indicators from UN agencies and others and trying to figure out how they can tap into human behavior patterns for early detection of crisis and as a way of quickly investigating and responding to such crises. In this age of real-time information, it’s somewhat bizarre that large development organizations are working based on extrapolations of data that are 2-3 years old.  Global Pulse hopes to change that by identifying and tracking a series of pulse points, such as satellite data, mobile phone and SMS trends, internet and search word trends, increase and decrease of doctor visits and medication sales, and other human behaviors; that can serve as early warning system for crises. Think Flu Trends but pulling in all kinds of data at the global level.  The UN plans to use their own data and the data of others, as well as “data exhaust” from a variety of sources to come up with a new way to predict, mitigate and manage global crises, such as the current food-fuel-finance crisis, and their impact on communities.
  • Civil Society 2.0 Initiative. The US State Department’s Civil Society 2.0 Initiative is working to address the chasm between what NGOs and local organizations need and what the tech community can provide. The idea is to bring the two sectors together and bridge the gap between them. The initiative would work to identify the local needs and local context, and then help with tools to meet the needs using the available technologies. They are also building toolkits for organizations on how to blog, set up SMS systems, and other common social media activities. The aim is to improve disaster response efforts by balancing between communication and ethical standards, operating procedures, alert systems, and technical capabilities and working in advance of disaster and emergencies so that civil society groups are prepared.
  • GSMA. I’m not sure where I’ve been hiding but I hadn’t heard about GSM Association before. GSMA represents the interests of the worldwide mobile operators. They have around 800 members from 219 countries. GSMA engages in policy debate with governments and regulators and advises mobile operators on ways to move their core business forward. GSMA has done a lot of research on women and how to market sales of mobile phones to women, especially in those countries where women are lagging behind in mobile phone ownership. They were part of the Women and Mobile: a Global Opportunity study.  GSMA is working with mobile operators on mobile banking in some 147 countries, which I find a bit mind-boggling, since I hadn’t heard of them before!
  • Pesinet. For just about $1/month, Pesinet provides families in Mali with a micro-insurance service. Healthcare agents visit the homes of children enrolled in the program to  check height and weight and for any signs of illness. If illness is detected, they arrange for a visit to a clinic. Pesinet covers half the price of medication if needed. Using the Pesinet mobile application, the healthcare agents record information about the patient and send it to a central data base at the clinic. By using mobiles and encouraging preventative healthcare, Pesinet is reaching more children and improving healthcare.
  • Souktel.  In developing countries, finding a job can be extremely difficult, and job boards are not prevalent. Using simple SMS, Souktel has created the JobMatch application which allows a person to create a mini-CV which is uploaded into a data base. Employers can also send out job notices which people can receive by text message, in order to connect to those jobs that match their skills.
  • Priyanka Matanhelia’s research on mobiles in Mumbai and Kanpur, India showed that young people in both the cities used cell phones for a variety of communication, news and entertainment needs. They used cell phones to negotiate independence from parents and to maintain friendships and create friendships with members of opposite sex. The young people in the two cities used mobiles differently due to the differences in their lifestyles and socio-cultural factors, however there were only a few gender differences in the use of cell phones.

I also had the opportunity to present some of the work that I’m involved in. You can see the live stream of the ICT4D, Innovations and the MDGs panel on Mashable TV, or check out my Ignite talk from Mobile Active’s mWomen event (download the power point if you want to see the notes). You can also download the new Because I am a Girl 2010 Report on Girls in a Changing Landscape: Digital and Urban Frontiers.

The best part of the week was meeting up with old friends, and tweeting up with people I have been conversing with for months, even years, on Twitter and through emails and blogs.  New York is like a real-life Twitter. There is always something happening, you meet brilliant, intelligent, creative and energized people from all fields and walks of life, and you learn and discuss and constantly broaden your horizons.

That 20 minute Friday afternoon nap in the sun at Sheep’s Meadow in Central Park wasn’t so bad either. I really do love New York….

