Voices 2.0 – The Arab awakening and practical lessons learned for development practitioners

As part of the 50 year celebration of Swiss Development Cooperation, the North-South Centre of the Swiss Federal Institute for Technology in Zurich dedicated its Annual conference in 2011 to the theme “ICT4d- The Development Impact of Information and Communication Technologies” that included challenges for education, research and policy in ICT4D.

My role was to present lessons learned from the work with the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in the realm of strategically integrating ICTs into development programms with specific focus on social and political change witnessed by the so-called Arab Awakening / Arab Spring.

The presentation with policy and research recommendations was titled “Voices 2.0- The Arab awakening and practical lessons learned for development practitioners”.

Deepening Participation and Enhancing Aid Effectiveness through ICTs and Media

This working paper coined “Deepening Participation and Enhancing Aid Effectiveness through ICTs and Media” examines why and how development practitioners can adopt ICTs and media for increased participation and better results into their daily practice.
Taking a critical look back over 10 years of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) program support within ICTs for Development, findings include:
  • Start thinking about information and communication needs, channels and media throughout the Project Cycle but most importantly in the planning stages for policy and project intervention
  • ICT-enhanced “Communication for Development Methodologies” are worth revisiting
  • Link ICTs and media to the organizational DNA of donor agencies in their standard operating procedures or instruments (i.e. Project Cycle Management, Sustainable Livelihood approaches)
  • Develop the capacity of implementing agencies and partner organizations on “strategically using” ICTs to leverage their programs

Voices 2.0- Revolutionizing Participation in Development Cooperation

  • Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and Social media are playing their part in the so-called Arab Spring, the “Facebook Revolution” is turning into a buzzword. How come?
  • More importantly, what does the power of “web 2.0” imply for operational activities by development practitioners aiming to increase participation in socio, economic and political change processes?
  • The article illuminates this phenomenon, sparks a critical reflection on its side-effects while sharing key findings from an upcoming SDC working paper titled “Deepening Participation and Enhancing Aid Effectiveness through Media and ICTs” on the role of social media in participatory development.

Read and comment the whole contribution on the SDC or World Bank Blog below:

SDC Blog: http://www.sdc-learningandnetworking-blog.admin.ch/2011/07/12/“voices-2-0”-revolutionizing-participation-within-development-cooperation/

World Bank Blog: http://blogs.worldbank.org/publicsphere/voices-20-revolutionizing-participation-within-development-cooperation

Planting the Knowledge Seed- Adapting to Climate Change Using ICTs

“Planting the Knowledge Seed- Adapting to Climate Change through ICTs” invites you to think outside the box. It takes you on a journey to address climate justice through exploring the practical linkages between climate change, access to and sharing of information and knowledge, communication for development and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) in general.

More specifically, it considers how everyday information and communication tools such as radios, mobile phones, personal computers, the internet and interactive media can help reduce the risks of climate change faced by the most vulnerable segments of the global village through providing access to and the sharing of timely information and critical knowledge. The target audience of this publication are not experts on ICTs or climate change, but rather development practitioners and policy makers overall: those who will be faced with the need to interpret the demands of climate change, and apply these to their work in the context of the possibilities afforded by ICTs.

More specifically, the publication aims to:

  • Provide an overview of linking the strategic use of ICTs to climate change
  • Summarise the discussions and conclusions of the BCO Learning Day on ICTs and Climate Change held in December 2008 in Johannesburg, South Africa
  • Demonstrate innovative applications through concrete project examples
  • Start a dialogue and stimulate a debate about the added value and applicability of ICTs in climate change programmes.

Why is this relevant? Consider the following key points ICTs and climate change:

  • Climate change is not a new development phenomenon but amplifies and magnifies existing development challenges, hindering efforts to reduce suffering and alleviate poverty.
  • Climate change is a social justice issue. The most vulnerable are the least responsible for its causes, but will be most affected while being least informed about the impacts on their livelihoods and generally excluded from policy discourses.
  • Strategically integrated ICTs, such as community radios, mobile phones, knowledge centres and interactive media, are enabling tools that help to reduce climate change vulnerability and risk, while including the voices of those most affected for political advocacy.
  • ICTs contribute tangibly to climate change mitigation/adaptation strategies through (a) providing access to relevant information, raising awareness at the grassroots level, and (b) facilitating learning and practical knowledge sharing at the community level, while (c) empowering the poor and marginalised to raise their voice for political accountability and concrete action.
  • Current mainstreaming approaches that integrate ICTs as a strategic tool into development programmes (e.g. education, health, governance) can be directly applied to climate change strategies.
  • A multi-stakeholder approach is central to ICT climate change mitigation and adaptation interventions.
  • There is a need for systematic awareness raising and holistic capacity development among all development stakeholders on how to integrate and utilise ICTs in climate change

Ironie des Schicksals in Tunesien

The following article appeared in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (NZZ) on 21. November 2011.

