Reclaiming ICT4D at the WSIS Forum 2017


BookTo coincide with the recent publication of my new book entitled Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development (Oxford University Press, 2017), the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is convening a workshop on Friday 16th June from 11.00-12.45 in ITU Room Popov 1 at the 2017 WSIS Forum being held in Geneva.  The key premise of the workshop is that the global spread of ICTs has increased inequality, and that the poorest and most marginalised have therefore failed sufficiently to benefit.  The workshop will explore whether the continued focus on the ways through which ICTs can contribute to economic growth will inevitably lead to ever increasing, and dangerous, inequality, and will make recommendations as to how different stakeholders can best ensure that the poorest and most marginalised can indeed benefit from their use.

It will begin with short (5 minute) perspectives from some amazing people (listed in alphabetical order of first names):

  • Alex Wong (Head, Global Challenge Partnerships & Member of the Executive Committee; Head of the Future of the Internet Global Challenge Initiative, World Economic Forum) on The power of partnership
  • Dr. Bushra Hassan (School of Psychology, University of Sussex) on The wisdom of marginalised women
  • Charlotte Smart (Digital Policy and Programme Manager, Department for International Development, UK) on The delivery of donors
  • Michael Kende (Senior Advisor, Analysis Mason, and former Chief Economist of the Internet Society) on The trust in technology
  • Nigel Hickson (VP IGO Engagement, ICANN) on The design of the domain name system
  • Torbjörn Fredrikson (Head of ICT Analysis Section of the Division on Technology and Logistics, UNCTAD) on The energy of entrepreneurship

Following these short, and undoubtedly provocative, presentations there will be an open discussion focusing on participants’ thoughts as to what are the most important priorities for action that different stakeholders must take so that the poorest and most marginalised people and communities can indeed be empowered through the use of ICTs.

The workshop is open to everyone with interests in ways through which ICTs can indeed benefit poor people, and there will also be an opportunity after the workshop for participants to purchase copies of Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development at a 40% reduction from list price.

I very much look forward to seeing you there!

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Swimming with Hector’s dolphins in Akaroa


Anyone visiting New Zealand who is interested in wildlife and conservation – as well as having amazing experiences – should most definitely make their way to the Akaroa peninsula, just 90 minutes drive from Christchurch.  Not only is the peninsula very beautiful, with stunning bays and views, but Akaroa itself is set in a magnificent natural harbour, teaming with wildlife.  It is also one of the few places where it is possible to go swimming with Hector’s dolphins.

I chose to go out with ecoseaker, the smaller of the two companies offering the opportunity to go swimming with the Hector’s dolphins – and was very pleased I did!  The firm is locally run, and uses a powerful small boat that takes between four and twelve people on the swimming trip which departs at 10.30 in the morning and lasts for about three-and-a-half hours.  Steve Hamilton, the skipper, is a 5th generation local and descendant of early French and Scottish settlers.  He grew up on a sheep farm alongside Akaroa Harbour and throughout the trip he shared his detailed knowledge of its environment and the geology of the surrounding area, as well as the importance of conserving  its wildlife.  He and his assistant, Adam, made the trip humorous and very enjoyable, as well as being educational and informative.  As well as the dolphins, we saw many New Zealand fur seals, pied cormorants and a couple of little blue penguins.  It was far from easy photographing the dolphins, especially when in the water with them, but I hope that the following sequence captures something of the excitement of the trip:

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Exploring Central Otago’s wines


One of the challenges in trying to buy wines in New Zealand is the dearth of good wine shops across most of the country.  Yes, it is possible to buy many New Zealand wines in supermarkets, such as Countdown or New World, but they do not have the range of quality wines that are made in New Zealand.  Indeed, many of the cheaper wines sold in such supermarkets are actually from Australia,  or even France.

Imagine my surprise, then, as I visited the old mining town of Arrowtown, to discover the Arrowtown Wine Store.  This has an amazing selection of New Zealand wines, especially from Central Otago, and particularly their Pinot Noirs.