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Because I am a Girl 2010

The urban and digital environments are the 21st century’s fastest-growing spheres. Both offer enormous potential for girls around the world, but prejudice and poverty exclude millions of girls from taking advantages of the transformative possibilities that cities and information and communication technologies (ICTs) can offer.  Exploitation and the threat of violence exist in both urban spaces and in cyberspace, especially for the most marginalized and vulnerable girls.

Since 2007, Plan has published annual reports on the state of the world’s girls. The 2010 ‘Because I am a Girl report’ is called Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape. It focuses on girls in these two rapidly expanding spaces: the urban and the digital.

The piece that I’m most interested is the segment on Girls and ICTs, since that’s the main area I currently work on. (Disclosure: I contributed to the development of the chapter). To give you a taste of what’s in the report, here’s a summary of Chapter 4: Adolescent girls and communications technologies – opportunity or exploitation. You can download the full report here.

Chapter 4’s introduction explains that online behaviors mimic offline behaviors.  Empowerment and abuse of girls reveals itself through technology as it does in other areas of girls’ lives.  Through girls own voices, expert opinion and original research, the report highlights the positive and negative consequences of ICTs, in particular mobile phones and the Internet. The authors talk about the positive ideas and new ways of thinking that ICTs open up for girls in terms of learning, networking, campaigning and personal development. They then discuss the darker side of technology  — how cyberspace makes it easier for sexual predators to operate with impunity, where girls are prime targets for abuse, and where girls are sometimes perpetrators themselves.

Section Two offers girl-related statistics on the digital revolution and the digital divide and highlights the enormous variation between and within countries in terms of digital access, and the gaps between rich and poor, male and female, urban and rural.  The report cautions that excluding girls from the digital revolution will have consequences on their growth and development. For additional global ICT statistics (1998-2009) see this post at ICT4D blog. Another resource on mobiles and women is the Cherie Blair study.

Section Three describes and provides statistics around 7 important reasons that ICTs are important to adolescent girls:

  1. To keep in touch with others and reduce isolation in countries where this is an issue
  2. To further their education and acquire new skills
  3. To take an active part in their communities and countries
  4. In order to have the skills to find work
  5. To build specific skills and knowledge on subjects they might otherwise not know about, such as HIV and AIDS
  6. Because evidence has shown that learning to use these technologies can build self-esteem
  7. In order to keep safe

Section Four goes in depth around ways that adolescent girls compete with adolescent boys for the most use of communications technologies such as mobiles and the Internet, but that often they are using them for different reasons and different purposes. Most of the available research for this chapter is from the ‘North’, yet the studies indicate that girls tend to use ICTs for communication and boys tend toward a focus on the technology itself. Studies on this from the ‘South’ are unavailable to date.

When girls are treated as real partners....

Section Five discusses the barriers that keep adolescent girls from accessing ICTs. In other words, if the importance of ICTs has been established, girls are willing and able and keen to use ICTs, then what prevents them from having equal access to ICTs? Some of the issues that the chapter discusses are those of power and control.

‘I can immediately call the wholesale market to inquire about prices and place direct orders. I am now recognized as a businesswoman, growing and selling sesame seeds, not just as somebody’s wife or sister,’ said a woman in India.

‘You’re a girl – a mobile can cause many problems, and so you don’t need it,’ said the father of a Palestinian girl.

Girls’ access to technology is limited by their societies, communities and families. In patriarchal societies where men control technology, girls and women simply have less access, because ICT’s confer power on the user. Even in educational settings, a study found that boys tend to hog available ICTs. Teachers have distinct expectations from boys vs. girls. Girls also don’t tend to go into the field of ICTs or want to have ICT careers, since the field is typically a male field. ‘Technology appears to be marketed by men for men. It’s time we started switching bright and talented girls on to science and technology,’ comments a British government official.