“Im Jahre 2011 wollte der damalige tunesische Präsident Ben Ali unbedingt der Gastgeber des zweiten Teils des UNO-Gipfels für eine Informationsgesellschaft sein. Den ersten Teil 2003 in Genf hatte die Schweiz massgeblich mitgestaltet. Die Treffen beschäftigen sichvor allem mit der Frage, wie neue Informations- und Kommunikationstechnologien (IKTs) inklusive Internetdiensten zu einer offeneren und gerechteren Gesellschaft in Entwicklungsländern beitragen könnten.

Sechs Jahre nach “Tunis 2005” ist genau dass eingetroffen, was das tunesische Regime damals unbedingt vermeiden wollte: ein von IKTs unterstützter politischer und gesellschaftlicher Wandel im eigenen Land. Internetdienste wie Facebook und Twitter haben die tunesischen Ereignisse massgeblich beinflusst. Sie erlaubten, die Zensur der staatlichen Medien zu umgehen. Sie informierten breite Bevölkerungsschichten und halfen den Demonstranten, sich untereinander abzusprechen.

Eine entwicklungsrelevante und den gesellschaftlichen Wandel unterstützende Nutzung von IKTs setzt allerdings eine gezielte Unterstützung der Entwicklungsländer voraus. Es ist eine Frage der Entiwcklungspolitik welche die Schweiz aktiv in Ihrer Entwicklungspolitik unterstützt.

Amplify the Potential of Smartphones to Fight Poverty in Africa but Keep the Dark Side of Mining Rare Minerals in Mind

The following was submitted to the Editors of the Economist magazine “Intelligent Life”.

Dear Sir or Madam:

I congratulate J.M. Ledgard on his article ‘Digital Africa’ in the Spring 2011 Edition of Intelligent Life. The author skillfully sheds light on the transformative role smartphones are playing across the African continent to empower people and communities for a better future. As a development practitioner specialized in this field, I too am a passionate proponent of intelligently integrating Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) including Smartphones into poverty reduction projects addressing better access to health services, education, market prices for higher incomes while increasing transparency to hold their leaders accountable. The pre-condition being that the people with their needs are in the center rather than the technology itself. If more systematically applied, I wholeheartedly agree with the author that we are just at the beginning of a economic, social and political transformation unimaginable a decade ago.  Recent events in Northern Africa are as telling as inspiring.

Regretfully, one critical element is missing in the article, namely the ‘current bad and ugly side’ of this revolution- the use of rare minerals within various technologies necessary to fuel this techno-centric revolution. As illustrated by a recent documentary titled Blood in Mobile’, appalling mining practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo were documented which need to be stopped. Similar to the outrage and concrete action following the discovered link between diamonds and the civil conflict in Sierra Leone, a corresponding international process with clear rules and regulations should be put in place to change the policies of governments and companies accordingly. It would be a collective shame if this revolution would be fuelled on the backs of those people, namely the poor and most vulnerable, which may benefit most from its potential.

African Citizens need a Voice as well as Votes

The following article appeared originally in the Financial Times on Friday 13. August 2010

Sir, I fully agree with the view of William Wallis about the dangerous times for democracy in Africa (“Perfidious donors betray Africa’s democrats”, August 10). I believe that sub-Saharan Africa needs a transformational governance approach beyond mere elections (votes) but also participatory decision-making processes (voice). Supporting systems that would enable segments of the population to voice their concerns, hold the elected officials responsible, claim their lights and fulfill their responsibilities as citizens should be a growing priority for donor agencies. This can be achieved beyond supporting elections through fostering participatory information and communication channels, which can be backed by the proliferation of new information and communication technologies (ICTs).

As Mr. Wallis states, mobile phones and the internet make it harder to silence critics and rob the central bank. But this is not all. Let’s not forget that ICTs include vibrant community broadcasting radio and television, which is where, due to the omnipresent digital divide, most citizens in developing countries receive their information. In addition, the transformative power of ICTs can provide farmers in rural areas with market price information, foster access to education through distance learning, and provide information about health services.

It would require a holistic approach beyond investment in ICT infrastructure and hardware to include the necessary enabling environments (such as free and independent media), capacity development (training) and content applications. Taking this path, this systematic approach could transform the digital divide into the digital provide. Fostering access to information and knowledge, and subsequently enlightening political discourse through increased participation, the transformation of vote into voice would lead to the more stable and sustainable social, economic and political fabric that is desperately needed for progress.