This is the first of the video podcasts we shot at the MobileActive08 conference in Johannesburg a few weeks ago. In the interviews conference attendees were talking about their projects and sharing their opinions and insights on the use of information technologies for development.
The interviews were recorded using a Nikon D90 camera and an H2 Zoom audio recorder. We will publish a new interview video podcast every Friday.
In the first interview, David Barnard, Executive Director of the Southern African Non-Governmental Organisation Network (SANGONeT) and organizer of MobileActive08, talks about the event and how it will impact activities at SANGONet. He underlines the value of mobile phones to enhance the work on development in many different dimensions. He also talks about funding, and mentions a session for and with funders that took place at MobileActive08. Enjoy!
There were several examples of companies offering products for the bottom of the pyramid, generating income out of it. For example Husk Power Systems generating electricity for Indian villages from rice husks or PNFC (Por Fin, Nuestra Casa), offering houses from ship containers for Mexican factory workers.
Economic sustainability is one of the key criterion for successful development products – as several scholars already identified. Entrepreneurs with knowledge of local problems and innovative solutions can foster more changes in a countries’ society and economy than any other well-meaning donators.
Now recently a social network platform focusing on people in the business sphere involved in development has been created – Business Fights Poverty.
I like the approach to use Web 2.0 tools to connect interested people – I just ask myself why these solutions always have to produce brand-new platforms and not try to connect existing ones. It would be a great thing to approach the user base of Kiva or Facebook and build something upon those systems.
Anyway, BFP seems to gain in members quickly and I wish them all the best.
I’m back to Vienna and left my colleagues Martin and Anders behind in Zanzibar, where they’re doing more interviews with people in and around Jambiani to cover the use of mobile phones in rural areas.
In towns almost everybody owns a mobile phone. This is still different in rural areas. Local people working at resorts usually have a mobile phone, since they need it for their work. Some of the people we spoke to also told us that they receive airtime from their employers. A quite impressive experience was to see Masaai performing traditional dances, still wearing their traditional dresses and living according to their cultural customs, but at the same time being on the mobile phone all the time.
Mobile phones had a huge impact in rural areas, since it is relatively easy to set up a network antenna. In contrast, Internet is still hard to find in those areas. That’s also why Martin and Anders aren’t able to post any news at the moment. They’ll report from their experiences once they’re back to Stone Town.
As I don’t use twitter (yet), I’m posting links to some interesting articles I read and videos I saw recently.
A video from last month, where Tim O’Reilly gives a talk on “Web meets World” – how to use Web 2.0 for social change. He also points to various interesting projects worth taking a look at.
Congratulations to Ismael for the 5th anniversary of his research portal.
Some reflections on the MobileActive 2008 and the projects presented there.
Shortly after MobileActive08 we took the plane to Zambia with South African Airways, At the airport we got a Zain (formerly Celtel) SIM card for about 3000 Zambian Kwacha (less then one US Dollar) and some credit. We were picked up by Patience Tropo with our driver Henry and a Mitsubishi Pajero, which was supposed to take us arround the following days. We took the road from Lusaka towards the Zimbawean border to the town of Chirundu. The road was built by the Chinese and it is in pretty good condition. Near the border there were a couple of hundred trucks waiting for clearance. Most of them were US brands operated by South African companies. Many of them bring in goods to Zambia, a lot of them transit to Congo.
In the evening we arrived at Gwabi River Lodge located 20 km east of Chirundu just next to the river Kafue. They offer wireless Internet there for USD 5 for half an hour. We had a very nice dinner at the lodge and decided to do a whole day game drive the following day at Lower Zambezi National Park. So we got up early and hit the road along the river Zambezi. The road was in a horrible condition but after crossing Kafue river with a pontoon we arrived at the first gate about one hour later. Elephants were crossing the road shortly after the gate, which was pretty exciting. Then we lost the track and ended up at Kasaka River Lodge to ask for the way. The guys working at the lodge pointed us to the leaking radiator of our car! So we had a lot of luck not beeing stranded somewhere in the bushes with a overheated car. They fixed it properly and did not even charge for it. Thanks to Kasaka for this great favor. We continued our way and picked up a guide at the park gate, who was supposed to bring us to the animals. We were not very lucky and we had only one hour left to do the game drive, since we had lost quite some time with fixing the car. We saw zebras, impalas, crocodiles, baboons and vervet monkeys which was still very exciting. No lions though.