Women and girls in developing countries however are not receiving the basic education and training that they need to be ready technology adopters. They are seen as users and receivers of technology, not as innovators involved in technology design and development. Once they are computer literate, however, many young women see the computer industry as a route to independence. The report offers statistics on the numbers of young women in countries like South Africa, India, Malaysia and Brazil who are working in the ICT related industries and professions.

What stops girls from using technology?

There are seven key factors that prevent girls from taking advantage of technology:

  1. Discrimination – girls are still viewed as second-class citizens in many societies.
  2. Numbers – boys both outnumber girls and tend to dominate access to computers.
  3. Confidence – because they don’t have equal access at school, girls may be less confident than boys when it comes to going into IT jobs because they don’t feel they have the same skills and knowledge as the young men competing for the jobs.
  4. Language – in order to use these technologies, English is usually a requirement, and for girls with only basic literacy in their own language, this is a major barrier.
  5. Time – girls’ domestic roles, even at a young age, mean they have less free time than boys to explore and experiment with new technologies.
  6. Money – girls are less likely than their brothers to have the financial resources to pay for, say, a mobile phone and its running costs, or access to the web in an internet café.
  7. Freedom – boys are also more likely to be allowed to use internet cafés because parents are concerned about their daughters going out on their own.

Section Six digs into the dark side of cyberspace and the risks that adolescent are exposed to at a time of their lives when they are beginning to develop sexually. One in 5 women report having been sexually abused before the age of 15, according to the authors. The Internet by and large is simply a new medium for old kinds of bad behavior, however; and new technologies simply extend the possibility of abuse to new arenas. Girls who are not even using the Internet are still vulnerable, given that a photo of them can be taken and posted by someone else even if they have no computer access. Cyberbullying and cyberharrassment are other risks that girls face.

Many young people and youth organizations are active in facing these risks and protecting themselves, and various campaigns exist to help adolescent girls be more aware of how to protect themselves while using ICTs. New technology can itself also be a tool to help with counter-trafficking efforts. The chapter outlines some of the different efforts being made to protect girls online, and emphasizes the role of parents and schools in discussing on-line use and being supportive as girls begin exploring cyberspace.

There is a quite broad set of recommendations for a wide array of actors at the end of Chapter 4 that could be taken up, contextualized and fleshed out by different parties or stakeholders into specific calls to action:

Brazilian girls in a digital world. As an annex to Chapter 4 on ICTs, new research with 49 boys and 44 girls, aged 10-14 examines adolescent girls’ rights and protection in Brazil within the context of ICTs. ICT use is growing exponentially in Brazil, particularly among 15-17 year olds, where between 2005 and 2008, ICT usage went from 33.7 to 62.9 percent. The study covers use pattern, links between on-line and off-line behavior, and on-line safety.

Conclusions. The report concludes by calling for greater knowledge about ICT-related sexual exploitation and violence against girls, more emphasis on prevention and stronger international standards. It also points out that girls need to be empowered to use new communications technologies safely, on their own terms, and in ways that promote their development and build their futures.

Call to action for September 22: As part of the launch of the Because I am a Girl Report, Plan is calling for International Day of the Girl to be established on September 22. You can sign the petition here.

Resources

Download the full report here: Digital and Urban Frontiers: Girls in a Changing Landscape

Download the Girl’s Cohort Study: Real Choices, Real Lives. Plan researchers follow 142 girls lives over a 9-year period.

Download past Because I am a Girl Reports (since 2007)

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I have a daughter. She was born at home with a traditional midwife in a poor barrio in San Salvador. Her father had a 9th grade education when we got married. She had severe diarrhea at least 3 times as a baby and we worried that she might not make it. My mother-in-law took her to a traditional healer because the doctors didn’t seem to be getting it right. She had pneumonia twice as a baby, probably due to allergies, air pollution and the chickens my mother-in-law kept in the small house. She had dengue once. The water didn’t always run and people stored water in open barrels, so there were a lot of mosquitoes.