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There are so many impressive things about this shop: the range of wines that they stock, especially from Central Otago; the wonderful comments written by the staff about each of the wines, which perfectly capture their characteristics; the knowledge and hospitality of the store manager Tracy Grigor; and the fact that many of the wines are on sale at prices that are usually equivalent to the cellar door prices of the local wineries.  Anyone interested in wine, and especially the wines of New Zealand, who is visiting central South Island should make their way straight to Arrowtown and look out this great little shop!  The only rather bizarre thing, at least for visitors from the UK, is that currently it remains cheaper to buy these wines in the UK than it is in New Zealand, despite the collapse in the value of the pound post-Brexit!

It is difficult to make definitive choices about the best Pinot Noir wines made in Central Otago, but those from the following producers are definitely worth getting to know better:

Some of my pictures from these wineries are shown below:

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Reclaiming ICT4D: the Conclusion


recict4dEarly last week I had a good meeting with OUP about the marketing of Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development – and hopefully copies will be ready in time for the WSIS Forum in Geneva in June! Then, at the end of the week, the final version of the revised page proofs appeared.  I’ve never had to read so many versions of one of my manuscripts before, and am so grateful to the work of all those who have helped in the production process!

Having shared the cover, preface, index and contents page, as well as the introduction before, I thought it was timely also to share the final few paragraphs. I very much hope that people will enjoy, and indeed be challenged by, them.  I hope too that those who consider these to be overly extreme, will indeed read the book and be convinced of the truth that lies within them.  Although some will remain unconvinced, I hope that the book will encourage everyone working at the interface between technology and development to reflect on what they are doing and change their practices in the interests of the poorest and most marginalised.

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“The design of ICTs and their rapid deployment have been one of the main causes of increasing inequality in the world.  One of the underlying themes of this book is that this has become exacerbated by the linkage between ICTs and development defined as economic growth.  Indeed, advocacy that ICTs can contribute positively to economic growth, and that this will reduce or eliminate poverty, has actually served to increase inequality and thus further marginalize the poor.  The idea of ‘development’ itself has become a vehicle through which the technological interests of the private sector in particular, but also those of governments and civil society, can be further propagated.  Expansion in the use of ICTs has thus become the primary focus of attention (D4ICT), rather than the development outcomes that might be facilitated by ICTs in the interests of the poor and marginalized (ICT4D).  This is scarcely surprising, given the long history of the use of technologies to serve and maintain the interests of the rich and powerful.

Many factors have influenced this state of affairs.  In particular, the increasing power of the private sector in global governance, the dominance of an instrumental view of ICTs that sees them necessarily as being a force for good, the diminution in the role of governments in serving the interests of all their citizens, the symbolic power of modernity embodied in ICTs, and an emphasis on enhancing economic growth rather than reducing inequality, have all been very significant in shaping the current intersection between ICTs and development.  To be sure, there are many instances where ICTs have been used to enhance the lives of groups of poor and marginalized people, but the overwhelming balance of evidence is that most such initiatives fail to go to scale or be sustainable.  Moreover, there is also a growing body of evidence that the dark side of ICTs is seriously harming many poor people, and especially women and girls.

