There’s a popular saying amongst the tech and development crowd that 10% of an ICT4D initiative is the tech and the rest is…. well, the rest. I’ve recently heard a modified version that says 5% is the idea and 10% is the business model, and the other 85% is…. well, the rest. The ‘rest’ is mostly made up of people, culture, context and the stuff of anthropologists.
At the Slush conference in Helsinki in November, I joined a short ‘Fireside Chat’ with Tanya Accone (UNICEF) and Mika Valitalo (Plan Finland) about the importance of that other 85-90%, which Tanya referred to as ‘peopleware’.
Tanya kicked off the panel by asking people to think about how much time they’d dedicated to the technology of their start-up idea or their tech solution – the hardware and the software – and to then ask themselves how much time they’d spent on the people component. “People are what will make or break your idea,”…
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In development we often hear discussions about the challenges of so-called “last mile” delivery. We mostly associate these challenges with the delivery of medications, supplies and other tangible items. But what if the goods in question are digital rather than material? What if what we need to deliver in that last mile is simple communication?
As we publish this inaugural post for our new series “The Innovators”, it’s only fitting that we kick off with an innovator working to address the very foundation upon which all others depend: communication.
But first, a fun thought experiment: Imagine you don’t have phone, wireless, or internet connectivity. Yes it’s difficult. But that’s not all: now imagine you are working in the jungles of Panama. You have already achieved the nearly impossible, creating a micro-enterprise run by local women who make and sell bags using different types…
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Disclaimer: This blog contains excessive use of superlatives, it is not meant for the weak hearted.
CGIU 2014 vs CGIU 2015: CGIU 2014 was great, but CGIU 2015 was just AMAZING. The “game-changer” being the opportunity to share the stage with none other but the Former US President Clinton himself, to talk about my passion for video games as development solutions, in front of an audience of 1000 students. Top it off with having our game “StereoWiped” launched on the App Store the same day (with GWU Commitment Maker Challenge financing) and getting some awesome press coverage and you have all the ingredients for a commitment maker’s dream weekend.
CGIU Average Student vs CGIU GWU student: Being at CGIU rocks, but being a GWU student at CGIU is downright superb! Belonging to the largest group of university students and having a cool mentor/university rep rooting for you makes for an amazing experience. Want more? How about the fact, that thanks to some awesome fundraising by GWUpstart, I didn’t have to pay a penny for my flights.
Randomania vs StereoWiped: GRID’s first game Randomania was awesome, but our second game StereoWiped is our favourite child. Our CGIU 2015 commitment puts up on track to taking on conflict-provoking stereotypes and breaking them in a fun and engaging way with different versions of StereoWiped. The game works as a simple memory game, requiring players to “match” tiles of stereotypes and then breaks them with thought-provoking statistics. “I am a girl… I like pink” or “I am African …. I have AIDS”. With each stereotype matched, the player receives “food for thought” that breaks the stereotype e.g: “2 out of 3 girls around you prefer blue more than pink” or “Only 5% of the adults in Sub-Saharan Africa have AIDs”. We are excited about taking the game to low-income students in neighborhoods in DC with our new partners FLOC – For Love of Children and fighting social constructs that alienate people and undermine cultural diversity. (Insider news: GRID is also working on some cool new projects, think environmental justice, sanitation and hygiene and Early Childhood Development, follow us on twitter @games_grid to stay tuned).
Development interventions over the years have suffered from the last mile problem. That last step that prevents oral salts from treating diarrhea, hinders the use of bed nets for the prevention of malaria or discourages parents from allowing girls to receive sex education. It is grounded in problems of information asymmetry and behavioural constraints, where awareness of development interventions is patchy and communication campaigns are unable to create a lasting impression for successful project take-up and implementation. It is that last step where the science of development breaks down and the art of development takes center stage. It is that humbling point where development professionals are made to think about the project beneficiaries as humans who face real trade offs in the decisions they make in their daily lives. In my opinion, technology can play a critical role in helping development professionals to make the “last” mile a “first” opportunity. Technology innovations can be used to listen, learn and launch.
Listen: Beneficiary voice needs to be a key ingredient in project design, not an afterthought.
Development practitioners are increasingly focusing on better understanding the behaviors of beneficiaries around the world. Technology innovations can make this listening an organic and more systematic part of program design and delivery. Given that cellphones have deep penetration in most developing countries (India has greater access to cellphones than toilets (UNU 2010), development practitioners can leverage the interactive nature of technology to create effective feedback loops within their projects and understand the decisions that people make when benefiting from development interventions. This can be done through SMS surveys such as TextIT or games such as 9minutes.
Learn: We have entered an era of rapid technological advancements and vast usage and there are unparalled opportunities for leveraging technology to enhance the practice of development. In the past decade, the share of population in Sub-Saharan Africa using internet has grown over 2500%. Improved Internet connectivity and technology awareness has led to an enhanced interest in social media, especially amongst the youth. Using technology, it is now easier to synthesize knowledge, reach project beneficiaries and create partnerships around the world.
Launch: It is critical to inspire behavioral change rather than force it. A father who faces the decision of feeding his children or protecting them from malaria is likely to use a bed net for fishing and forcing him to change his mind is not going to work. He needs to be able to understand the trade-offs of his decisions, imagine the harms of malaria and then make an informed choice. In order to raise awareness, communication campaigns need to move beyond pamphlets and brochures. Technology can be used to tell stories through voice messages, simulate scenarios in games or encourage community action through SMS campaigns.
International development has come a long way. Gone are the days of cookie-cutter interventions being replicated across regions without much appetite for beneficiary feedback and cultural context. Today development projects are more attuned to responding to beneficiary voices and technology is changing the way we listen, learn and launch.