Luckily her father returned to school to finish his education. Luckily her mother and her mother’s mother were well educated. Luckily both of her parents worked, so there was enough money to feed and clothe her. Luckily we had a bit of savings that we invested in a small cement block house. Luckily we lived in a city, near a primary school. Luckily we were able to get a telephone installed around the time she was born. Luckily our barrio had electricity and we could afford to pay for it. Luckily we believed that she was just as worthy as her brother. Luckily today she is alive and thriving and in school, with a myriad of possibilities ahead of her.

Girls all over the world should be so lucky.

I’m reading the ‘Real Choices, Real Lives‘ cohort study that Plan just put out as part of the annual Because I am a Girl report (which launches Sept 22). It tells the stories of 142 girls in 9 countries (Brazil, El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Benin, Togo, Uganda, Cambodia, Philippines and Vietnam) that researchers have been following since they were born. The girls will all turn 5 this year, except for the 5  girls whose lives have already been claimed by preventable diseases. 7 of the girls have dropped out of the study due to family migration or other reasons.

As powerful world leaders gather in New York this week to discuss accelerating progress towards the Millennium Development Goals, this report is a sobering and intimate reminder of the real inequalities girls, especially the poorest girls, face, and the struggles their family go through to keep them alive and help them to thrive.  The cohort study tells us that primary school enrollment rates in Sub Saharan Africa are up from 58% in 1990 to 76% in 2008, but in the poorest 20% of households, 39% of girls don’t attend school. The cohort study shows us, through the stories of the 130 girls who are still part of the cohort group, the very real impact on very real lives that failure to reach the MDGs has. The reality is that the poorest girls do not have what they need to survive, develop and participate fully.

What will happen this week in New York to change that?

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Coming from the viewpoint that accountability and transparency, citizen engagement and public debate are critical for good development, I posted yesterday on 5 ways that ICTs can support the MDGs. I got to thinking I would be remiss not to also post something on ways that ICTs (information and communication technologies) and poor or questionable use of ICTs and social media can hinder development.

It’s not really the fault of the technology. ICTs are tools, and the real issues lie behind the tools — they lie with people who create, market and use the tools. People cannot be separated from cultures and societies and power and money and politics. And those are the things that tend to hinder development, not really the ICTs themselves. However the combination of human tendencies and the possibilities ICTs and social media offer can can sometimes lead us down a shaky path to development or actually cause harm to the people that we are working with.

When do I start getting nervous about ICTs and social media for social good?

1) When the hype wins out over the real benefits of the technology. Sometimes the very idea of a cool and innovative technology wins out over an actual and realistic analysis of its impact and success. Here I pose the cases of the so-called Iran Twitter Revolution and One Laptop per Child (and I’ll throw in Play Pumps for good measure, though it’s not an ICT project, it’s an acknowledged hype and failure case). There are certainly other excellent examples. So many examples in fact that there are events called Fail Faires being organized to discuss these failures openly and learn how to avoid them in the future.

2) When it’s about the technology, not the information and communications needs.  When you hear someone say “We want to do an mHealth project” or “We need to have a Facebook page” or “We have a donor who wants to give us a bunch of mobile phones–do you know of something we can do with them?” you can be pretty sure that you have things backwards and are going to run into trouble down the road, wasting resources and energy on programs that are resting on weak foundations. Again, we can cite the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) initiative, where you have a tool, but the context for using it isn’t there (connectivity, power, teacher training and content). There is debate whether OLPC was a total failure or whether it paved the way for netbooks, cheap computers and other technologies that we use today. I’ll still say that the grand plan of OLPC:  a low-cost laptop for every child leading to development advances; had issues from the start because it was technology led.