Paradoxically, the main ways through which the use of ICTs can be reclaimed for development that might empower poor and marginalized people have rather little to do with the technologies, but much more to do with attitudes and approaches adopted by all those engaged in serving the interests of the poor.  First, the idea that ICTs in general, or the rollout of mobile broadband in particular, is some kind of panacea, or silver bullet, that can reduce poverty must be abandoned.  This must be combined with a realization that policies designed purely to increase economic growth through the use of ICTs will necessarily continue to increase inequality.  There needs to be a fundamental shift in thinking by governments, civil society and those who fund development interventions away from the economic growth agenda and instead toward the explicit use of ICTs to support the poor and the marginalized.  The private sector will continue to serve as the engine of growth, and thereby drive the use of ICTs by the majority of people, but its profit-taking voracity needs to be tempered by a realisation that the technological Jinn that it releases may well eventually do more harm than good.  This requires a fundamental reorientation of much research to focus primarily on the development of ICTs through which the very poorest might be empowered.  This needs to begin with a humble realization that academics interested in ICT4D should become the servants of the poor and marginalized, learning from them, and using their skills and expertise to serve the interests of the poor rather than their own careers, or the interests of global ICT corporations.  Research and practice should be with the poor rather than merely for the poor.  Governments and regulators have a central role in facilitating such a shift, but it would be naïve to suggest that all governments are indeed benign and without self-interest.  Politicians of all hues therefore need to be convinced that increasing inequality is ultimately a greater threat to stability and their own political futures than would be any reduction in economic growth.  Likewise, private sector companies have much to contribute to this renewed vision of ICT4D.  Those that can develop innovative new technologies and business models to deliver affordable services to the poorest ‘first billion’, for example, will necessarily be able to undercut companies still focusing on the ‘next billion’, and thereby make considerable gains in market share.

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            Above all, those who share my passion for technology, and the ways through which it can indeed be used to help empower the poorest and the most marginalized, the limbless beggars in Sierra Leone, the blind musicians playing on street corners in China, or the young women in Pakistan at threat of being murdered because of the images they post on social media, must begin by reflecting on their own practices.  We need to change from being part of the problem to being part of the solution.  Once we have begun to be enlightened ourselves about the role of technology in development, we may in turn be able to help empower others through crafting new ICTs and the strategies through which they can be implemented in the interests of the poorest and most marginalized.

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Reclaiming Information and Communication Technologies for Development


recict4dIt is always exciting to have finished the page proofs and done the index of a book, especially when this has to be completed between Christmas and the New Year as it was with Reclaiming ICT4D at the end of 2016! However, when the cover has been agreed and it appears on the publisher’s  website, then one knows that it is actually going to appear in several months time!

This is  OUP’s overview of the book:

  • Combines understanding of both theoretical and practical aspects of ICT for development (ICT4D)
  • Challenges existing orthodoxy and offers alternatives that can make a practical difference in the field
  • Addresses the interests underlying the use of technology in development
  • Wide ranging in coverage, including discussion of regulation, partnership, technological innovation, and the darker side of ICTs

I like being involved in the design of different aspects of my books, and I am so grateful to OUP for agreeing to publish Reclaiming ICT4D in two fonts, one to represent theory and the other practice.  I am also immensely happy that they were willing to use one of my pictures on the cover to represent much of what the book is about.  In case it is not immediately obvious, this picture taken a year ago in Murree (Pakistan) represents many things: a hope for the future, with the young boy vigorously hitting the ball way over his friends’ heads; cricket itself acknowledges the complex heritage of colonialism and imperialism; in the background is a telecommunications mast, providing the connectivity that has the potential to be used to reduce inequalities, but all too often increases them; the electricity so essential for powering ICTs is very visible;  and women are absent, representing another dimension of inequality that is addressed in the book.  It is also much more than this.  My father visited Murree 71 years ago, and may have walked along this street; I went there with friends, and the book is very much a personal story of how I have learnt from them and the many people who have shared their wisdom and experiences with me over the years; it is above all about how people like these boys, playing on the street, can use ICTs to transform their lives for the better, rather than becoming the cyborg cannon-fodder that global capitalism seeks to devour for the benefit of the rich and powerful.

A little more formally, this is how OUP describe the contents of the book on their website:

“The development of new Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) has transformed the world over the last two decades. These technologies are often seen as being inherently ‘good’, with the ability to make the world better, and in particular to reduce poverty. However, their darker side is frequently ignored in such accounts.