On our way back we again stopped at the gate and did an interview with Moonga Mulauka, one of the rangers. He mentioned that there is no cell phone network coverage in and arround the park and that they use radios to communicate. He pointed out that no coverage is actually good for the park, because otherwise poachers (illegal hunters) could easily communicate with each other using cell phones.
On the next day we went out to Zambezi river with a speed boat to do some fishing. Again, we were not lucky, but the fish were We ended up watching a herd of elephants taking a bath in the river and crossing over to a sand bank to feed there. This was terriffic! While on the boat we also did an interview with Moses Banda, the boat captain.
After that we went back to Gwabi to do the check out and head back to Lusaka.
In Lusaka we met up shortly with Patience again and got to see the Zain headquarters, which is in the embassy area. We wanted to take a picture of the front building which turned out to be quite a hassle, the guards finally agreed after a lot of convincing.
More about the trip from Lusaka < > Dar Es Salaam coming up on the next blogpost!
I am back from Barcelona and as I already stated it was a great event.
Not only did I meet Ismael Pena-Lopez and Ethan Zuckerman, two people which were very influential to me while I wrote my thesis. Also the quality of the talks was partially terrific.
A very broad range of subjects were covered – the speakers were from areas like journalism, art, politics and technology of course.
For me it was very interesting to see the different levels of adoption of new technologies in different fields. While the more tech-savy people were all assuming, that blogs, twitter, facebook and likewise are state-of-the-art, other people only now discovered the power of these tools. While some speakers pointed out the potential of new technology to support existing structures (parties, newspapers, …), others preached the sissolving of these structures and the formation of totally new organizations and networks.
The whole course had the tagline to connect the “connected minority” with the “disconnected elite” and I think from that viewspoint the event was a big success. Much of the dicussion was Spain-centered (I guess 90% of the people attending were Spanish) so it’s difficult to apply the drawn assumptions to Austria, but I agree on that there is a great need in Austria, too, to connect “geeks” and decision makers.
Especially in the ICT4D field, the collaboration of traditional development assistance organizations with more tech-savy people would be crucial. As I learned in some informal talks, many organizations are still hostile to change and modernization, and even the academic community in this field doesn’t have the most modern approach – Christian Kreutz subsumed his thoughts about that already some time ago.
It’s substantial to make decision makers and traditional organizations realize the potential of contemporary technology, and the easiest thing for that is just to sit down and do something – like Tom Steinberg with his amazing projects in e-democracy and transparency. Also Ethan Zuckerman pointed out (link to his talk), that this is the way things are happening in Africa – people just do things. Folks there are remarkably innovative and another important thing to do is to show people here how creative and ingenious inhabitants of lesser developed countries are – to also change the perception of these people in public opinion (like Ethan does with Global Voices Online or Erik Hersman with AfriGadget). For changing the world to the better, we must include lesser developed countries in the emerging “networked society” and to do this it’s necessary to first perceive them as equal partners.
They don’t need our pity, old computers or spare crops, they need public attention, transparency and equal opportunities – may it be economical or technological – then they will help themselves.
In this context we, ICT4D.at, try to inform people – this blog and the ongoing film-project are our first steps.
Another subject I heard a lot about this week was the election campaign of Barack Obama and how for the first time a politician at least partially understands the power of new technologies. While most politicians recognize the internet just as a tool to raise money for their campaigns, Obama uses it to create a community around his claims. He can focus on providing his vision, which is then disseminated by his followers. That way he creates an own channel which transports his views, he is no longer reliant on mainstream media. The implications of this fundamental change in doing politics for democracy as a whole are yet to be seen, the people I talked to had very different and interesting views on this topic.
Besides the sessions, I talked with Christian Kreutz about his ICT4D delicious-feed. It’s a great project to keep track of news in this field and combines several blogs on ICT4D. I will take a look on it and make efforts to improve it.