3) When technology is designed from afar and parachuted in. If you don’t regularly involve people who will use your new technology, in the context where you’re planning for it to be used, you’re probably going to find yourself in a bind. True for ICTs and for a lot of other types of innovations out there. There’s a great conversation on Humanitarian Design vs. Design Imperialism that says it all. ICTs are no different. Designing information and communication systems in one place and imposing them on people in another place can hinder their uptake and/or waste time and money that could be spent in other ways that would better contribute to achieving development goals.

4) When the technology is part of a larger hidden agenda. I came across two very thought-provoking posts this week: one on the US Government’s Internet Freedom agenda and another from youth activists in the Middle East and North Africa region who criticize foundations and other donors for censoring their work when it doesn’t comply with US foreign policy messages. Clearly there are hidden political agendas at work which can derail the use of ICTs for human rights work and build mistrust instead of democracy. Another example of a potential hidden agenda is donation of proprietary hardware and software by large technology companies to NGOs and NGO consortia in order to lock in business (for example mHealth or eHealth) and prevent free and open source tools from being used, and which end up being costly to maintain, upgrade and license in the long-term.

5) When tech innovations put people and lives at risk. I’d encourage you to read this story about Haystack, a software hyped as a way to circumvent government censorship of social media tools that activists use to organize. After the US government fast-tracked it for use in Iran, huge security holes were found that could put activists in great danger. In our desire to see things as cool, cutting edge, and perhaps to be seen as cool and cutting edge ourselves, those of us suggesting and promoting ICTs for reporting human rights abuses or in other sensitive areas of work can cause more harm than we might imagine. It’s dangerous to push new technologies that haven’t been properly piloted and evaluated. It’s very easy to get caught up in coolness and forget the nuts and bolts and the time it takes to develop and test something new.

6) When technologists and humanitarians work in silos. A clear example of this might be the Crisis Camps that sprung up immediately after the Haiti Earthquakes in 2010. The outpouring of good will was phenomenal, and there were some positive results. The tech community got together to see how to help, which is a good thing. However the communication between the tech community and those working on the ground was not always conducive to developing tech solutions that were actually helpful. Here is an interesting overview by Ethan Zuckerman of some of the challenges the Crisis Commons faced. I remember attending a Crisis Camp and feeling confused about why one guy was building an iPhone application for local communities to gather data. Cool application for sure, but from what people I knew on the ground were saying, most people in local communities in Haiti don’t have iPhones. With better coordination among the sectors, people could put their talents and expertise to real use rather than busy work that makes them feel good.

7) When short attention spans give rise to vigilante development interventions. Because most of us in the West no longer have a full attention span (self included here), we want bite sized bits of information. But the reality of development is complicated, complex and deep. Social media has been heralded as a way to engage donors, supporters and youth; as a way to get people to help and to care. However the story being told has not gotten any deeper or more realistic in most cases than the 30 second television commercials or LiveAid concerts that shaped perceptions of the developing world 25 years ago. The myth of the simple story and simple solution propagates perhaps even further because of how quickly the message spreads. This gives rise to public perception that aid organizations are just giant bureaucracies (kind of true) and that a simple person with a simple idea could just go in and fix things without so much hullabaloo (not the case most of the time). The quick fix culture, supported and enhanced by social media, can be detrimental to the public’s patience with development, giving rise to apathy or what I might call vigilante development interventions — whereby people in the West (cough, cough, Sean Penn) parachute into a developing country or disaster scene to take development into their own hands because they can’t understand why it’s not happening as fast as the media tells them it should.

8 ) When DIY disregards proven practice. In line with the above, there are serious concerns in the aid and development community about the ‘amateurization’ of humanitarian and development work. The Internet allows people to link and communicate globally very easily. Anyone can throw up a website or a Facebook page and start a non-profit that way, regardless of their understanding of the local dynamics or good development practices built through years of experience in this line of work. Many see criticism from development workers as a form of elitism rather than a call for caution when messing around in other people’s lives or trying to do work that you may not be prepared for or have enough understanding about. The greater awareness and desire to use ‘social media for social good’ may be a positive thing, but it may also lead to good intentions gone awry and again, a waste of time and resources for people in communities, or even harm. There’s probably no better example of this phenomenon than #1millionshirts, originally promoted by Mashable, and really a terrible idea. See Good Intents for discussion around this phenomenon and tools to help donors educate themselves.

