One of the most important questions for me when I work on this ICT4D.at project or ICT4D in general is, if it is really true that ICTs have good effects on the social and economic situation in less and least developed countries.
In this context this post of Jack Ewing on Business Week delighted me, as it summarizes the results of 20 important studies on the topic and overall says that there is a positive impact on many people – links to the blog post and to the original report.
Of course, as the report was issued by the GSM Association it is in my opinion not totally unbiased, so I still wait for Ismael PeÃ±a-LÃ³pez’ PhD thesis, which has the connection of ICTs and economy on a wider base as a topic.
But still it’s good to hear that the assumptions of this whole ICT4D movement are not totally wrong.
This first photo is one Martin took in the internet cafe Klub Africo in Tanzania.
Some interesting conferences on ICT4D in the near future:
13.-15. October, 2008
A global event for people using mobile technology for social impact
Johannesburg, South Africa
11.-12. December 2008
1st International Conference on “M4D”: Mobile Communication Technology for Development
Karlstad University, Karlstad, Sweden
13. December 2008
First Annual Workshop – ICT and Global Development
19.-21. Devember 2008
ICT Africa 2008
The African Society of Information and Communications Technologies (ASICT)
17.-18. April 2009
3rd IEEE/ACM International Conference on Information and Communication Technologies and Development (ICTD2009)
Carnegie Mellon Doha, Qatar
18-19 April 2009
Unite For Sight 6th Annual Global Health & Development Conference
“Achieving Global Goals Through Innovation”
Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, USA
26.-28. May 2009
Assessing the Contribution of ICT to development Goals – International Federation for Information Processing
Dubai School of Government, VAE
There exists also a wiki page we try to keep updated.
Today Martin pointed me to an article about Brazil and digital inclusion and reading it I discovered that CNET News has some special coverage on computing in Latin America – “Las fronteras de la Informatica“.
So I found three articles on Brazil which I want to present and sum up here.
The article starts with introducing OldNet, a Brazilian initiative where college students teach elderly people how to use the computer and the internet.
It goes on with complaining about the lacking strategy of governments in their technology policy – often there are just bought big numbers of computers without taking into account training of users or maintaining.
“A computer won’t reduce the digital divide by itself,” (Gartner analyst Luis) Anavitarte said. “It’s a first step, but it’s not even the most important one in my mind.” [from here]
Then the efforts of Microsoft in that area are lined out. The plan of them is to start a economically sustainable chain of internet cafes, also to reach the remote areas. Therefore they teamed up with the NGO CDI which has already several telecentres running, even outside of Brazil (and even in Europe).
The article is about open-source software usage in Brazil. The government was one of the first do declare Linux as their preferred standard and in universities many projects run on open-source software.
Subsequently a local Brazilian project similar to the OLPC one is presented. It’s about creating Linux-based table top computers for students.
Finally a general manager of Microsoft is interviewed to talk about the challenges they face in Brazil
This article is more about the economy of Brazil. Whereas it is part of the influential block BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), it still faces big economical problems like huge gaps between the rich and the poor, high unemployment or a bad education system.
Anyway the IT market is very strong and a lot of multinational companies like IBM, Microsoft, Google, HP or Dell as well as own brand like Positivo perform quite well.
“As a PC sales market, Brazil is unquestionably strong–having passed countries like Germany to become the fifth-largest computer market in the world. It’s also a hub for banking technology and open-source software. At the same time, it is a place where abject poverty abounds, meaning that there are millions whose needs are much more basic than a new PC.” [from here]
I want to leave these articles uncommented, they should just give an overview what’s happening right now in the Worlds’ fifth largest country.
As I recently blogged about mobile stations run by solar power, Zwelenqaba ist very interesting for me as it follows a similar approach.
“The Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF) a U.S.-based NGO in conjunction with the South African company eKhaya ICT is implementing a solar school computer lab at the Zwelenqaba Senior Secondary School in Tafelahash in the former Transkei (South Africa) and much more [as you may read here]
The computer lab runs only on solar power and the equipment is funded by various sponsors. It was launched just in the beginning of August and subsequently the project ECSPRIT – setting up a sustainable training structure for the computer lab – has started.
Just this Sunday the first issue of the WE-magazine, a German DIY project inspired by founder Ulrike Reinhard appeared. It’s a magazine about the internet, how it changed the collaboration of communities and how it changed the overall understanding of “we”.
The articles cover a wide range of topics and all of them are worth reading ( – haven’t yet but I’m sure – there’s so many good reviews , but I want to introduce two of them which are closer related to ICT4D.
The first one is an interview with Ethan Zuckerman about his projects Global Voices Online and Digital Democracy. He elaborates on the unique possibility in our times to be part of many communities and experience different views on the world. Furthermore he talks about the aim of Global Voices Online and personal and governmental responsibilities to broaden perspectives on the globalized world
The link to the article (with a video) is here.
The second one is from Jeff Cobb about computer games in general and in raising awareness about development assistance. He claims that games can create a wholly different feeling of understanding and concern than just presentation of facts – which of course has to do with the human learning scheme of interaction and experimentation. He points to the game 3rd World Farmer which simulates the living conditions in lesser developed countries.
