Today has been an adventure. Leaving Harare our mission was to reach Gwanda where we are doing podcasting with the local communities. It turned out not to be so simple… As we watched the radiator water boil over, my sympathy was with the vehicle, after all temperatures were over 35C. But the only concern for Lawrence was “we can’t let the communities down”. That is true resilience…that our staff show every minute of every day.No Comments » | Add your comment
If you think this question is only of “academic interest” then read on. At the Human Development and Capability Association conference in Den Haag, The Netherlands I put this question before a group of donors, practitioners, and academics. I wanted to start a conversation about how we can move away from the traditional ways of thinking about development and economies. How do we address the twin issues of sustainability and inter-generational equity?
Sen[i] writes about social injustice and challenges much of the conventional approach to economics with his emphasis on well-being and capabilities.
Practical Action has had a focus on the use of technology to challenge poverty for the past 40 years, inspired by the vision of the economist Schumacher[ii] and based on the notion of intermediate technology. Currently Practical Action is considering how it can best use the idea of technology justice to form a campaign and movement for change. How can the capabilities approach help us to frame technology injustice?
Here are four practical advantages of using a capabilities approach to frame (and/or communicate) the idea of technology justice:
- It would allow us to challenge the assumptions of economic growth as a driver for human development.
- We could identify unanticipated outcomes (both positive and negative) of our interventions.
- It is a values based approach that promotes transparency.
- By using a process based approach we can learn about injustice that results from the negative impact of technologies.
Overall a capabilities approach is normative which fits in with the notion of developing a movement against technology injustices in the world. Let’s keep the conversation going…
[i] Sen, A. (2009) The Idea of Justice, Allen Lane: London.
[ii] Scumacher, E.F. (1973) Small is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered, Abacus Press: London.
“Check this out”, Deepak, Nepal’s Head of the Markets and Livelihoods Programme called over to me. When I came over, he had his phone in his hand, texting ‘pai symrabies’ to 4321. Immediately he got a text back: ‘Aggressive, drooling, choking sound, sensitive to noise and movements, lack of appetite and excessive sleeping. SMS “treatrabies” to 4321 for treatment options’.
Of course we texted ‘treatrabies’, and we got this message back: ‘Isolate animal. Do not touch or come in contact with Saliva. Call vet or para vet. SMS “vet” and your location number. E.g. “vet1” if you are in Dullu’.
The next text had a couple of names, addresses and phone numbers.
This text messaging service is part of a new project in Nepal called Access to Information (A2I). You can see that it’s new because Deepak’s demonstration is not completely ready. Shortly the service will have its own dedicated number and once that’s set up, you won’t have to put ‘pai’ in front of your requests. That just stands for ‘Practical Action Information’ and is required because 4321 is Focus One’s number. Focus One is the company behind text message horoscopes and dating compatibility tests in Nepal. Who better to partner with to deliver a virtual encyclopedia of information for agriculture, livestock-rearing, and foraging of non-timber forest products to the poor!?
Each text costs 3 Nepali Rupees, that’s about 2 pence. Of that, 2 rupees go to NTC, the national mobile network. Half a rupee goes to Focus One, and half a rupee comes back to Practical Action. The reason for that half rupee coming back to us is that we hope the demand for the service will grow enough to pay for a permanent person to keep the system up to date. So this model is built for sustainability.
And it’s built for scale. The service works anywhere in the country.
Practical Action Nepal is drawing on its network of experts in agriculture in the government and private sector to feed the system with up-to-date information about market prices, disease outbreaks, local weather forecasts and much more.
A lot of this information is already out there, publicly available, but the problem is that poor people out in the hills and mountains, who could really make use of it, can’t get hold of it. Like everything Practical Action does, the need came before the idea. Practical Action Nepal has drawn on a wealth of analysis conducted with the participation of poor farmers to find out what their biggest problems are. Lack of basic information is one of the biggest issues.
All well and good, but what happens if you don’t have a phone. Good question. Although Nepal’s phone ownership has been growing nearly exponentially in the last few years, it’s still fairly low compared to other countries, including those in Africa. Furthermore the distribution of phones is heavily weighted towards the urban population, and in rural areas towards those in the service sector. That’s why for A2I, this mobile text messaging service and its sister Voice Messaging (VM) service are not intended to reach the last mile.
(The last mile is part of Practical Action’s development-speak. It means that last distance (spatial, economic, social…) between those doing ok in difficult situations, and those that aren’t. Reaching those that aren’t – that last mile – is what Practical Action is all about.)
A2I’s text messaging and VM services are designed for local animal health workers, agricultural service providers and community forest chairpersons to access useful information. In many places these are the only people reaching the last mile and providing them with advice. A2I’s services are designed to help them provide the last mile with much, much better, up-to-date, advice.No Comments » | Add your comment
LirneASIA have just published a report based on survey data in South Asia which concludes that more people at the bottom of the pyramid (BOP) own a phone than a radio. So the traditional channel of knowledge sharing with the poor has now been overtaken by the phone. Interestingly, most respondents had never heard or used the Internet. What is the implication for our knowledge sharing work?