9) When the goal is not development but brand building through social media. Cause campaigns have been all the rage for the past several years. They are seen as a way for for-profit companies and non-profits to join together for the greater good. Social media and new ICTs have helped this along by making cause campaigns cheap and easy to do. However many ‘social media for social good’ efforts are simply bad development and can end up actually doing ‘social harm’. Perhaps a main reason for some of the bad ideas is that most social media cause campaigns are not actually designed to do social good. As Mashable says, through this type of campaign, ‘small businesses can gain exposure without breaking the bank, and large companies can reach millions of consumers in a matter of hours.’ When ‘social good’ goals are secondary to the ‘exposure for my brand’ goals, I really question the benefits and contribution to development.

10) When new media increases voyeurism, sensationalism or risk. In their rush to be the most innovative or hard-hitting in the competition for scarce donor dollars, organizations sometimes expose communities to child protection risks or come up with cutesy or edgy social media ideas that invade and interrupt people’s lives; for example, ideas like putting a live web camera in a community so that donors can log on 24/7 and see what’s happening in a ‘real live community.’ (This reminds me a bit of the Procrastination Pit’s 8 Cutest and Weirdest Live Animal Cams). Or when opportunities for donors to chat with people in communities become gimmicks and interrupt people in communities from their daily lives and work. Even professional journalists sometimes engage in questionable new media practices that can endanger their sources or trivialize their stories. With the Internet, stories stick around a lot longer and travel a lot farther and reach their fingers back to where they started a lot more easily than they used to. Here I will suggest two cases: Nick Kristof’s naming and fully identifying a 9-year-old victim of rape in the DRC and @MacClelland’s ‘live tweeting’ for Mother Jones of a rape survivor’s visit to the doctor in Haiti.

Update: Feb 22, 2011 – adding a 10a!

10a) When new media and new technologies put human rights activists at risk of identification and persecution. New privacy and anonymity issues are coming up due to the increasing ubiquity of video for human rights documenting. This was clearly seen in the February 2011 uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and elsewhere.  From Sam Gregory’s excellent piece on privacy and anonymity in the digital age: “In the case of video (or photos), a largely unaddressed question arises. What about the rights to anonymity and privacy for those people who appear, intentionally or not, in visual recordings originating in sites of individual or mass human rights violations? Consider the persecution later faced by bystanders and people who stepped in to film or assist Neda Agha-Soltan as she lay dying during the election protests in Iran in 2009. People in video can be identified by old-fashioned investigative techniques, by crowd-sourcing (as with the Iran example noted above…) or by face detection/recognition software. The latter is now even built into consumer products like the Facebook Photos, thus exposing activists using Facebook to a layer of risk largely beyond their control.”

11) When ICTs and new media turn activism to slacktivism. Quoting from Evgeny Morozov, “slacktivism” is the ideal type of activism for a lazy generation: why bother with sit-ins and the risk of arrest, police brutality, or torture if one can be as loud campaigning in the virtual space? Given the media’s fixation on all things digital — from blogging to social networking to Twitter — every click of your mouse is almost guaranteed to receive immediate media attention, as long as it’s geared towards the noble causes. That media attention doesn’t always translate into campaign effectiveness is only of secondary importance.” Nuff said.

I’ll leave you with this kick-ass Le Tigre Video: Get off the Internet.… knowing full well that I’m probably the first one who needs to take that advice.

‘It feels so 80s… or early 90s…  to be political… where are my friends? GET OFF THE INTERNET, I’ll meet you in the streets….’