ICTs undoubtedly have the potential to reduce poverty, for example by enhancing education, health delivery, rural development and entrepreneurship across Africa, Asia and Latin America. However, all too often, projects designed to do so fail to go to scale, and are unsustainable when donor funding ceases. Indeed, ICTs have actually dramatically increased inequality across the world. The central purpose of this book is to account for why this is so, and it does so primarily by laying bare the interests that have underlain the dramatic expansion of ICTs in recent years. Unless these are fully understood, it will not be possible to reclaim the use of these technologies to empower the world’s poorest and most marginalised.”

Its seven chapters are entitled as follows:

Preface
1: A critical reflection on ICTs and ‘Development’
2: Understanding the Technologies
3: The International Policy Arena: ICTs and Internet Governance
4: Partnerships in ICT4D: Rhetoric and Reality
5: From Regulation to Facilitation: The role of ICT and Telecommunication Regulators in a Converging World
6: Reflections on the Dark Side of ICT4D
7: …in the Interests of the Poorest and Most Marginalized.

It is also being made available as an Ebook, and publication date is estimated as 25th May 2017.

To request a review copy, do contact OUP directly using their request form.

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Indexing “Reclaiming ICT4D”


I always enjoy indexing my own books, although it can at times be brain-numbingly tedious!  So, I have spent the last few days proof-reading Reclaiming ICT4D, and at the same time constructing the index!  It has taken much longer than I had anticipated, but I am delighted that it really does capture the essence of what I have tried to write about.  It is always fascinating to see the juxtaposition of words: “holistic” next to “honour killings”; “operators” next to “oppression”; and “poverty” next to “power”…  However, having just finished it, I now wonder just how many people ever actually read indexes!

Anyway, for those who want to know what the book is really about, I am therefore posting the index for everyone to see if their favourite ICT4D topic is included – and a glimpse of part of it is shared below!  I very much hope that you find something of interest in it!

Now it will only be a few months for OUP to print the book!

index

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Reclaiming ICT4D – the Preface


Three days before Christmas, the page proofs of Reclaiming ICT4D have arrived.  At one level, this is an amazing Christmas present, but at another I am not sure I am looking forward to the arduous task of going through them and checking for any errors over the holiday season!

On reading the beginning of the Preface again, I hope that the book does indeed fulfill the task I set myself.  It does, though, seem a fitting commentary on the tasks that still need to be done in the field of ICT4D, especially this Christmas time:

This book is about the reasons why poor and marginalized people have not yet benefited sufficiently from the widespread and pervasive expansion of information and communication technologies (ICTs) into most aspects of human life over the last quarter century.  It is about the inequalities that the use of these technologies have enhanced, and the risks to us all that these are creating.  However, it remains a book of hope; hope that by better understanding the interests underlying these increasing inequalities, wise people of good will may be able to work collectively together to help the poorest and most marginalized use ICTs to enhance and improve their lives.

            Much has changed in the use of ICTs for ‘development’ (ICT4D) since my last edited book on the subject was published in 2009 (Unwin, 2009).  In that book I laid out the case for why the focus of ICT4D should be on reducing inequalities as well as increasing economic growth, and this remains a core theme of this new book.  However, I was much more optimistic a decade ago that ICTs would indeed be used effectively to enhance the lives of poor people.  My previous book thus included chapters by leading authorities in their fields about the many ways through which ICTs were indeed being used to improve the quality and quantity of education, to transform health delivery, to enhance rural and agricultural incomes, and to enable better government.  Most of those examples remain valid, and there is indeed much good work being done by civil society, governments and the private sector through which the poor can indeed benefit.  This has been widely reported in the many books and papers that have been published over the last decade on the subject.   However, as the present book argues, in this time the rich have got very much richer through the use of ICTs, and the poor have become relatively poorer.  I am impatient and frustrated by this increasing inequality, and so rather than emphasising all of the oft-cited examples of the benefits of ICTs, I concentrate here on the interests underlying why ICTs are being used in this way.  Yet, I still retain a belief that these technologies can indeed help empower poor people and this must never be forgotten through the darker sections of the book“.

It is so good to read this at last again in the final stages of production!

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