The link to the article is here.
The articles starts with the following claim:
The digital divide is beginning to close. The flow of digital information â€“ through mobile phones, text messaging, and the internet â€“ is now reaching the world’s masses, even in the poorest countries, bringing with it a revolution in economics, politics, and society. [Snippet from here]
This is in my opinion a desirable vision which can be achieved in the next years if a lot of people work for it – but it is not yet true. There are some great projects and the potential is definitely there but the revolution is yet to come.
Someone who knows more about the whole economy – ICT4D connection is Ismael PeÃ±a-LÃ³pez (ICTlogy). He currently writes his PhD on it and just yesterday posted a very good reply (The digital war on poverty in not won) underlined with facts and links to more information.
Over all, the tone of the article is optimistic. I am also optimistic about the ends, but not on the actual estate of the situation nowadays. Besides, Iâ€™m becoming more sceptic about leapfrogging, which is one of the strong points made by Sachs. Donâ€™t get me wrong: I do believe ICTs are a revolution and will provide renewed energies for those who will be capable of benefiting from them, but I think that ICTs will be catalysts and multipliers (perhaps in several orders of magnitude), but not substitutes. [from here]
The new web, the one on the mobile, must be human centered from the start. This is one revolution – the Information Revolution – that cannot be driven by technology, but must be guided by the human beings who need it the most. [from here]
I myself support the criticism of the original article though I appreciate the optimism and I too think that ICTs give us unique possibilities to help people in lesser developed countries and foremost give themselves the opportunity to help themselves.
But, as Subbiah Arunachalam puts it in a paper already from 2002:
Those that think that poverty in our countries is just a matter of not having access to information and technology are showing much ignorance about social injustice, human exploitation and inequalities not only between countries, but also among social classes within each country. Information is not the magic cure for hunger. [snippet from here]
ICTs are just a tool – an extraordinary one – but other tools are necessary as well.
The idea to place solar powered GSM towers in rural areas (presented here) seems to be a success and to be further developed.
Ericsson announced just yesterday that it developed a combined GSM tower and satellite base station running on solar power for Cambodian mobile operator Star-Cell.
The satellite transmission feature provides affordable mobile-network coverage in remote areas where other transmission solutions are unavailable.
The GSM main-remote solution has a lower environmental impact than standard base stations, consuming up to 50Â percent less energy, and helps lower total cost of ownership by reducing operating costs. [snippets taken from here]
I like the idea, environmentally friendly increasing the reach of mobile networks and internet sounds almost too good.
Today Martin pointed me to this blog post about a phone service in Peru carried out by so called “llamadas”. They are:
women or teenagers with a bundle of mobile phones and a stop-watch who act as pay phones [from here]
That way also people without mobile phones and without the knowledge to use one can benefit from this way of communication.
The description reminded me of some other articles I read during my research for my master thesis.
So this business model works on three continents and initially I wanted to write something positive about it, but I read some comments and obivously in Peru these “llamadas” are sent to the streets by mobile carriers and earn quite little (through this entry).
What remains is that ICTs can have different effects on the lives of people and though they can serve as a chance for employment and social uplifting on the one hand, they are still a source of business on the other hand and there is no guarantee that positive effects step in.
After all ICTs are just a tool and only if all people have access to them and are able and motivated to use them in a responsible and beneficial way the digital divide can be reduced.
In the recent issue of the Vodafone Receiver Magazine there is an interesting article covering the differences of mobile phone usage between the Western World and low-income communities – here with the example of the Favelas in Brazil.
The article is very interesting so I want to sum up some findings here.
- Location based services are just now introduced in Brazil and are expected to become very successful
- Brazil has one of the highest numbers of mobile users
- Cell phones serve as device to ensure safety – for example to call if a place is safe before going there
- Cell phones serve as a replacement for pay phones or landlines
- Often cell phones are no personal devices but shared among more users
- Pre-paid phones are highly popular, often they are even used with no credit (e.g. just let it ring)
- Cell phones are mostly only used for basic functions (sms, calls) due to cost reasons
- Mobile phones were the most stolen items in Brazil in 2007, using one by replacing the sim-card is easy
- Most inhabitants bought their mobile phones in the black market in the favelas, as they can’t or don’t want to pay the higher original prices
- Though big investment for high-end services like 3G is on the way in Brazil, they focus just on a small part of the community ( – the rich)
A conclusion from the author:
Although most early research into cell phone use focused on developed countries and on the issues of privacy, security, and teenage use, recent research emphasizes cell phone use and appropriation among low-income communities in developing countries. Interestingly, cities such as Rio de Janeiro include both of these realities, with two types of very different users impacting on other. With the inevitable introduction of new services which might lead to an even bigger gap in technology consumption and population connectivity we need to ask ourselves how to create opportunities to address these issues, and to develop a legitimate market in the country. [from here]
As I already wrote, the article is very interesting and I totally agree with Ms. de Souza e Silva – we first have to address the digital divide before we invest in high end technology.
Check out the article