Clearly we need to use a multi-channel approach. Information in local voices that might have been broadcast or podcast now needs to be supplemented with the mobile phone. This will increase the reach of our knowledge in both scale and geography. My hope is that we can work with the m:labs network to develop the mobile channel to our knowledge that currently resides in Practical Answers.3 Comments » | Add your comment
There is some skepticism about how mobile apps can really reach poor people. After all surely it is the market that decides what apps are developed and that essentially is a supply push approach. Also, as noted by some earlier commentators on this blog…many people do not have smartphones. This second concern is most easily dismissed: the end user may only need a phone capable of SMS messaging services. The newly launched m-farm service in Kenya relies on this “lowest common denominator” approach: the whole system uses web sites, smartphones, and SMS but the interface with farmers in the field is with SMS.
The first concern is more serious. How can we enable m-app development to be demand led? This is the conversation I have been having here in Helsinki with the leaders of the m:labs for east and southern africa. My suggestion is that workshops of stakeholders be convened. At such workshops there would be poor communities, computer software experts, NGO’s, and scientists. The focus of workshops would be on problems and how solutions might be designed. The potential business models would also be considered at this early stage. In this way we may have the opportunity to enable the development of m-apps to genuinely deliver benefits to poor people.1 Comment » | Add your comment
Knowledge and resources…is the answer being given at the Global Forum on Innovation. At the i-hub in Nairobi people were given mobile phones and created amongst other things m-farm. A sisal rope machine was developed in East Africa by a local person who is now been given some capacity building to develop his innovation to scale.
Is this an example of technology justice? This raises the issue of who might drive technology justice. Is there a role for intermediary organisations? The i-hub and m:lab in Kenya are places where innovation happens…where people can be exposed to non-traditional environments that positively encourages new things.No Comments » | Add your comment
The World Bank Group is this week hosting the fourth global forum on innovation in Helsinki. It is attended by over 600 people from 90 countries. The discussion at the donor meeting was around the successes and challenges of using ICT to facilitate innovation. The climate innovation centres were recounted as a key to promoting local innovation. Practical Action in Kenya has participated in workshops with the first climate innovation centre in Nairobi.
Such linkages to local groups is essential to a sustainable approach without which we often have seen a failure of appropriate technology to reach poor people. Indeed one of the key challenges of innovating with ICTs is to ensure that we don’t increase poverty by creating yet another technology elite. So it is vital to have inclusive dialogues and to capture the innate innovative capability of local people to solve their own problems.No Comments » | Add your comment
But as I watched teams on The Apprentice create some pretty pointless apps the other week, I wondered how we could harness the potential of apps to do something far more useful…like transforming the lives of poor people across the world!
I recently stumbled across “M-Farm”, a Kenyan initiative that aims to give rural farmers a fairer deal when selling their produce. It gives real-time market prices for crops and matches up farmers with buyers, cutting out costly brokers and middle-men. Some Kenyan farmers report that their profits have risen by half since subscribing to M-Farm.
Here’s another one: iCow, a voice-based mobile app that allows farmers to track the fertility stages of their cows in an effort to better manage breeding periods as well as monitor cow nutrition leading up to the calving day. Winner of last year’s Apps 4 Africa contest, an effort to encourage local developers to build apps to improve life quality in Africa, iCow uses a series of voice prompts and text messages to update farmers during the course of the yearly cow cycle.
Now imagine if we could create a ‘suite of apps’ that would provide people a kit that contains everything needed to successfully operate specific businesses appropriate to their area?
I could go on but I’m going to save it for the next Geek Club meetup on Wednesday 1st June because ‘How can mobile phone apps reduce poverty?’ is the topic of the month.
So,if you’re not familiar with the Geek Club, it’s an online monthly meetup to discuss different topics related to technology and how we can use it to transform the lives of poor people across the world. Come and join the conversation…we’re interested to hear your ideas!4 Comments » | Add your comment
This afternoon in Geneva I will be participating in a workshop about the development impact of stakeholder partnerships in ICT4D. You are invited to join us via the web. Please follow the instructions below:
I am delighted to be able to let you know that Cisco are generously sponsoring the opportunity for anyone to participate in the session on the Development Impact of Multi-stakeholder Partnerships in ICT4D ( http://groups.itu.int/wsis-forum2011/Agenda.aspx?event=event_60) that the Collective is convening from 16.30-18.00 Geneva time (15.30-17.00 UK time) on Tuesday 17th May at the WSIS Forum ( http://groups.itu.int/default.aspx?tabid=856). Please share this information as widely as possible, so that colleagues across the world can join in our discussions and deliberations.
To join the online discussion, please use the following information:
Meeting Number: 608 639 429
Meeting Password: 123
To join this meeting (Now from mobile devices!)
1. Go to https://ciscosales.webex.com/ciscosales/j.php?J=608639429&PW=NYzY4NDE5MjI3
2. Enter the meeting password: 123
3. Click “Join Now”.
4. Follow the instructions that appear on your screen.
The UN held a World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) in 2003 and 2005 and declared that 17th May would be the World Information Society Day. This reminds us all of the inequalities in terms of access to knowledge and information that exists in the world.
Today I am in Geneva for a follow-up WSIS event and will later be running a workshop on the lessons we can learn from ICT partnerships. More about the workshop and the report can be found from the ICTD Collective site.No Comments » | Add your comment