Also I talked to Adrien Mangin from Cyber-Volunteers. They are organizing a workshop on technology for social change in March and I hope to attend that.
For more detailed information of the different speakers I once again point to Ismaels blog – ictlogy.net.
So here in Barcelona at the Network Society course I regrettably didn’t manage to live-blog (no internet with my old laptop) or to hold an interview (lacking journalistic and organizational skills), but I had great informal talks with some people.
For more on the speakers and sessions, please visit Ismaels great blog – he was live-blogging way better than I could have – the site of the course, and for interviews I hope they are soon on Madrid-based journalist Doris Obermair’s page.
As for myself, I have to arrange my notes and will post my thoughts when I’m back.
So there we are. We had three great days at MobileActive08 in Johannesburg so far. MobileActive brings together researchers, professionals and donors in the field of ICT4D.
MobileActive08: Unlocking the potential of Mobile Technology for Social Impact. A global Summit about Mobile Technology for Social Impact.
It has been a wonderful experience, so many people, so many ideas and already mature projects. We were quite impressed. The conference included different sessions like the SIMlabs (test driving mobile applications), SIMplace (show casing projects and products), Mini Talks (short presentations and QA) and the self organized sessions (where people came up spontaniously with their thoughts, BarCamp style; we also hosted one). All of them allowed people to share their ideas and experiences. It proved to be a really good format for a conference on a new field like this.
We connected with a lot of attendees and speakers and did about 25 short interviews (5 minutes each) with our film equipment: Gary Marsden, Erik Hersman (aka white african), Alex Comminos, Ugo Vallauri, Yeal Schwartzman, Kutoma Wahunuma, Chris Williamson, David Barnard, Jacob Korenblum, Andi Friedman and many more …
We will publish all interviews as Creative Commons video podcast in about 3 weeks.
Tomorrow we are heading to Lusaka, Zambia. Stay tuned!
[Image by whiteafrican]
Florian mentioned it before: We left to South Africa on Saturday late afternoon and took the plane to Johannesburg via Munich. Everything was fine, we arrived without problems. We were picked up from the airport and on the way to our hotel we got a first glimpse of Johannesburg. We visited the Rosenberg Mall and had delicious lunch.
Then we went to Melville, a very hip area in town, where we attendet the infomal meetup of MobileActive08 participants. It was great and we met a lot of people like Peter, Marc and Joern working on some mobile framework at the University of Kampala, Uganda. The project is called EpiHandy, and it is
a new cutting edge solution thatÂ revolutionizes the way in which surveys and data collection is done in health and development research. It eliminates bulky paper questionnaires and subsequent data entry as well as costly errors related to manual data entry and lack of validation of data at time of collection. [Snip taken from here]
It is basicly a mix up of different technologies like .NET and Java ME and they support basic form handling and data transmission of the forms. The next step is to incorporate a workflow engine to support complex flows and forms depending on each other. They got massive funding and they team up with the University of Bergen, Norway. They are planning to invest 40 manyears of labour in the next 4 years. Good luck!
This Wednesday until Friday the course “Network Society: Social changes, organizations and citizens” is taking place in Barcelona.
“A massively connected society, with an almost continuous access to information, higher mobility and speech freedom, more urban, more free time, and more technology available to create, remix and share â€¦ is the adequate medium to transform the information society to the network society, a new model redefining concepts as identity, community, citizenship, authority and power, participation or property, and affecting greatly to every institution, being business, markets or governments. [from here]“
The question for me now is, where the lesser developed countries are placed in this process. How can we integrate them into this society, how can we avoid that they will be, once more, left behind?
The list of speakers includes interesting people like Ethan Zuckerman (Global Voices Online), Tom Steinberg (mySociety) and many more – details on the program here.
The course is organized by the CUIMPB and Ismael PeÃ±a-LÃ³pez is one of the chairs.
I am really looking forward to this event – also to have the chance to see beautiful Barcelona.
I will try to cover most of the talks and upload short summaries – never tried live-blogging before so I’m curious if I’ll manage.