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Continuing on with the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) related posts…. I’ll be on a panel on Sept 21st talking about how ICTs can contribute to the MDGs. My perspective is less from a top down, big business, giant project point of view. In my work, I look at ICTs (Information and Communication Technologies) as tools that children and young people can use to create and access information and to advance their own agendas locally and beyond, and ICTs as tools that organizations (big and small, local or not) can incorporate into their work to improve their efforts to attain development goals (such as the MDGs).

ICTs can be helpful tools for enhancing accountability, transparency, citizen engagement, public debate, participation and local ownership of the development process — all of which help with achievement of the MDGs. (See my post on MDGs through a child rights lens for more reasons why). ICTs and social media can also help organizations do more efficient, effective, engaging and high quality work.

ICTs are not silver bullets or magical elements, however; and they will not solve anything on their own. They need to be well-integrated into programs, and well-contextualized.

One framework I especially like to use for thinking about how organizations can integrate ICTs into their work comes from Hannah Beardon. Hannah suggests that ICTs can be integrated directly, strategically and indirectly:

Directly (Providing Access to ICTs): Mobiles and other ICTs have an immediate and striking impact at the family and community level, connecting people for personal, business and community reasons. Mobile devices save individuals time and money and are indispensable in emergencies and for connecting people to the larger world, such as for remittances and commodity pricing. Mobiles and ICTs can help people access information, improve their education, maintain social networks, participate in governance and community, and generate income.

Providing equipment directly is one way to think about ICTs in development programs. This includes ICT tools such as computers, mobile phones, video cameras, digital cameras, radio equipment, electricity, and Internet access. Often direct ICT support is considered for education programs and efforts focused primarily on ICT training or media projects. Computer centers and classrooms are an example, as is supplying mobile phones to project participants or GPS units for mapping projects or equipment for health programs. If this equipment and the information it collects are managed at the community or local organization level, it can enable people to assess and respond to local development needs in a powerful way.

The availability of ICTs is obviously a pre-cursor to using them in different programs and projects. However I’m not much in favor of development organizations coming in and giving away mobile phones (unless it’s some type of extreme emergency or crisis, I suppose). I’m also wary of external NGOs setting up computer centers or giving large equipment donations because of sustainability and capacity concerns. Care needs to be taken that a non-profit organization is not assuming the role that local businesses or government institutions should be playing. Working in good partnerships with local and national government institutions and local businesses and keeping clear agreements on the roles of all actors, including the community, can help to reduce these risks and make programs more sustainable. Programs that directly provide equipment also need to think carefully about what other elements are required for success (purpose of the equipment, training to use it, ongoing maintenance and repair, electricity/power, a place to keep the equipment safe, local involvement in defining the type of equipment, etc). (See 10 Worst Practices in ICTs in Education).

In thinking about providing direct access to ICTs, one place for NGOs to focus energies is keeping an eye on government ICT policies and plans and strengthening civil society to pressure government to ensure that ICTs (including Internet) are accessible to the population now that more and more information is shared via ICTs. Article 17 in the Convention on the Rights of the Child outlines children’s right to information, including access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of a child’s social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. States Parties are obliged to (a) Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit of article 29; (b) Encourage international cooperation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources; (c) Encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books; (d) Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous; (e) Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions of articles 13 and 18. The 2005 World Summit on the Information Society’s Tunis Agenda also provides a useful platform for thinking about advocacy around rights to information and ICTs.

Making a film on birth registration, Cameroon

Strategically (Using ICTs as tools to support development processes): Beyond directly providing ICTs, new technologies can be used in a myriad of ways to support the broader development process. Starting from larger program goals, defining the roles that information and communication play, looking closely at the local context, and then researching existing tools that could be supportive is a good way to start when planning concrete initiatives. (Forthcoming is a second publication by Hannah outlining a good process for local contextualizing and ICT integration into specific programs). If there are no existing tools, a case can be made for developing or building onto a tool or an application.

Mobile phones, as tools for effective and timely dissemination of information, have real potential to strengthen the design and delivery of programs, for example in health, education, household economic security, disaster risk reduction and response, emergency and crisis management, HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment, child protection, youth-led advocacy, and water and sanitation. ICTs should be an integral part of local, country-level and broader strategic planning processes and they should be incorporated, where appropriate and relevant, into programs where they can add value, keeping a close eye during monitoring and evaluation on whether their purported benefits are real.

On-going capacity building and exchange at various levels is critical to help program staff become aware of advances in the field of ICTs and to help ICT advisors better understand programs, staff needs and community realities. Conversations across sector and silo boundaries are also critical to ensure that ICT integration is successful. ‘Bridge figures’ are helpful — those persons with good knowledge of both programs and ICTs — to help these processes along. In the absence of someone to serve as a bridge figure, well-structured teams with expertise in both areas should work closely together to take advantage of their specific expertise and to learn from one another.  ICT tools should be selected based on local needs and contexts as well as program priorities, starting with information and communication needs, rather than starting with new ‘breakthrough’ technologies. (Though other sectors often start with the cool technology and see if/how it can be useful). During strategic planning processes, program staff should be analyzing program information and communication needs and working with ICT staff to incorporate technology that may add value and help reach program goals in a higher quality and more effective way. Again, ‘bridge figures’ can be helpful in that process. Monitoring and evaluation are important along the way to check whether adding ICTs is actually helping. Sometimes things work perfectly fine without new ICTs.

Indirectly (Using ICTs to improve efficiency and communication within the organization): The wealth of knowledge and information that a development organization generates and uses needs to be documented, shared and communicated effectively in order to improve impact. Advances in knowledge management and on-line collaboration, including blogs, wikis and other social media tools and feedback mechanisms can bring immediate access to information and real-time discussion. Lower cost technology, notably in the areas of digital mapping, GPS, mobile mapping, mobile internet can help staff to carry out their daily work and improve information sharing and decision-making across departments and to engage and inform the public. Engagement with donors can also be heightened through ICT tools and social media, always taking into consideration the additional burden 24/7 demands can add to staff’s workload, and the child protection and other risks posed by more direct access to communities.

ICTs and social media can help make aid and development organizations more participatory, more agile, and able to pull in information from variety of sources and process it faster. This in turn can help pull people out of their silos and force them to consider new ideas and ways of working and thinking about challenges. Mobiles especially are helpful for better communication with community members and local organizations. Forward thinking organizations should be taking advantage of these new tools to gather direct feedback from those that they are supporting, for better dialog to improve their work, and for devolving helpful information to community members. Mobile data collection, for example, in addition to being a strategic tool for program implementation, can also be a way of improving the quality of data collection and increasing ownership by community members of their own data which support them to take back management of their own development processes from external agents. Mobiles are also a great tool for gathering data quickly from a broad subset of the population; data which can shape rapid responses and emergency interventions.

Twitter and blogging and other web-based services can serve as a springboard for deeper discussions and coordination among different development actors, government agents, institutions and the private sector. Social media is a way to share and discuss lessons learned and challenges faced, and to diffuse information about new ICTs and how they are being used by different agencies and individuals. Global partnerships can easily be initiated, developed and nurtured on-line. Organizations can provide on-line training opportunities to staff and save time and money by using new technologies such as forums, blogs for sharing and reporting, Skype and chat tools, and social networking. These same tools can be used to improve relationships with donors and with partners and staff working in disperse offices. However, in order for any of the above to happen, command and control practices that are common in large institutions and organizations need to be abolished so the tools can be most useful.  Here is an excellent post on use of social media tools in humanitarian work.

3-fold path

Using those three categories to think about ICT integration in an organization’s work can help clarify and strategize. Some initiatives may include all three categories and some may be more focused on one particular category.

In a follow-up post, I’ll share some examples of tools that I find interesting and helpful for organizations working at the grassroots level to achieve broader programmatic goals and to improve local community participation and ownership of the development process.

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